Careers in Accounting

Accounting is the practice of recording and analyzing financial transactions to ensure a business operates efficiently and profitably. Accountants work with financial records and reports, inspecting an organization’s finances to reduce costs and improve profits. Businesses and organizations of all types use accounting practices, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects careers in the field to grow at an average rate between 2018 and 2028.

This page provides information on the top careers in accounting, including salary potential, answers to common questions, and a list of the top-paying states for accounting careers.

Outlook and Salary Potential in Accounting

The BLS reports that accountants earn a Median Annual Wage of $70,500, though salary varies by factors such as experience, education, and industry.

The BLS reports that accountants employed in finance and insurance earn the highest annual median salary, at $74,690. Those in the management of companies and enterprises earn an annual median salary of $73,180, while accountants in tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services earn $70,640. Government accountants can expect to earn a median salary of $68,420 per year.

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Many accountants enhance their career prospects by earning the certified public accountant (CPA) credential. Indicating accounting competence and specialization, this credential bestows many professional advantages. While not required for all accounting jobs, professionals with the CPA credential generally earn higher salaries than those without it.

Becoming a CPA requires passing a comprehensive exam and other individual state requirements. Most states require 150 hours of college-level coursework, which extends beyond typical bachelor’s credit requirements. Many schools offer combined bachelor’s/master’s programs in accounting, which fulfill all academic requirements for the CPA exam.

The BLS projects careers for accountants to grow 6% from 2018-2028, which is in line with the national average for all occupations. In the future, technological advances may automate some of the most common accounting tasks, but this progress is not expected to reduce overall demand for skilled accounting professionals. Increasing globalization may also lead to increased demand for accounting skills related to international business.

How To Become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Common Accounting Careers

  • Forensic Accounting

    These accountants perform a unique role, using their knowledge to investigate financial crimes and other forms of fraud, such as tax evasion, money laundering, and embezzlement. Forensic accountants may help law enforcement agencies investigate crimes or perform financial investigations as part of litigation proceedings. In legal environments, they may assist courts in determining awards from lawsuits. According to PayScale, forensic accountants earn a median annual salary of $68,000.

  • Public Accounting

    Indicating a professional background more than a specific set of career duties, CPAs can pursue a wide variety of accounting roles in the public and private sectors. PayScale reports CPAs earn an annual median salary of $66,000.

  • Management Accounting

    Management accountants record, analyze, and interpret an organization’s financial data. They use this information to help companies make informed decisions based on comprehensive data analysis. PayScale reports that these accountants earn an annual median salary of $59,600.

  • Financial Accounting

    Financial accountants record, summarize, and report financial transactions from businesses, using this information to prepare financial statements such as balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements. These accountants typically provide financial information to parties outside the organization for which they work, such as investors or shareholders. PayScale reports that financial accountants earn a median annual salary of $55,000.

  • Auditing

    Auditors perform duties similar to conventional accountants, though they typically focus on assessing financial data to ensure adherence to generally accepted accounting principles. Rather than looking for inefficiencies, auditors closely examine finances for evidence of fraud or gross errors, ensuring an organization’s finances comply with legal standards. According to PayScale, auditors earn an annual median salary of $56,400.


Top Accounting Careers


Top Paying States for Accounting

State Average Mean Wage
District of Columbia $103,930
New York $98,650
New Jersey $91,960
Virginia $85,720
California $83,910
Source: BLS

Questions About Accounting Careers

  • What are the basics of accounting?

    Accountants must adhere to a variety of basic principles with respect go general financial concepts and standard operating procedures. Broadly, businesses rely on two key types of accounting: cost accounting and managerial accounting. Cost accounting determines how much products should cost, while managerial accounting uses financial data to inform business decision-making.

    Accountants must also comply with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, a set of procedures dictated by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to help improve clarity and consistency in accounting information. These standards help accountants maintain uniformity in practices such as balance sheet classification and revenue recognition.

  • Do accountants make good money?

    Accountants command a respectable salary, and the universal use of accounting principles in business ensures a permanent demand for accountants. The BLS reports that accountants and auditors earn an Annual Median Salary of $70,500, with those employed in the finance, management, and insurance industries earning even higher pay.

    Jobs for accountants are projected to grow 6% from 2018-2028, a rate about equal to the national average. Overall, the BLS projects more than 90,000 new jobs for accountants to emerge between 2018-2028.

  • What skills do accountants need?

    Though they work primarily with numbers, successful accountants need a varied skill set to address challenges in the field. Among the most important qualities for accountants are a keen analytical sense and an eye for detail. Accountants must be able to analyze complex financial and tax data to identify potential issues and inefficiencies.

    Accountants must also be able to communicate the results of their work to other departments, so communication skills are key. They also need strong organizational skills to keep track of large amounts of complex financial data.

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