bookkeeper
How to Become an

Accountant

The complete career guide to be an Accountant: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $75,280
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 10.7%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Don't Take Work Home
    Career Attribute

Accountants are number crunchers who manage finances and prepare reports. Depending on their interests, accountants may have varied responsibilities. They may manage day-to-day business finances, prepare tax documentation, or work as strategists, using data to provide guidance on financial matters.


What is an Accountant?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in accounting roles:

  • Prepare tax returns for individuals or businesses: ensure eligible deductions are applied, compute taxes owed, and guarantee compliance with applicable tax laws
  • Maintain and update business financial statements and records to support day-to-day financial transactions
  • Monitor transactions to ensure business finances are sound, and provide recommendations on financial decisions
  • Employ thorough record-keeping processes to comply with GAAP and other industry regulations and to safeguard businesses in the event of an audit
  • Prepare, distribute, and present financial reports and balance sheets

A Day in the Life of an Accountant

Accountants work with numbers, managing finances for companies or preparing taxes for individuals. Accountants are also experts in tax laws and financial rules and regulations. Their jobs are really two-fold: they help ensure budgets are correct and finances are in order, and they also make sure the people they work with and the companies they work for are adhering to tax laws and financial regulations.

Accountants will perform most their work on computers, creating budgets, keeping records, and compiling reports. Expect to do a lot of work with spreadsheets or within payroll, bookkeeping, and/or accounting software programs. Accountants are often required to prepare financial reports and assist in financial decision-making, and they may be required to attend company meetings to present findings and recommendations to company leadership.

While some accountants choose to work for companies, other choose to run their own businesses and prepare tax records for individual clients. Business clients that must file taxes quarterly keep these accountants busy year-round, and there is also a surge in business at the beginning of the year when annual tax preparations begin for individuals.

Typical Work Schedule for an Accountant

Most accountants have regular working schedule of 40 hours per week which is ideal for people looking to keep the life and work balance. However, the schedule commonly changes, and you may need to work overtime at the end of the fiscal year which is around the end of September each year in the United States. You need then to prepare financial statements and auditing reports. The work can also be stressful during the annual taxing season and the working hours may even reach 80 hours per week. You may also be lucky to find a company that allow working from home with a more flexible schedule.

Projected Job Growth for Accountants

According to the US bureau of labor statistics, the employment of accountants is expected to increase by at least 4 % from 2019 to 2029 which is similar to the average of other jobs. The rate of growth is closely tied to many factors like the growth of the economy and international trade. However, recent technological advances such as cloud computing allow the automation of many accounting tasks which limits the job growth. Accordingly, it is crucial for you as an accountant to sharpen your advisory and analytical capabilities.

Normally, any entry-level accountant should have no problem landing a job. However, there is strong competition for most prestigious positions in the accounting firms. These positions require more analytical skills may and higher certification like CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or even an MBA (Master of Business Administration).

Accounting Specializations

While the majority of accountants are public accountants—an overall term that encompasses all of the responsibilities listed above—more specific roles are available within the field.

  • Bookkeepers manage day-to-day finances, make payments, and collect on invoices.
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA): Most accountants work as CPAs which are certified accountants that going through a college program and take a certification test to ensure they’re qualified to advice individuals and companies on tax and financial matters.
  • Auditors assess company financial records and processes to ensure compliance with regulations, and may offer strategic recommendations on cost-saving process enhancements.
  • Controllers oversee all company financial operations and often manage a team of accountants.

Career Progression

  • Early Career: Billing Specialist, Payroll Clerk, Accounts Payable or Receivable Clerk, Bookkeeper
  • Mid-Career: Accountant, Auditor, Controller
  • Late Career: Accounting Manager, Finance Director, Chief Financial Officer

Typical Employers

Accountants have a wide range of work opportunities and employers. You can work for private and public accounting firms. They range from big accounting firms like Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), Ernst & Young, KPMG and Deloitte to medium or small size accounting firms. These firms provide outsourcing accounting and auditing services to other companies from different industries. They employ thousands of accountants and provide a chance to gain valuable experience working with different industries and different accounting tools. You may also work in the accounting department for any business or governmental entity. Some accountants may choose to work independently, but in this case, they must have enough experience and connections to be able to prosper.


How To Become an Accountant

It’s possible to gain experience prior to earning a CPA license by working in a junior accounting role as a bookkeeper, accounting assistant, or payroll clerk. These positions may be available to individuals who are currently studying for an accounting degree. An associate’s degree in accounting or certificate in bookkeeping may make you a more desirable candidate to employers when hiring for these positions, and often these smaller degrees can be earned while you work toward a bachelor’s degree.

Most accounting jobs require a bachelor’s degree in business, finance, or accounting, and CPAs are required to pass the Certified Public Accountant licensing exam. To take the exam, most states require 150 hours of college coursework. The CPA exam for all states is a four-part exam from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Most states also have continuing education requirements to maintain the CPA certification.

For advanced accounting positions, a master’s degree in accounting or an MBA with an accounting focus is generally required. If you know starting out that you want to pursue both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, you may want to look for a college that offers a combined program that allows you to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the same time while also accruing the education hours you need to take the CPA exam.


Accountant Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range

$52,090

Average

$75,280

High Range

$118,930

National Hourly Wage

Low Range

$25/hr

Average

$36/hr

High Range

$57/hr

How do Accountant salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Accountant's can make an average annual salary of $75,280, or $36 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $52,090 or $25 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #164 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally


Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming an Accountant. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.


Highest Education Among Accountants

  • 2.7%   Doctorate
  • 20.5%   Masters
  • 55.3%   Bachelors
  • 9.1%   Associates
  • 8%   College
  • 4.2%   High School
  • 0.2%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs

1,332,700

2024 Est. Jobs

1,475,100

Job Growth Rate

10.7%

Est. New Jobs

142,400

How does Accountant job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 142,400 jobs for a total of 1,475,100 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 10.7% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #170 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally


What Companies Employ The Most Accountants

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services 350,600 72,900 73%
Management of companies and enterprises 89,400 4,400 5%
Self-employed workers 79,300 2,700 3%

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