While a CPA credential is not required to work in accounting, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants and auditors who earn certifications, especially the CPA, have the best job prospects. The starting salary for Certified Public Accountants ranges from $44,750 and $104,500, depending on their industry and the type of accounting they perform. Whether you’re just starting out in your accounting career or looking for a career change, it’s important to know how much you could (and should) be making as your career grows.
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CPA Starting Salary
Like with any job, a Certified Public Accountant’s starting salary ranges depending on many different factors, including whether they work in public or corporate accounting, the size of the company they work for, what type of work they perform, and where the job is located. Overall, corporate accounting firms tend to pay better than public accounting firms, jobs at larger firms (like the Big 4) pay more than jobs at mid-size or small accounting firms, and positions in tax and financial services tend to pay better than general accounting jobs.
The following national average salary data is from the Robert Half Salary Guide 2020 for accounting and finance professionals.
Starting Salaries for Accounting and Finance Professionals (1 to 3 Years of Experience)
|Job Title||Average Starting Salary|
|Corporate Tax Accountant||$64,750|
|Individual Tax Accountant||$59,500|
Highest Paying Positions for Accountants
After gaining a CPA license, your career can progress down a variety of paths. Executives and directors in top-tier accounting positions can earn upwards of $200,000 annually, more than four times the average starting salary for a general accountant. The following table shows the average salary for top accounting executive positions, excluding bonuses and incentives.
Average Annual Salary for Highest-Earning Accounting Jobs
|Job Title||Average Annual Salary|
|Chief Compliance Officer (CCO)||$206,250|
|Chief Financial Officer (CFO)||$202,750|
|Vice President of Finance||$185,750|
|Chief Risk Officer||$183,000|
|Director of Finance||$152,250|
Is a CPA a Good Career?
Not only will earning the CPA credential boost your career, it solidifies your position as an accounting expert. There are three main reasons why earning a CPA is a good career move:
- Job Security
- More Job Opportunities
- Higher Salary
CPAs are always in demand on the job market, because employers are always looking for an accountant who certifiably knowledgeable on a wide variety of accounting topics. Earning the CPA credential is no easy feat, so it’s no wonder that professionals who attain the license are awarded higher salaries and more career opportunities than their non-credentialed peers.
How to Increase Your Accounting Salary
As a budding accounting professional, there are several ways to solidify your position as top talent and increase your starting salary. One of those ways is to validate your skillset with a credential. While the CPA is considered the “platinum standard” for the accounting profession, the full CPA license requires 150 credit hours and one year of work experience. In most states, you can sit for the CPA Exam after completing just 120 credit hours, or a bachelor’s degree. Even if you’re in the midst of gaining the CPA credential, employers will know that you are serious about pursuing a career in accounting.
Enrolled Agent Credential
Another credential that can kickstart students’ careers is the Enrolled Agent certification. Enrolled Agents work in tax and can work with clients on tax issues across any state in the United States, unlike CPAs. There are no educational requirements to become an Enrolled Agent, and the Special Enrollment Exam is both cheaper and has higher pass rates than many other accounting credentialing exams.
Certified Management Accountant Credential
If you’re already into your career as a CPA, the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credential can help to give you your career an additional boost. The CMA credential fosters the strategy and decision-making skills accounting and finance professionals need to progress to higher-level careers, like President and CFO. According to Institute of Management Accountants, the organization that runs the CMA program, professionals who earn both a CPA and CMA earn 50% more than their non-certified peers.
Augment Your Skill Sets
Another way to increase your salary is to gain the skills required by the position that you want to have. Look beyond your first entry-level job, and see what skill sets are needed to take your career to the next level. For instance, data analytics is a field that has grown substantially in the past few years. Employers are looking for employees to have data analysis skills, including knowledge of programs like Excel, to help key decision-makers interpret valuable insights from large datasets. If you can provide your employer with the skills that they need, like knowing Excel, database management software, ERP systems, and QuickBooks, you will be put on the fast track towards a more successful – and lucrative – career.
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