I Filed Bankruptcy. Can I Still Become A Certified Public Accountant?

Plunging into Bankruptcy - Financial Speedometer

From the mailbag:

Good afternoon Andrew,

My name is David and I am currently a non-traditional accounting student (32 years old with very minimal accounting experience) in my final year with plans to sit for the CPA exam. In 2011 my wife and I (in which I married at age 18) filed for Ch. 7 bankruptcy. We chose exemptions (house/vehicles) but were not able to keep up with the interest payment on Credit Card debt due to poor decisions in our early marriage.

Will the bankruptcy affect my career option in the field? Should I continue my plans to become a certified public accountant?

Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

While I don’t consider bankruptcy a laughing matter, there is an irony in your question. You want to be an accountant and a CPA, but you filed bankruptcy….

The short answer to your question is no. There are no issues with you becoming a CPA if you filed for bankruptcy. However, I would double check against the specific state you are in, I briefly looked at the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations and on the FAQ page and noticed these two questions:

10. If I am a CPA and file bankruptcy, will that affect my license?
No. The two are not related.

11. Would it be possible to qualify to take the CPA exam or apply for licensure if I declared bankruptcy beforehand?
Bankruptcy has no bearing on anyone qualifying to take the exam or apply for licensure.

However, just because you can become a CPA, doesn’t mean it will be easy to find a job. Many employers run background checks and credits checks on potential employees, especially accountants.

Would I recommend you change careers? No.

What would I do in your shoes?

I would have an incredible story about WHY it happened to me, WHAT I did to overcome the bankruptcy and understand the root issues, and WHY it’s not going be a problem. There is probably a way you can turn this huge weakness into a strength:

  • Do you help others avoid bankruptcy now?
  • Have you gone back and paid off all your previous creditors years later?
  • What personal problems with yourself did you confront and overcome?
  • Are you now 100% debt free?

If I were coaching you, I would need something INSPIRATIONAL! Something AMAZING! Take for example, Dave Ramsey. He is one of the most popular personal financial coaches in the U.S. and has the #3 largest radio station.

He filed bankruptcy in his 20’s and went on to become perhaps the biggest personal financial coach in the country.

Kind of ironic, but he has a serious story to tell.

This does not have to hold you back, but the best way to approach it is with a full frontal attack! You know you can get the license, but can you get a job? What about the #1 job you want?

Here’s an example of how you could handle this when a company is about to run your credit report or background check:

[preferably in person, secondly on the phone, NOT in an email]

I just want to let you know I am very excited about working here and I appreciate the incredible opportunity you’re giving me. I know you are about to run my credit report and there is something I want to tell you about beforehand.

Years ago, my wife and I filed for bankruptcy. It was one of the most challenging and traumatizing experiences of my life. To be honest, it was led by my own personal immaturity and poor decision making.

Coming through that bankruptcy, it’s actually part of what motivated me to become and accountant and ultimately a CPA. I was so damaged by what happened to me I was committed to making sure it never happened to me or anyone in circle of family or friends again. To this day I am 100% debt free, I don’t even have any credit cards or loans of any kind. I’ve also help multiple members of my family avoid bankruptcy and get out of debt using my story as a wake-up call.

Now that I have no debt and am financial stable, this wouldn’t affect my work in any way. In fact, I see it as sort of a strength. I’m extremely focused on making the right financial decisions and understand the importance of helping clients (or managing our companies finances) because I know just had bad things can get.

I just want to be open and upfront with you before you’ve had a chance to run the reports. I’m happy to discuss any of the particulars with you now, or anyone else as we move forward in the process.

Time to develop your story and get ready to sell it! I tell the same thing to people with any criminal record. This could be an incredible career for you given your history, or it could be a strange red flag that follows your for years and years… Your choice.

  • BEL

    I would also mention be sure to check with the laws in your state regarding credit checks. I know at least out here in California, the law was recently amended to disallow employers from running a credit check as part of the screening process.

    • http://www.thebeancounter.com TheBeanCountercom

      That’s a great point. If the employer can legal run a credit check and you know they are going to, make sure to have a discussion up front. Last thing you want is for them to find out about this after you’ve already been given an offer and quit your previous job…

  • Bluefin

    I don’t see any irony here. Does bankruptcy mean that the person can no longer do the job? I guess being poor at some point in your life means that you should be shunned and denied opportunities. You really want to kill social mobility that badly?