Accountants conduct analysis of financial information and communicate related details. They help ensure that companies run efficiently, accurate public records are maintained, and taxes are paid correctly and on time.
Accountants may work for a company, the government, or for clients as a public accountant. In addition to financial document preparation, analysis, and verification, some accountants perform budget analysis, investment and financial planning, consulting regarding information technology, and offer limited legal services.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics reported a mean annual wage of $68,690 for accountants in May 2010.
Annual wages averaged $38,940 for the lowest ten percent of earners, while the middle 50 percent earned $61,690 annually.
The top ten percent of earners had an average annual wage of $106,880. New York, District of Columbia, New Jersey, Maryland, and Massachusetts were the top five paying states/districts, each providing an annual mean wage that exceeded $75,000. North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Mississippi were the lowest paying states, with an annual mean wage of between $36,250 and $55,870.
The accounting, bookkeeping, payroll services, and tax preparation industry employed the largest number of accountants. Other industries employing a significant number of people in this field included enterprise management, local and state government, and management, technical, and scientific consulting services. The federal executive branch was the top paying industry, with an annual mean wage of $89,310. The postal service and companies engaged in commodity and securities brokerage and intermediation, other financial investment activities, or various information services were additional top payers.
2008 – 2018 Projected
Employment Changes 279,400 new accounting and auditor jobs 22% increase in employment
Employment growth for accountants is expected to be 22% from 2008 to 2018, which is much faster than average, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In general, job opportunities will be favorable, with accountants who possess a professional certification, especially the CPA designation, having the best prospects. As of May 2010, the highest employment levels for accountants were in the states of California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
Education & Training
Most accounting positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a closely related field. This was confirmed by a recent O*Net survey that found 79% of accountants surveyed had a bachelor’s degree, while only five percent had an associate’s degree. Some employers prefer that accountants have a master’s degree in accounting or in business administration with an accounting concentration. Nine percent of the O*Net survey respondents held a master’s degree.
In addition to accounting programs, some colleges and universities have begun offering programs regarding popular specialty professions like forensic accounting. Junior college or business school graduates may be able to find junior accounting positions. New accountants are often required to work with an experienced accountant before they are provided additional responsibility.
Any accountant who files a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must be a Certified Public Accountant, or CPA. The state Board of Accountancy licenses CPAs who meet state requirements and pass a four-part national exam prepared by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Other certifications, like the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation from the Institute of Management Accountants, are available from various professional societies.
The majority of states require that CPA candidates have a college degree. As of 2009, the District of Columbia and 46 states required that CPA candidates have 150 semester-hours of college courses, which is 30 hours more than a traditional bachelor’s degree program. Some schools offer a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program lasting five years that meets the 150 semester-hour requirement. Nearly all states require individuals with a CPA designation complete continuing professional education in order to renew their licenses.
States with the Highest Wages
Accountants are lucky professionals because they stand to earn an excellent income no matter where they live in the country. And best of all, accountants can work almost anywhere they want. But even in the most lucrative industries, geography always influences a professional’s earning potential. Accountants living and working in certain states will earn more than others simply because they live in a top paying state for their field. For accounting professionals, the best money in the business lives in the northeast.
New York, for example, is the highest paying state for this field. Accountants in New York earn an average annual income of $80,420. Many professionals only dream of earning that kind of salary. New Jersey is the second highest paying state, where accountants earn an average salary of $76,380.
The District of Columbia, home of the capitol city, is the third highest paying state. Accountants in D.C. are paid very well, with average salaries at $75,580. In nearby Maryland, the average annual income for professionals in this field is $73,520. Even though the two states are so close together, with Maryland residents often commuting to D.C. for work, there is still a two thousand dollar difference in average salaries.
Connecticut is the fifth highest paying states for accountants, where they stand to earn an average income of $72,950. Incomes for accountants are high all over the country. But those living in the northeastern United States earn top dollar.
Accountant Salaries for States with the Highest Employment Levels
The accounting profession is a popular choice for career-focused men and women because it is lucrative as well as flexible. Accountants have the ability to earn a significant income without being tied to a specific geographic area. They can work in almost any state in the country because all businesses, regardless of industry, need someone to help them keep track of their dollars and cents. However, accountants want job security as much as the next person and in order to have that, they want to live in states where their work is in demand.
The District of Columbia is just one of those states. It has one of the highest employment levels for accountants of any state in the country. It also has a significant average income for those in the field, with accountants earning $75,780 on average. The state of Colorado also has very high employment levels for individuals in this field. Accountants in Colorado earn an average annual income of $67,160.
New York State has one of the highest employment levels for accountants as well as the highest salary of any other state in the country. Accountants in New York earn an average annual income of $80,420. Delaware continues the trend in the northeast with high employment levels and an average salary of $67,280. And in Connecticut, accountants enjoy high employment levels and average salaries around $72,950.
For long-term career success, high employment levels are as important as high salaries. Accountants have both.
Several occupations make use of the same skills that accountants use. Here is a short list of careers related to accounting:
- Cost estimators forecast the size, duration, and costs of future projects.
- Managers use this information to decide whether the endeavor is profitable or to determine whether to bid on a contract.
- Loan officers find business and individual clients interested in taking out a loan and guide them through the application process.
- Economists study the distribution of resources in the production of goods and services.
- Personal financial advisors help clients develop financial goals and assist them with investment and insurance decisions.
- Budget analysts create, analyze, and execute budgets that represent corporate allocation of financial resources.