Accountants work for individual clients, companies and federal, state and local governments, analyzing and communicating financial information. They provide budget analysis, information technology consulting and limited legal services. There are four major fields of accounting, including public accounting, management accounting, government accounting and internal auditing. Public accountants may become Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and work for public accounting firms or have their own businesses. They handle tax matters for clients or offer advice on employee healthcare benefits or the selection of controls to safeguard assets. Others audit clients’ financial statements and notify authorities and investors that statements were correctly prepared and reported.
Management accountants record and analyze their firm’s financial information. They also handle budgeting, cost management, performance evaluation and asset management. In addition, they prepare financial reports for stockholders, regulatory agencies, creditors and tax authorities. Government accountants audit private businesses and individuals to ensure that they are following government regulations and taxation. They may be employed by the federal government as Internal Revenue Service agents. Internal auditors analyze the effectiveness of their company’s internal controls and check for fraud, waste or mismanagement.
Accountants Job Profile
- Most accounting jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field.
- Job prospects will be good, especially for those who are CPAs or who have earned professional recognition through certification or licensure.
- An increase in the number of businesses, greater scrutiny of company finances and changing financial laws and regulations will spur much faster than average employment growth for accountants.
Work Environment for Accountants
Accountants usually work in an office setting, although some may be able to complete part of their work at home. Those who work for public accounting firms, government agencies and organizations with multiple locations may be required to travel often to perform audits at clients’ places of business, government facilities or at company branches.
Many accountants work regular 40-hour workweeks, but many work longer hours, especially if they have their own business with numerous clients. Accountants who are tax specialists often work overtime during the tax season.
Accountants Career Path - Education, Training and Certification
Most employers require accountants to have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Others prefer candidates with a master’s degree in accounting or a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting. There are many professional seminars, conferences and education courses offered by professional associations for accountants.
Many accountants choose to become Certified Public Accountants. Any accountant filing a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is required by law to be a CPA. Almost all states require CPA candidates to be college graduates, but a few will substitute experience in public accounting for a college degree. The CPA credential may be acquired by passing a national exam and meeting other state requirements where the accountant plans to practice. As of 2009, 46 states and the District of Columbia required CPA candidates to complete 150 semester hours of coursework beyond the usual bachelor’s degree. Many colleges and universities are now offering a 5-year combined bachelor’s degree and master’s degree to meet the 150 semester hour requirement, although a master’s degree is not required.
The four-part Uniform CPA Examination prepared by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is used by all states. This examination is very difficult, and less than one-half of those who take it each year pass every part the first time they take the exam. Most states allow candidates 18 months to pass other sections after passing the first one. The CPA exam is now computerized. In order to have their licenses renewed in most states, CPAs and other public accountants must complete continuing professional education.
Many colleges offer internship programs at public accounting or business firms so that students can gain experience in the summer.
Employment Figures, Job Opportunities and Salary Information
Accountants and auditors held 1,106,980 jobs in May 2009, according to research published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most accountants worked for accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services, while others worked for management of companies and enterprises, local and state government and insurance carriers.
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What is the jobs outlook for accountants? The BLS predicts that employment in this field will grow by 22% from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. More opportunities will result for accountants because of an emphasis on transparency, accountability and controls in financial reporting. Also, changing financial laws and corporate governance regulations will spur the need for more accountants.
What is the average accountants salary? BLS reports indicate that the median annual salary for accountants was $60,340 as of May 2009. The middle 50% of accountants earned between $46,740 and $79,470, while the bottom 10% had an income of $37,690 or less. The top 10% earned $104,450 or more annually.