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How to Become an Accountant

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How to Become an Accountant What accountants do

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants or auditors handle financial records to ensure their accuracy, that the correct amount of taxes are paid when they are due, and that they comply with the pertinent laws and regulations. They will scrutinize an organization’s financial structure to make sure the firm is running as efficiently as possible and make recommendations for improvement.

In general, accountants and auditors work full-time -- in 2010, one-fifth worked more than 40 hours per week. Longer hours should be expected at certain times, such as during tax season or at the end of the fiscal year. The work of accountants and auditors is usually done in an office setting; however, some accountants work from home. Auditors may have to visit their clients’ business when performing an on-site audit (BLS, 2012).

Types of accountants

According to the BLS, the four main kinds of accountants include the following:

  •  Public accountants: Public accountants work for public accounting companies and perform accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting duties
  • Management accountants: Management accountants keep track of the money spent and made by the companies for which they work
  • Internal auditors: Internal auditors make sure that a company's accounting records are accurate and look for ways to find and eliminate fraud
  • Government accountants: Government accountants and auditors oversee the financial records of those entities subject to government regulation to ensure they are in compliance with pertinent laws
  • How to become an accountant

    Most employers require a candidate to have a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field and, in some cases, employers require potential candidates to possess an advanced degree with many giving preference to those who are certified, according to the BLS.

    The BLS notes that people who want to be accountants should excel at math and have good analytical and organizational skills. They also should be able to communicate well so that they can convey their findings to others, through both written reports and verbally.

    Although steps vary, the traditional method to becoming an accountant typically includes the following steps:

    • Earn a high-school diploma
    •  Enroll and complete a program of study in accounting or related field (e.g., business administration with an accounting concentration) at a college or university
    • Apply for entry-level employment

    Certification within a specific field of accounting could potentially open the door to additional job prospects according to the BLS, as it demonstrates professionalism and specialization in a field of accounting. For example, many accountants become Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). According to the AICPA (American Institute of CPAs), all CPAs are accountants but not all accountants are CPAs. In many states, anyone can call himself/herself an “accountant,”but in order to become a CPA, almost all states require that an individual meet educational, experience and ethical requirements and pass the Uniform CPA Examination.

    How to become a CPA

    • Obtain a specific amount of professional work and educational experience in public accounting (the required amount and type of experience varies according to licensing jurisdiction)
    • Register for the Uniform CPA Exam
    • Pass the Uniform CPA Exam
    • Complete any other state-licensing requirements
    • Apply for employment

    Other types of certifications include the Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). For those accountants who already have their CPA, the option exists to receive any or all of the Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV), Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP), or Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) certifications (BLS, 2012).

    Additional training, qualifications, education or certifications may be required. No employment is guaranteed by following steps to become an accountant or CPA.

    Career outlook for accountants

    As demand for thorough financial documentation is expected to increase in response to recent financial crises and subsequent financial regulations, employment prospects for accounts are expected to rise. The BLS reports that national employment rates of accountants and auditors is expected to grow by up to 16 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020. The annual wage of accountants and auditors varies, depending on geographical region, years of experience and the size of the firm. In May 2011, the national annual wage was $62,850 median according to BLS salary data, with the lowest-paid 10-percent making up to $39,640 nationally and the top-paid 10-percent making up to $109,870 nationally in 2011.  

    According to the BLS, the following industries employed the most accountants and auditors in 2011: accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services; management, scientific and technical consulting services; state and local government, excluding education and hospitals; and management of companies and enterprises.

    Quick Facts: Accountants and auditors

    *All data from BLS.gov*

    2011 Median National Pay       $62,850 per year $30.22 per hour
    Entry-Level Education     Bachelor's degree
    Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
    On-the-job Training    None
    Number of Jobs, 2011         1,085,150
    Job Outlook, 2010-2020     16% nationally (About as fast as national average)
    Employment Change, 2010-20    190,700

    Sources

    U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accountants and Auditors

    U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011, Accountants and Auditors

    American Institute of CPAs (AICPA)