What To Know About Becoming An Accountant

Updated January 9, 2023 · 4 Min Read

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Accountants need at least a bachelor's degree. They oversee payroll, review financial documents, and prepare taxes.

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What Are the Requirements for a Career in Accounting?

Professionals can pursue various accounting careers. They may work as auditors, financial risk analysts, or accountants. Aspiring accountants need at least a bachelor's degree. Graduates who want to become certified public accountants (CPAs) must pass a licensing exam.

Accountants perform vital work for individuals and corporations. They oversee payroll, review financial documents, and prepare taxes. This guide explores what to know to begin a career in accounting. Read on to learn about common classes in accounting programs and potential accounting careers for graduates.

Accounting Requirements

Some accounting professionals only need an associate degree, including bookkeepers and accounting and auditing clerks. However, most accounting careers require a bachelor's degree. Employers may prefer candidates with a master's degree in accounting.

Many accountants pursue certification. Only CPAs can file reports through the Securities and Exchange Commission. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) administers the Uniform CPA Examination.

Careers in Accounting

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for business and financial professionals to grow 8% from 2020-2030. See below for some popular accounting careers.

  • Accountant

    Accountants need at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a finance-related field. To practice independently, they need CPA status. These professionals help clients with tax preparation. They examine financial documents and make recommendations for filing strategies and write-offs. They ensure their clients comply with federal regulations.

    Many accountants work for firms. Others perform in-house accounting for one company. CPAs can work as self-employed individuals. They typically work during traditional business hours for most of the year. However, they may work long hours and weekends during tax season.

    Accountants earn a median $73,560 annually. The BLS projects jobs for these workers to grow 7% from 2020-2030.

  • Auditor

    Auditors need at least a bachelor's degree in finance or a business subject. These professionals can show professional expertise by becoming certified internal auditors. The Institute of Internal Auditors offers this certification.

    Auditors ensure businesses, organizations, and individuals comply with federal tax regulations. However, instead of preparing payroll or taxes, they review financial statements for discrepancies.

    They often work as third-party representatives who review a company's financial data. Auditors check for mistakes or intentional fraud. Many auditors work for auditing agencies. Some auditors work for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

    Feb. 2022 Payscale data shows auditors earn an annual average of about $58,460.

  • Budget Analyst

    Budget analysts typically need at least a bachelor's degree in business, math, or finance. They must become certified government financial managers to qualify for jobs with the government.

    These professionals help organizations and businesses use their profits responsibly. They review company-wide budgets and create profit-and-loss statements. Budget analysts suggest ways to increase profits and decrease overhead. They may suggest repayment plans to quickly lower a company's debt.

    This type of accounting career involves critical thinking. Nearly a quarter of all budget analysts work for the federal government. Others work for third-party agencies or offer their services in-house to one employer.

    Budget analysts earn a median $78,970 annually. The BLS projects jobs for these professionals to grow 5% from 2020-2030.

  • Cost Estimator

    Cost estimators usually need a bachelor's degree in finance. However, education requirements vary by industry. For example, cost estimators working in the construction industry may need a concentration in a field like engineering. Cost estimators who work for an insurance company may need a legal background.

    These professionals analyze available information to form project estimates. These estimates may outline the cost for an automobile repair or a new home build.

    Cost estimators earn a median $66,610 annually. The BLS projects jobs for these professionals to only grow 1% from 2020-2030.

  • Financial Analyst

    Financial analysts need a bachelor's degree in a subject like accounting. Earning certification through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority may help professionals increase their job opportunities. For example, certified analysts can sell financial products to clients.

    These professionals need strong analytical and mathematical skills. They offer investment recommendations based on stock market data. Financial analysts assess companies to determine their financial worth and investment risk.

    Financial analysts earn a median $83,660 annually. The BLS projects jobs for these professionals to grow 6% from 2020-2030.

  • Personal Financial Advisor

    Personal financial advisors need a bachelor's degree in finance or a related field. These professionals work directly with individuals to help them save for goals like retirement or paying for a child's college education.

    These professionals perform similar work to financial analysts. They study stock market trends and evaluate investing strategies. About 20% of personal financial advisors work as self-employed individuals. However, most work for securities or commodity contracts companies.

    Personal financial advisors earn a median $89,330 annually. The BLS projects jobs for these workers to grow 5% from 2020-2030.

  • Tax Examiner

    This career in accounting requires a bachelor's degree in business or finance. Most tax examiners possess experience working as CPAs. This job requires a moderate level of on-the-job training.

    The IRS employs most tax examiners. These professionals audit tax documents that display red flags. They review tax documents and determine the correct amount a business or individual owes the federal government.

    Tax examiners earn a median $55,640 annually. The BLS projects jobs for these professionals to decline 4% from 2020-2030.

Accounting Certifications and Licensure

Not every accounting job requires certification or a license. However, professionals with certification or licensure can pursue advanced roles in the field. See below for three common certifications.

Aspiring auditors, tax examiners, and financial analysts may benefit from this certification. The 500-question exam costs $450. Some questions follow a true-or-false format. Others follow an objective format.

The exam covers topics like financial transactions, law, and common fraud schemes. Test-takers can prepare by reading the 2,000-page Fraud Examiners Manual. They can also enroll in a guided course.

Becoming a CMA prepares CPAs for leadership roles. Many industry professionals consider this certification as a benchmark for excellence in accounting. The exam includes two sections. The first section covers cost management, financial reporting decisions, and internal controls. The second half focuses on risk management, professional ethics, and corporate finance. Both sections cost about $700. CFP status demonstrates rigorous education, training, and ethical standards in the financial planning field. Test-takers complete a 170-question exam divided into two sections. Candidates can take up to six hours to complete both sections. They must complete both sections in one day. Candidates pay an early-bird rate of $825. Late registration costs $1,025.

Courses in an Accounting Program

Most bachelor's degrees require 120 credits. However, accounting programs usually require 150 credits. While most learners spend an additional year on their studies, they graduate with the knowledge to succeed on the CPA exam.

Some accounting programs let learners choose a concentration. Sometimes called minors or specializations, concentrations help prepare learners for various positions. For example, an accounting major with a financial advising minor may work as an accountant or a personal financial advisor.

See below for five common classes in an accounting program. Keep in mind that classes vary by program.

  • Business Law

    Enrollees explore the financial regulations corporations and organizations must meet to comply with the law. The class examines legal ethics and how to identify signs of fraudulent financial activity. Students learn the importance of financial transparency and best practices for record-keeping.
  • Money and Banking

    Students examine how banks earn profits and how credit unions vary. They learn about the process for applying for a loan. They also study how banks vet applicants. Part of the class highlights the global financial system. Learners examine how the economy impacts banking operations.
  • Estate and Gift Taxation

    Aspiring accountants learn how to record estates and gifts in tax reports. Using this knowledge, accountants help their clients comply with the law and avoid audits. The class covers how to record received gifts and charitable contributions.
  • Detection and Prevention of Fraudulent Financial Statements

    Students learn about red flags that signal fraudulent activity. Learners discover how to help their clients prevent unknowingly committing fraud. The class covers best practices for recording tax credits and tax write-offs. A large portion of this class includes case studies of criminal financial activity and peer discussions.
  • Advanced Auditing

    This class prepares students for the CPA exam's auditing portion. Coursework highlights best practices and the ethical responsibilities of auditing. Enrollees learn how to generate an audit report and communicate findings in clear terms. Learners also examine historical court cases that impact the auditing field.

Graduate Degree in Accounting

Accounting rules and regulations change regularly. For example, the government offers unique tax-relief credits. Laws for write-offs fluctuate. Joining a professional organization like the AICPA helps accountants stay current. However, a graduate degree may offer a more immersive experience.

A master's degree helps professionals advance their accounting careers and become thought leaders. Graduates can also apply for leadership roles in banking or taxation.

A master's degree in accounting requires about 36 credits and explores practical applications. A doctorate in accounting, the field's terminal degree, highlights theories behind the practices.

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