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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

How This Tax Pro Commanded a Big Salary in San Francisco

Courtesy of Samantha Blonstein
Courtesy of Samantha Blonstein

“My parents always said they thought I would make a good accountant,” Samantha Blonstein jokes. Because sure enough, that’s the career she chose after getting her undergraduate degree in accounting and a master’s degree in tax.

Today she is a tax director at a well-known tech company, where she focuses on a very specific subset of taxes (how income taxes are reflected on the financial statements the company files with the SEC).

“People assume, ‘Oh, taxes. You can do my individual tax return for me,’” she says. But that’s completely different. “Most people spend their whole careers getting very good at one specific area because it is so complicated and there’s so much to learn,” she adds.

Samantha didn’t start her career with that specific focus or deep subject matter expertise. Like many people in the accounting industry, she got her start working for a large public accounting firm where she earned about $55,000 per year while living in the Bay Area. “It was honestly sort of barely enough to live on,” she says.

Quick stats 

  • Job: Tax director at a tech company
  • Based in: San Francisco, CA
  • Earnings: $240,000 salary (plus equity of about $75,000 for 2023)

She stayed in that position for about four years before she started looking for her next role. At that time, she landed a job with her current employer, with a starting salary of around $95,000. She hit six figures the following year after an annual raise.

However, the specific digits didn’t necessarily carry a lot of weight with her. “I think what was more meaningful for me wasn’t a specific number, but that I got to a point where I didn’t really have to worry about money as much,” she explains.

She’s been promoted twice since starting with her current company—once to a manager position and then to her current director-level position almost two years ago. That’s when she says the real earning increases started to come into effect.

There’s another factor that Samantha considers outside of her salary: equity. It’s a point of confusion for a lot of people, and Samantha says there are different types of equity. Her employer uses restricted stock units (RSUs). When you start your job, the company grants you a certain amount of shares that vest over a set amount of time (at her company, it’s four years). Every quarter, employees get a portion of the total shares they’ve been granted. “At that point, you become an owner of the company,” she explains. Every year, the company grants more shares.

“It’s meant to incentivize people to be more invested in the business long-term because you benefit when the company does well,” Samantha explains. “When the company does well, the stock price goes up, and so the value of your stock goes up.”

But while those stocks have value, Samantha says that they can fluctuate (stocks are notoriously volatile) and they’re not liquid. You’re not going to take your stocks to the corner coffee shop and buy an espresso.

Even so, it makes Samantha’s income look even more eye-popping on paper. However, she’s quick to note that six figures in the Bay Area doesn’t carry the same meaning it does elsewhere. “I mean, six figures here, I feel like nobody really bats an eye at that kind of thing,” she says, given the high cost of living. “If you’re making under six figures, you’re probably well below middle class. Everything’s so expensive—the rent, the houses, daycare, everything.”

Needless to say, that makes it even more important for people to talk openly about money, a philosophy that Samantha puts to work (even though she says the cultural norm of avoiding money conversations persists in the Bay Area the same way it does everywhere).

“It just helps to know what other people are making so that you can see for yourself whether you’re being underpaid or overpaid,” she concludes. “I’ve never felt like I need to hide anything money-related. And if I can help somebody else kind of benchmark themselves, I don’t see any reason why not to.”

In her own words:

What’s your favorite thing about your job? Being able to continuously learn about the company and develop my tax technical skills.

If you could test-drive another career for a week, what would you choose? A software engineer. With the way my brain works, I think if I spent time learning it, I could be good at it.

Do you have any financial or savings goals this year? Continuing to save for a house and then also saving for our daughter’s college fund.

What’s your favorite thing you own that costs $50 or less? This pair of Target pajamas that are super comfortable and cost $25 or $30. I just wear them all the time.

What’s your number one piece of career advice? Your brand and your reputation are your most important assets that you have in your job. Everything that you do, think about if it’s in line with your brand and reputation. The work that you do when nobody’s watching is just as important as the work that gets a lot of visibility.

Go here to read more about The Path to Six Figures, including stories from other women like Samantha.

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