More than 1.1 million people worked as accountants or auditors in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These college-educated financial professionals help businesses and individual keep track of their finances. Besides preparing and examining financial records, they confirm financial accounts are accurate and help clients calculate and file their taxes. The BLS is projecting a reasonably strong 16-percent job growth for accountants through 2020.
Most accountants have earned a bachelor's degree in accounting, but a few come from other academic backgrounds and learned accounting on the job. Some highly motivated bookkeepers and accounting clerks also work their way up the career ladder to become accountants. Employers often prefer candidates with a master's degree for senior accounting positions.
Several professional certifications are available for accountants, depending on their specialty. Most accountants in general practice, including many staff accountants, choose to become certified public accountants, but others choose to become certified management accountants or certified auditors. Becoming a CPA requires 30 additional hours of coursework as well as the 120 hours generally required for an accounting degree and passing a rigorous, four-part exam. Some states permit substituting a specified number of years of professional accounting experience for the CPA educational requirement.
Accountants earned an average salary of $71,040 in 2012, according to the BLS. The median salary for accountants was $63,550. The top 10 percent of accountants took in more than $111,510, while the bottom 10 percent only earned $39,930 or less in 2012.
Salary by State
Accountants based in New York came out on top of the salary range, earning an average of $85,140 in 2012. Those working in New Jersey took home just a few thousand dollars less, earning a mean salary of $81,470. Florida-based accountants show up on the lower end of the salary range, only earning an average salary of $65,660 in 2012.
Salary by Industry
Accountants employed by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the federal government made the most, with average salaries of $96,260 and $90,560 in 2012, respectively. Those employed in the accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services industries earned slightly more than average, with a mean salary of $75,690. Those employed in state government earned the least, only taking home an average salary of $55,850 in 2012.
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