Certified public accountants provide financial advice, accounting services, financial reporting assistance and tax services for clients. Accountants must work in the public accounting sector for a minimum of two years before applying to take an examination to become a CPA. Many CPAs specialize in an area of accounting. A primary role for a CPA is that of a trusted adviser, particularly for businesses implementing new systems or financial processes requiring auditing of financial records.
A CPA reviews financial statements for accuracy and to ensure statements comply with local, state and federal laws. A CPA may also calculate taxes, prepare an individual or corporate tax return and inspect accounting books to ensure that proper financial procedures are followed. Other duties and responsibilities include organizing and maintaining financial records and implementing methods to reduce costs and improve profits for an organization. Many CPAs meet with company managers to discuss ways to improve finances or reduce costs, or report on errors found in an audit.
Many CPAs work in independent offices as consultants. A CPA may work as a tax specialist, as a payroll service provider, in finance and insurance, or for state and local governments. Others service manufacturing and corporate industries. Many work full-time, with overtime hours during tax season or during the end of the budgeting year.
To become a CPA, you need at least a bachelor's degree in finance, accounting or a related field. Some have a master’s degree. Some colleges and universities offer specialized degrees in auditing. You must take an examination by the Securities and Exchange Commission to become a Certified Public Accountant. At the time of publication, most states required 150 hours of college course work in addition to the examination and two years of experience. Continuing education is also required to remain certified as a CPA.
The 2012 National Association of Colleges and Employers Survey revealed CPAs earned a median salary of $73,800 in 2011, with top earners making $124,000 on average, reports Bisk Education's CPA Review. Of all accountants, CPAs have the best odds of finding jobs, particularly those who have a master’s degree or those who specialize in a particular industry or field, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Competition for jobs will be highest among those who want to work for well-known corporate industries and business entities, according to the BLS.
2016 Salary Information for Accountants and Auditors
Accountants and auditors earned a median annual salary of $68,150 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, accountants and auditors earned a 25th percentile salary of $53,240, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $90,670, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 1,397,700 people were employed in the U.S. as accountants and auditors.