Accounting Careers

There is a diverse range of fields within accounting, depending on the accounting program you attend. You will have the most options for future employment if you complete a master’s degree, and will have fewer options if you only complete your associate’s degree.

Common accounting jobs for those with associate’s degrees from accounting programs include bookkeeping, accounts payable, or accounts receivable. A bookkeeper tabulates an employer’s incoming and outgoing funds. An accounting clerk oversees payments made by an employer and payments made to an employer from clients and customers.

With a bachelor’s degree in accounting, you will be qualified to work as a certified public accountant.

Certified public accountants work for a variety of employers. Many work for accounting firms that send them out, occasionally with a team of other accountants, to work for various clients. Many accountants also work for the government or private organizations. Sometimes these accounts take on a consultant’s role and advise their employers on how to save money on their budgets. This offers accountants an opportunity for creativity and critical thought in the workplace, which contradicts the stereotype of accountants as people who merely plug numbers.

Many certified public accountants also work as auditors and prepare taxes for their clients. The busiest time of year for auditors is tax season, which lasts roughly from January until mid-April. It is common for accountants to begin their careers working for large accounting firms and later move on to self-employment. Many accountants also move on to other work in the financial field, such as financial planning.

Obtaining a master’s degree from an accounting program will help you gain credibility from prospective employers and clients. You may choose to complete a dual-degree bachelor’s and master’s accounting program. These programs usually last for five years. Other accountants choose to spend some time between earning their bachelor’s and master’s degrees working the field.

Gaining certification is another way to enhance your career prospects. To become certified, you need to pass a certification exam and then earn continuing education credits throughout your career. Your accounting program can provide you with resources to prepare for this exam and may offer programs to complete continuing education credits.

Bookkeeper

To work as a bookkeeper, you need to earn an associate’s degree through an accounting program. Associate’s degree accounting programs usually take two years to complete. Bookkeeping is one of the few accounting careers that does not require you to earn a bachelor’s degree. You also do not need to pursue CPA certification to work as a bookkeeper; bookkeeping is a way to enter the workforce quickly if you are not able to commit four years to an accounting program and the extra time and energy it takes to gain certification. If you have worked as a bookkeeper for a while and want to advance your career, your work experience will serve you well if you choose to return to school to earn your bachelor’s degree through an accounting program.

Bookkeepers work for a variety of employers. Their duties relate directly to running a business or organization, so bookkeepers are needed in many industries including small and large businesses in the private sector, some government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Working as a bookkeeper for several different employers over the course of your career will allow you to witness the similarities and differences of how business is conducted across different industries.

The primary job of a bookkeeper is to oversee an employer’s financial transactions. This includes purchasing materials, equipment, or other resources needed by the employer. Purchasing will give you the opportunity to interact with vendors and in some cases negotiate a better price for your employer. The bookkeeper is responsible for preparing financial statements and documenting all the purchases made by an employer. You may also be responsible for taking inventory of current supplies to determine what materials and equipment are needed at any given time. Some employers may define a set schedule on which they would like you to perform inventory, and others will take a more laid-back approach, giving you greater responsibility for ensuring that the business has everything it needs.

Bookkeepers also handle funds coming into a business. You may be responsible for making bank deposits when clients pay your employer. To receive the correct payment, the bookkeeper may make invoices and send them to clients. Invoices are documents detailing how much money is owed for particular goods and services.

As well as invoices, bookkeepers prepare other financial documents for their employers. Your responsibility will be to prepare these documents accurately and ethically. Bookkeepers sometimes keep ledgers to record each financial transaction an employer makes. Ledgers simply tabulate each debit and credit in two separate columns. A credit is money coming in to an organization, and a debit is money going out. So, bills would fall under the debit column of the ledger and a paid invoice would fall under the credit column. Your employer will likely come to you with questions about how money is being spent and received in the business, so you will need to be prepared to answer them.

As the preparer of financial documents and an employee who has access to all of an employer’s financial information, a bookkeeper sometimes is asked to help create an employer’s budget. You can use your knowledge of all incoming and outgoing funds to find areas in which your employer can save money.

Because bookkeepers are also sometimes responsible for administrative duties that relate to finance– such as ensuring that your employer’s bills are paid on time–you may be the one in your office responsible for paying the electric bill each month and keeping track of how much your employer spends on electricity. In a case like this, you may also have the opportunity to voice suggestions on how your employer can save money, such as turning the lights off in a room that is not being used.

Budgeting can be more creative than merely keeping electricity costs down. You will have the opportunity to recommend certain vendors over others to your employer and offer suggestions on costs that can be combined or eliminated. You can also determine what areas of the business may need more funding to maximize profit.

Salaries for bookkeepers average around $35,000 per year. However, salaries also depend on your geographic location and on how much work experience you have in the field. Some bookkeepers who have been working for years can earn up to $50,000. Others who are just beginning their careers may only earn around $20,000. Sometimes bookkeepers are paid hourly rather than salaried, and in these cases you may have the opportunity to earn overtime. Hourly rates for bookkeepers average about $15 per hour.

Accountant

Nearly all accountants complete a bachelor’s degree accounting program or a master’s degree accounting program. Bachelor’s degree accounting programs take four years. You at least need a bachelor’s degree to work as an accountant, although many accountants go on to earn an advanced degree. To be competitive to potential employers and clients, you may want to earn a master’s degree. That way, your qualifications will match those of many of your colleagues, and you will have more chances to advance your career.

Accountants work in many different capacities, offering many options for employment.

Many accountants work as certified public accountants for large accounting firms. If you work for an accounting firm, your employer will send you out to perform services for various clients. You may do a lot of work off-site at your client’s location, and you may be working for a client alone or with a team of other accountants, depending on the size of the job.

Other accountants work as management accountants, hired by a particular company to work internally, rather than for external clients. As a management accountant, you will prepare and evaluate your employer’s financial documents. You will be responsible for ensuring that your employer’s financial transactions are recorded accurately and that no illegal activity takes place. Management accountants also often have the chance to work in a consultancy role. Your employer will expect you to help draft the budget. As you prepare financial statements, you will need to look for areas in which your employer can save money. This may include combining some expenses or finding less-costly options. This may also include ways to increase earnings.

The government and non-profit organizations also hire accountants. If you have an interest in a particular government agency or the mission of a particular non-profit organization, you may consider seeking employment as an accountant in one of these areas. Working for the government or a non-profit organization can be similar to working as an internal or management accountant. You will be responsible for preparing your employer’s financial documents and reviewing them to be sure that they are accurate, ethical, and legal. You will also be asked to help your employer create a budget that minimizes cost and maximizes available funds.

Forensic accountants assist in financial fraud investigations. You will need a strong background and interest in law to work as a forensic accountant. Forensic accountants can even be called upon to testify in court in cases of financial fraud.

Accountants work in a varied capacity of auditing and consulting. Auditing is the work often associated with accounting, which is when an accountant goes over a client’s or employer’s financial transactions to ensure that all information is accurate. Sometimes auditors prepare a client’s taxes and through their knowledge of tax law, find ways to reduce the amount of money their clients owe to the government.

Other accountants work more as business consultants and assist their clients or employers in preparing budgets, increasing profit, and decreasing costs. Due to ethical conflicts of interest, it is illegal for the same accountant to provide a client with both auditing and consultancy services.

The projected career path of an accountant can branch off in many different ways. Many accountants begin their careers after graduating from an accounting program at a large public accounting firm that sends them out to do either auditing or consulting work for clients. Some accountants continue to work at public accounting firms and advance to managerial roles and sometimes even become partners in the company.

Other accountants go on to work as management accountants, government accountants, or forensic accountants. Some continue to work as public accountants but decide to go into business for themselves rather than continue to work at a large public firm. Still others find roles in the financial industry to continue their careers. Many financial planners, CEOs, and CFOs have accounting backgrounds.

When you begin your career as an accountant after graduating from an accounting program, you can expect your entry-level salary to be around $50,000 to $60,000 per year. Your salary will depend on where your employer is located. Larger, well-known accounting firms tend to have slightly higher salaries. As your career advances, you can expect to earn around $100,000 in a managerial role at an accounting firm after you have gained about five to seven years of experience. If you continue on the partner track and eventually make partner at your firm, your salary could fall between $200,000 and $300,000 per year. Some partners at top firms even earn close to $1,000,000 per year, although this is on the extraordinarily high side of accountants’ salaries.

Certified Public Accountant

To have a career as a certified public accountant, you need to obtain your bachelor’s degree through an accounting program. Many certified public accountants go on to earn their master’s degrees. Earning a master’s degree is very common for a CPA. If you stop your education after earning your bachelor’s degree, it will be much harder to advance your career than if you earn your master’s. Employers and potential clients will see your advanced degree as giving you a wider basis of experience and knowledge than your colleagues who only have bachelor’s degrees. To stay competitive, you may want to consider attending a master’s degree accounting program.

You can earn your bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting through traditional universities or through online accounting programs. Usually it will take four years to complete a bachelor’s degree in accounting, and another one to three years to complete your master’s degree.

To become a certified public accountant, you will also need to pass the certified public accountant (CPA) exam. Your accounting program will provide resources to help you study and prepare for the exam. The CPA exam has four sections. You must complete all of them within one and a half years to gain CPA certification. You also must have at least 30 credits more than what is required to earn a bachelor’s degree to qualify for CPA certification.

Once you gain CPA certification, you will need to renew your certification every three years. You can do this through the accounting association that granted your certification by paying your dues and submitting documents that show that you have completed the necessary amount of continuing professional education credits. You can earn continuing professional education credits by taking additional college courses in accounting or by attending seminars and workshops about ethics, technology, law, and other aspects that pertain to accounting.

Becoming a certified public accountant also makes you more marketable in the workplace. Employers and clients are often more inclined to hire and promote certified public accountants than accountants who are not certified.

Once you are working as a certified public accountant, you will likely be performing either auditing or consulting work for your clients. As an auditor, you will prepare financial statements for your clients and verify that all of the information in your client’s financial statements is accurate and abides by the law. Auditors also do tax work for their clients. In a consulting role, you will help your clients analyze their budgets. By looking through your clients’ financial records, you will determine areas to cut costs and increase profits. Throughout the course of your career as a certified public accountant, you might perform both auditing and consulting work. However, you cannot perform both services for the same client at the same time, because this would present an unethical conflict of interest.

You will have several options for employment while working as a certified public accountant. Many certified public accountants begin their careers working for a large public accounting firm. In this setting, an employer sends the CPA to clients’ sites to perform auditing or consulting work. You may work alone or in a team of accountants depending on the scope of your task.

Some certified public accountants spend their entire careers working up the ladder in a large public firm. Others decide to become self-employed. Many certified public accountants enjoy self-employment because it allows them to have more control over their schedules. However, to be self-employed requires an entrepreneurial spirit to generate and recruit new clients.

Other certified public accountants perform auditing or consulting work internally. They are employed by the government, non-profit organizations, small businesses, and large corporations. An internal accountant is responsible for preparing and validating an employer’s financial records. He or she also has the opportunity to help an employer draft a budget that is better for business, and prepares the employer’s taxes each year.

Tax season is the busiest time of year for certified public accountants. Tax season lasts roughly from January until mid-April. Many certified public accountants work long hours during tax season, but many large accounting firms are more lenient with time off during the rest of the year.

Salaries for entry-level certified public accountants range between $50,000 and $60,000. As your career progresses, you can expect to be making more money. With five to ten years’ of experience, your salary could be closer to $100,000 per year. Some partners at top public accounting firms earn between $200,000 and $300,000 per year, and a few, but not many, make as much as $1,000,000 a year.

Auditor

When many people think of careers in accounting, they imagine people who work as auditors. An auditor goes over all of the minute details of financial documents to ensure accuracy and literally count a client’s or employer’s assets.

To work as an auditor, you need to obtain your bachelor’s degree through an accounting program. This will likely take about four years to complete. Many auditors also attend accounting programs to earn a master’s degree. Earning your master’s degree will take about one to three more years of school after you earn your bachelor’s degree. Earning a master’s degree to work as an auditor is a good idea because advanced degrees are so common in the field that you will not be as marketable as your colleagues if you do not have one. Some auditors attend dual-degree accounting programs to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years. Others decide to work for a few years after completing their bachelor’s degrees and then return to school to earn a master’s degree.

Auditors need to be very detail oriented. You will spend most of your day analyzing financial documents and checking to be sure that they are completely accurate. This requires concentration and attention to detail. Some people find this aspect of an auditor’s job a bit tedious, so you need to be sure that you can remain engaged enough in your work to do it well. Sometimes auditors also use what they learn from the finances they verify to help clients or employers create a better budget.

All kinds of organizations in nearly every industry need auditors. As an auditor, you will have a variety of workplaces to choose from. Some auditors work for large accounting firms. If you work for a large accounting firm, you will likely spend much of your time at your clients’ sites rather than in your employer’s office. Many of the documents you will review for clients will be confidential, and it is a simpler process to keep them at your client’s location. Auditors also sometimes are responsible for tabulating a client’s physical assets, which requires them to work at the client’s location.

Because you will spend so much time at your client’s site, auditors travel a great deal. For some, the business travel is welcome, but for others, it is difficult. If you enjoy traveling to new places, auditing will certainly allow you to do so. However, keep in mind that you will spend the majority of your time at your client’s business, so you may not have as much free time to explore as you would like. Others find travel burdensome. If you have a lot of commitments outside of work and cannot spend much time away from home, you may want to explore accounting careers that do not require as much mobility.

Although many auditors begin their careers at large accounting firms, many also become self-employed later in their careers. If you are concerned about travel, self-employment may be an option to consider. When you are self-employed, you can control the amount and type of clients that you take on, so staying local is easier.

Other auditors work for government agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses of all sizes. Some auditors even work for individual clients. Internal auditors work within their employers’ organizations and verify all of their employers’ financial documents. Working as an internal auditor does not require as much travel as working for a large accounting firm does, because your only client is your employer. If you have experience or a vested interest in a particular industry, you may want to look for internal auditing positions at businesses in that industry. Industry knowledge is a plus for internal auditors, as it allows them to better understand their employer’s business and make helpful recommendations on how to solidify the budget.

Most salaries for entry-level auditors range between $50,000 and $60,000 per year. If you complete a dual-degree bachelor’s and master’s accounting program, your entry-level salary will be higher than if you begin your career with only a bachelor’s degree. After about five to seven years of experience, you can expect to be making closer to $100,000 per year if you move on to a managerial position at a large accounting firm. Partners at large accounting firms usually earn between $200,000 and $300,000 per year; however, not many auditors advance their careers to this level. If you decide to become self-employed, your income will vary based on the type and amount of clients you are able to take on.

Budget Analyst

You can work as a budget analyst after completing a master’s degree accounting program. Some budget analysts only obtain a bachelor’s degree before they begin their careers, but most attend graduate school for a master’s degree. If you attend a bachelor’s degree accounting program, you may be able to acquire a budget analyst position, but your salary will likely be less than those of colleagues who have advanced degrees. You will also have many more opportunities to advance your career as a budget analyst if you have a master’s degree. You can always work for a few years after earning your bachelor’s degree and then go back to school to complete a master’s degree accounting program to expand your job options.

Budget analysts help employers create and maintain a budget that maximizes profits and makes the most of the resources available. Budget analysts work for all types of employers. Many budget analysts are employed by the government at the local, state, or federal level. Federal-government budget analysts typically earn more than state or local budget analysts, but federal government positions also often require more experience and education. Other budget analysts work for private companies of all sizes or for non-profit organizations. Budget analysts working for non-profit organizations concentrate more on dispersing the organization’s resources rather than cutting spending, since making a profit is not the organization’s primary goal. Budget analysts who work for the government or a private company concentrate more on finding ways to save their employers’ money. If budget analysts did not cut costs and increase profit, the position would not exist.

Budget analysts for the private sector or the government receive budget proposals from each sector or department yearly. These budget proposals include projected costs and income for the upcoming year. The budget analyst’s job is to review the budget proposals and make suggestions about them. While reviewing the budgets, the analyst estimates the income of each department or sector to be sure that their expenses are not too high. He or she also looks for areas in which the employer can save money. Suggestions on how to improve a budget proposal may include moving funding from one aspect of the business to another that is likely to be more profitable, or identifying and eliminating excess expenses.

After this review, the budget proposal goes back to the heads of the various departments or sectors. It may or may not require additional revisions. Eventually, an executive approves the budget.

Budget analysts review and revise budgets throughout the year, but the time when the yearly budget is created is the busiest. You can expect to work some extra hours during budget creation to meet tight deadlines. However, during the rest of the year, working hours for budget analysts are usually around forty per week.

To be a successful budget analyst, you need both quantitative and communication skills. You will use your quantitative skills to analyze the numbers in the budget and your communication skills to communicate your analysis to your employer. Accounting programs provide a good background for working as a budget analyst because the math, finance, and statistics courses you take will prepare you to work with numbers. The business and managerial courses will prepare you to present your analysis in an understandable way.

Budget analysts also need to stay up to date with current software and computer technology. As a budget analyst, you will likely use spreadsheets, databases, and word processors daily. Because these products evolve, you need to be able to adapt to new programs when they come out and are adopted by your employer.

Salaries for budget analysts vary depending on your location and how much experience you have working in the field. Entry-level salaries average around $40,000 per year, but you can expect your salary to grow substantially after you gain more experience. Many budget analysts earn more than $60,000 per year, and some even earn as much as $90,000 per year. Generally, the private sector pays slightly higher than the government does, and the federal government pays slightly higher than state or local governments do. However, if you wish to work as a budget analyst within the government, you can begin your career at the state or local level to gain experience, and then seek a higher-paying federal job.

Because employers create budget analyst positions to save money and increase profits, there are still often many jobs available in this field in a down economy. From an employer’s perspective, the budget analyst position should pay for itself.

Financial Accountant

To work as a financial accountant, you need to obtain at least your bachelor’s degree through an accounting program. Bachelor’s degree accounting programs take about four years to complete. Many financial accountants also earn a master’s degree. Earning a master’s degree will make you more marketable to potential employers and clients. Because many people in the accounting field have advanced degrees, you will have more opportunities to advance your career if you have a master’s degree. Usually it will take about four years to earn your bachelor’s degree and an additional one to three years to earn your master’s degree.

“Financial accountant” is a term used loosely to describe many different positions in the accounting world.

Sometimes the term financial accountant refers to auditors who prepare taxes and tabulate their clients’ assets. Other times the term refers to accountants who work as certified public accountants at large public accounting firms or for the government. Often, however, when people speak of financial accountants, they are referring to management accountants who work internally. If you were a financial accountant, your employer would not be an accounting firm sending you out to work for external clients. Rather, you would likely be employed by a large corporation and would perform accounting work for your employer.

Internal financial accountants perform a variety of job duties. In some cases, they prepare their employer’s taxes. This requires a fine sense of detail. Preparing taxes also requires a broad knowledge of current tax law. Because tax law can and often does change, you would need to stay up to date on how tax law affects your employer. While preparing taxes, you will be responsible for making sure your employer takes advantage of all the tax benefits for which it is eligible. You will also need to ensure that your employer’s taxes are prepared accurately and legally.

A financial accountant needs to maintain correct documentation of all of an employer’s assets and liabilities. This includes tangible assets such as equipment and supplies, and intangible assets such as investments or other funds. A financial accountant may be required to take regular inventory of an employer’s assets.

Many financial accountants also provide consulting services to their employers. They are responsible for going over an employer’s budget and offering advice on how to save money and increase profits. They evaluate areas of the budget where spending can be cut and analyze what aspects of the budget are most likely to bring in the most revenue and direct funding toward those areas. An accounting program will provide you with the quantitative skills to analyze the numbers in the budget and the communication skills to explain your recommendations in a way that makes sense to your employer.

Most financial accountants seek certification. Certification is granted by an accounting organization and means that you do your job well. As a financial accountant, you will likely pursue either a CPA (certified public accountant) certification or CMA (certified management accountant) certification. Both of these require that you pass an exam. For the CPA exam, you have one and a half years to complete the four sections of the exam. You also need to earn continuing professional education credits to maintain your certification. This means that you need to attend college classes, seminars, or workshops and report your continuing professional education credits to the association that granted your certification.

Obtaining certification is useful for financial accountants in several respects. Because the accounting field is constantly evolving with new technology and changing tax laws, certification helps you stay at the forefront of the field. Certification also proves to your potential employers and clients that you are a good candidate to work with.

Having experience within a particular industry is helpful for financial accountants. If you have previous job experience working in the insurance industry, for example, you can use your knowledge of that job market when evaluating the budget for an insurance company as a financial accountant.

Salaries depend on the type of employer for which you work. Larger corporations sometimes hire an entire team of financial accountants to prepare their taxes and budgets, and they usually have more funds reserved for the accounting department and high pay. Smaller companies may pay slightly less. You can expect an entry-level annual salary to be between $40,000 and $50,000. After you gain more experience, you could be making closer to $60,000 or $70,000 per year in a managerial role or senior position. Geographic location influences salaries, too. Areas with a higher cost of living will likely have higher salaries than areas with a lower cost of living.

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Accounting Concentration Overview

Sample Accounting Major Courses