CPA or Real Estate Agent, Career life choice

34 Replies

I'm stuck between two life choices: 

1. Become a CPA

2. Become a Real Estate Agent

The complication: I have always wanted to get into real estate investing. My parents own apartments and for the last couple of years I have been networking and educating myself on real estate investing. 

The fear is that by not getting my CPA I will be making a horrible mistake and not be able to recover or live a decent life. 

The fear is if I become a CPA I will always look back and regret never doing what I said I wanted. 

The third option, which seems like it will not work, is the become BOTH a CPA and real estate investor. 

Advice, thoughts, opinions are welcome. If there are any CPA's on the forums ( I know a few must have converted or have experience), I would greatly appreciate it. 

Thanks for you time. 

Hey Ryan,

I'm a new investor, but also a CPA so I figured I'd chime in. Right around when I was graduating with my accounting degree (back in '06) I was having similar feeling so I can relate. The way that I looked at it was being a CPA is a solid, stable INITIAL career path that will help you obtain a better than average salary while you save and learn more about investing. Another good thing about getting your CPA is that it opens a lot of doors, and there's a lot of different directions you can take your career (a lot of CEOs are CPAs) - all the while building up your first down payment and making solid networking connections along the way.

After obtaining my CPA and spending a few years at a big firm, I found myself with a flexible, cush 9-5 job where I can focus my efforts on where I think my true passion lies - Real Estate - while earning a very good salary to help me save for an even bigger downpayment on my next property. My eventual goal is do r/e full time, but I like how my CPA gives me a stable base until I'm financially in a position to do so.

Best of luck and please let me know if I can ever answer any questions or concerns you have.

Do both! I have a friend who is a CPA, and Im taking classes for my Lic right now. I remember her dealing with the classes and taking the CPA  test.  She's been at the same firm for 5-6 years now I think, since before passing exam. 

We actually just had dinner the other night and her job sounded very good to me.  She works at a small firm and manages a handful of accounts. She can work at home if she wants.  Flexible hours but  don't know about pay!  We met last week, which is prime time tax season and she did not seemed stressed at all.  Seemed like you would have time for both.  Made me kind of jealous compared to my job (or lack of at times) to be honest!

My mom ran a booking business when I was a kid, and she also did assistant work for CPAs. I would get paid $5 an hour to help out in her office and I hated it.  I wish I had paid better attention!

@Ryan Esslinger Why not do both?

As @Michael Walton stated, having your CPA opens up so many doors. For a young guy with little REI experience, I can always bring my CPA and Big 4 experience to the table and add value to a partnership on the financial side of the equation. Having the CPA designation gives you instant credibility and is applicable to almost every part of business.

I am using my CPA to provide tax and accounting support services to real estate investors. By doing so, I get to see plenty of different investment strategies and I'm the investor's trusted advisor. It's been such such a great way to get involved with real estate and build a network of connections. 

I think I may look at getting my brokers license sometime down the road, but I'd rather build out a large client base and go full-time with my CPA biz first. When you have 100 clients, that's 100 different streams of income - much safer than a W2 job. 

Good luck and let me know if you have questions. 

I know the sensible answer is do both.  Having a regular job is an easier way to get loans initially.

However, if I were a CPA, I'd fall asleep at my desk everyday.  I love the workstyle of real estate and can't imagine going back to 9 to 5, and frankly I think I am unemployable now.  I vote real estate!!

Hey Ryan, i dont know why the two would be mutually exclusive. I'm studying for my CPA right now (my job is paying for the tests). The additional knowledge can't hurt if your just starting out. On the other hand if your starting from square one and still have years of college in front of you, that would be a completely different situation.


@Ryan Esslinger,

I am real estate broker married to a CPA so hopefully i can shed some light. From an education level, I don't think you can really compare a real estate agent with a CPA. You don't need a college degree to become a real estate agent and the course work and examination is minimal to become one. As a CPA, you need to have an undergraduate degree in accounting and at least one year of masters level coursework to take four sections of the CPA exam totaling 15 hours. As much i thought my 5 hour California broker exam was some work, it does not compare to the rigor of passing the CPA exam.

In the north Atlanta area, I do see a great void of CPAs who specialize working with investors and have great in depth knowledge in real estate taxes. Whether you are a CPA or not, I think it is very important for serious investors to try to understand and study as much as they can about real estate taxes. I personally find this knowledge to be extremely valuable.

My wife and I are wired very differently. She is extremely book smart, analytical. She graduated from a top accounting program, and worked in tax for one of the big 4 accounting firms before we had kids. She would do very well in a corporate environment, but I don't think she would do very well in an entrepreneurial environment. I could never picture my wife working as a real estate agent :) On the other hand, I wouldn't last 3 weeks working in any W2 corporate environment as I would be absolutely miserable. 

I joke around telling my wife that she is my insurance policy if we ever see another real estate melt down like 2007 - 2009. CPA jobs are high in demand in the area I live and having a CPA license will make you easily employable earning a nice salary with benefits. As you know as a real estate agent you make a living on 100% commission and everyday you wake up, you are essentially unemployeed.  So my advice to you is to pursue both your CPA and your broker license. 


Definitely do both. Having a solid, good paying job will give you a great base for real estate investing. Plus it's a great insurance policy, you will ALWAYS be employable with a CPA. Plus the two skill sets fit nicely together for a niche real estate business.

Also, being a real estate agent and a real estate investor are two different things. 

A CPA can always get into real estate, but someone in real estate may not have the time, money, or smarts to get the CPA designation.

Originally posted by @Ryan Esslinger :

I'm stuck between two life choices: 

1. Become a CPA

2. Become a Real Estate Agent

Agent.  Hands down. You make more money and can hire a CPA 

I should have been more clear in my original post. 

I have graduated with my B.A. In Accounting and Finance.

I am looking at the next step in what to do with my degree and where I would like to focus my time etc. Currently I am studying for my CPA exams ( they are beyond brutal ). 

Looking at the two what is most difficult is to decide do I become a real estate agent and become an expert to make investing easier ( rich dad poor dad job ) or do I become a CPA to make a good income but not the best for learning and becoming an expert in real estate investing. ?

@Michael Walton @Brandon Hall @Karim Baker @James Park

Thank you all for your replies. 

As I stated in the post above I have my B.A. in Accounting and Finance, CPA eligible, Took audit and got a 70.... twice. 

now the option is to become a real estate agent to become a better investor because I would be working in the field etc. 

or focus all my time and energy passing the exams and working with a CPA firm. 

The exams are brutal lol 

With the new information, please feel free for anyone to add more prospective. 


I would definitely go after both. Use the CPA as your insurance and start small in real estate investing. If you find that the CPA life isn't for you and you really are comfortable then move into becoming a real estate agent. Then if that doesn't work you can always fall back to the CPA job. Being CPA certified will do nothing but help you in being a better investor. So it's a win-win. There is no reason why you can't be both a CPA and a real estate investor. If I can manage my real estate and go to school all while being active duty military then you can too! You got this!

i woud do both. Get your CPA to get a high income W2 fixed salary and than during non tax season i would concentrate on real estate. The great thing is they tend to be opposite field. The crazy time in real estate is summer so you can do the best of both worlds.

While I love investing, I have worked hard to build up my w2 career. This has allowed me to have a base from which to leverage my income as I am considered a "safe" investment to bankers. While there are lots of ways to go, because a nights/weekend investor has worked out well so far.

@Ryan Esslinger if you haven't already, listen to show #49 in the BP Podcasts. She is a CPA in California who is also an investor. Might help you in your decision. Good Luck!

Hey Ryan,  I'm a CPA in Big 4 and an investor.  As others have said, I think you should do both.

You've already taken all of the classes and are eligible to sit for the exam so my advice would be to suck it up for the next few months and do nothing but study so you pass the exam.  You can do it!!

I would then try to work for a Big 4 firm in tax for 2 years.  If you can't do tax with Big 4, I would go with a smaller regional firm where you'll get exposure to everything.  If you ultimately want to do real estate investing, focus on what you can learn from an accounting firm for the next few years to help you in your investing career.  That's why I say don't do anything but tax at Big 4.  You'll be doing grunt work in assurance so that won't help you. 

In tax, you'll being doing a lot of grunt work as well, but you'll get to see how deals are structured, you'll see some 1120S and 1065 returns and hopefully some real estate businesses.  You'll also probably get some exposure to high net worth individuals with a lot of Schedule Es so you can learn about depreciation, Sec. 179, what deductions they should be taking, etc.  With Big 4, make sure you request to get put into a tax group that does small company returns or individual returns.  

If you go with a regional firm, you'll likely see everything so concentrate on how individuals have structured their S Corps or Partnerships, look at their historical tax returns when you are preparing their current year return.  Look at the losses or gains they are incurring.  Do they have huge losses, but the losses are all from depreciation?  Look at any 1031 exchanges that your clients have done in the past - look at how basis is tracked.  You can learn so much from the history of your clients.  

As others also mentioned, you have instant credibility with your CPA license.  You may gain a mentor on the real estate side by sharing some of your accounting experience.  

Good luck!

@Ryan Esslinger,

You have already received a lot of great advice above. 

Hopefully the chart below should give you one more reason why should get your CPA license. Below is a survey taken by 185 multi-millionaires. Mean income $407,800, Mean discretionary income $358,864, mean value of household assets $3.6M.

These multi-millionaires were surveyed to whom is their primary source for investment advice. Surprisingly you will see your spouse, financial planner, and investment / asset manager at the bottom of the list. Real Estate agents came in at #7, not bad, but only 25% of the multi-millionaires found their investment advice to be valuable. You can the #1 spot on the list is a licensed CPA. 

This is why I encourage you to pursue both.


Don't get discouraged.  You are so close to your CPA.  It sounds like it is difficult, but I believe that you will pass the exams and get your license. I don't know what a passing score is, but if 70 isn't passing, you can't be too far from making it. Just don't quit!  It's only a little while longer, and then after you get your CPA, you can decide which direction to go. 

For what it's worth, I would also vote for you to try the corporate world to see if you can stand it long enough to become financially stable. Then start learning and investing in real estate as your finances and time allow. Down the road, you can always quit your accounting job to jump into full-time investing. But if you don't get your CPA, you will NOT be able to jump into accounting should you decide that REI isn't what you thought it would be. You just have so many more options by getting your CPA first and doing REI later.

OMG Ryan, you are so me.  I had the same choices to make right out of college.  When I graduated a lifetime ago in 1988, Savings and Loans were imploding, interest rates were at 18%, and the market was flooded with finance people with years of experience willing to work for the same money.  Unfortunately, I did not know anyone in the RE business to mentor me, so I ended up going the CPA route.  I made this decision more out of fear from my lack of kowledge than following my passion of getting into real estate.  I knew as an accountant, I would always have a job, live a good life, and have some security.  Honestly, I TOTALLY regret not following my true passion so long ago.  Yes, you won't have a steady paycheck, benefits, security, etc., but if you truly love what you do, it will all work out in the end.  Yes, there is risk going into real estate and being an entrepreneur and only you know your own risk tolerance.  But, you have absolutely nothing to lose when you are young and right out of college.  It gets much harder to make these decisions once you are married with children who depend on you to provide for them.  Guess what, if you fail you can always go back and sit for the CPA exam! 

Once I became a CPA, got married, had children, I got lulled into a day to day life of work, children, activities, etc.  It wasn't till I woke up one day 48 years old and realized I hated what I was doing and was never going to retire if I kept doing things the same way!

I am now a middle aged CPA trying to follow my dreams of a better life for me and my family through RE.  FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS WHILE YOU ARE YOUNG MY FRIEND and don't ever listen to the nay sayers (parents, friends, family).  They will talk you out of it EVERY TIME!

Feel free to contact me any time if you have more questions.

As side note, you have worked hard to get your accounting degree. Passing the CPA exam is a great achievement, but only if this is what you truly want to do.  As Jennifer said, stable income is a great way to start investing.  It is much easier to get loans on rental properties with a stable paycheck than becoming a Realtor and trying to build a commission based business.  Lenders are not very enthusiastic about unseasoned self employed people trying to get loans.  My CPA has allowed me to put away a lot of money to invest and if you live well below your means and do RE investing at the same time, you will probably be better off.  You will also learn and interact with a lot of financially savvy people and the CPA lends a lot of credibility when trying to build an investment business or any other business.  My last post was more from the heart than the head at my own mistakes along the way. As long as you pursue both, I think it will serve you well in the long run. 

Thanks guys for the advice, great points are being made here.

I should give more info as well as to why this is a more difficult decision : 

I have had a solid real estate mentor and good friend that flips about two to three houses a month in my area. I've networked and gotten to know both hard money investors that would like to do business in the future. Also, in a year or two max I will have access to private money that would be able to fund my real estate investing decisions. 

Thus making matters even harder to decide lol. 

Does anyone know of any state that will let you proceed straight to a broker's license if you already have higher level degrees, without doing the RE agent bit first?

For what it's worth I have an accounting degree from fsu and a masters in business. I believe my credentials help give me credibility with banks investors, ect especially when starting out. This will give you a competitive advantage. Also having up to date and clean financials and tax returns makes bankers love you.

California is only state I knew of that used to allow this with an undergraduate degree to waive the 2 year real estate agent experience requirement. This is no longer the case today. In Georgia the requirement is 3 years.

Originally posted by @Andrey Y. :

Does anyone know of any state that will let you proceed straight to a broker's license if you already have higher level degrees, without doing the RE agent bit first?

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