Accountants are expert number crunchers. They are charged with preparing accurate financial records that comply with local and federal laws. They also have to maintain these records and keep them organized and ready for inspection.
They figure out how much tax money an individual or company owes, and they prepare sometimes complex tax returns.
Accountants may also oversee business financial operations to help with things like: risk management, investment planning, cost cutting, profit improvement, account analysis, and tax planning.
But most accountants don’t get to spend all their time squirreled away with their calculators. Most accountants also have to be good communicators. They have to meet with people and be able to communicate complicated financial principles to both businesspeople and laypeople.
To work as an accountant, you will probably need an accounting degree, or a non-accounting degree with some credits in accounting. A candidate who has passed the CPA (Certified Public Accountants) exam will have significantly better employment opportunities.
Specific requirements differ by state, but in general, you do not need a degree in accounting to sit for the CPA. You will probably need a degree in something though, and some states require a number of college credits beyond what is required for a non-accounting bachelor’s degree.
For example, if you earn 120 college credits for your French literature degree, you may need to take additional courses to reach your state’s minimum 150-credit CPA requirement. This is hypothetical—check with your state for exact requirements.
Some professionals who have a non-accounting bachelor’s degree choose to go for their MBA with a concentration in accounting.
Education and Training
Most accountants hold a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a similar field. Job prospects improve significantly for candidates who pass the CPA exam. Some hold MBAs, often with accounting concentrations.
Many businesses, organizations, and agencies (including the IRS) offer job-specific training to employees.
According to BLS, in May 2012, the median salary for accountants was $63,550 (about $30 per hour), with the top 10 percent earning upwards of $111,500.
BLS further states that only about 20 percent of accountants worked more than 40 hours per week. Many accountants work longer hours during spring “tax season” and some are able to take extended vacations during the off season.
Accounting Career Opportunities
According to BLS, employment opportunities for accountants are expected to grow slightly faster than average for all occupations. From 2012 to 2022, a 13 percent growth is expected. Employment opportunities for accountants are directly proportional to the overall well-being of the economy itself. The healthier the economy, the more accountant jobs there will be.
Many accountants work full-time for businesses and organizations. Others do contract work for small businesses and individuals. Some accountants operate their own accounting firms and hire other accountants and financial professionals to help them.
Some accountants work for governments. These accountants keep records for government agencies and/or examine the records of others. The IRS employs many accountants.
Still others specialize in forensic accounting, investigating financial events after they have happened. These accountants often work for or with law enforcement or lawyers and may be required to serve as expert witnesses in court.