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A certified public accountant (CPA) is a financial professional who has met strict educational and experience requirements, including the passing of a difficult examination called the Uniform CPA Examination. According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, CPAs should have a bachelor's degree and at least 2 years of public accounting experience. PayScale.com lists the median annual salary of CPAs with less than 1 year of experience between $39,870 and $51,674. Those with 20 or more years of experience earn from $61,811 to $108,296. CPAs work in a variety of capacities, including tax advice and preparation, auditing and consulting. CPAs are often self-employed but may also work for public accounting firms.
Tax Advising and Preparation
CPAs may specialize in the preparation of tax returns for small businesses, corporations or self-employed individuals. They may also help their clients develop a strategy to legally minimize the amount of taxes that are owed. If a business is about to conduct a major operation such as an expansion or acquisition, the CPA can inform its ownership of any possible tax ramifications.
CPAs may audit financial books and records to verify their accuracy and to ensure that necessary paperwork has been maintained.They also help businesses set up methods of bookkeeping and financial reporting. In some cases, they may be asked to examine financial documents to determine the possible perpetration of a fraud.
CPAs serve in a consulting capacity for business owners or those looking to start a business. In the case of the latter, the CPA can help set up a business plan to help the potential owner obtain financing. The CPA will also inform the owner as to the viability of a business idea to help in the decision-making process.
Operating a Business
Many CPAs are self-employed, which technically makes them business owners. They have the responsibility that comes with operating a business, including keeping accurate records, building a client base and hiring office staff as necessary.
As with other professionals such as doctors and attorneys, CPAs are responsible for adhering to a strict code of ethics. As such, they must represent the best interests of their clients and maintain the confidence of the public. They should also avoid any conflicts of interest and do their best to advance the accounting profession.
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.
Chris Joseph writes for websites and online publications, covering business and technology. He holds a Bachelor of Science in marketing from York College of Pennsylvania.