Public Accountant Job Description and Salary

By Lora Keleher , last updated December 9, 2011

If you’re starting college or considering a career change, you might be interested in a public accountant’s job description and salary. Public accountants are skilled financial professionals who are generally able to provide a variety of financial services including tax preparation, auditing, and accounting. The demand for public accountants is anticipated to grow over the next several years, and the median salary for these professionals is higher than the average annual family income.

Job Description

If you’re mathematically adept, detail oriented, and have strong analytical reasoning skills, you may enjoy working as a public accountant. Public accountants might assist taxpayers with filing their federal or state income tax returns, audit a company to determine whether or not its financial statements are accurate, or provide advice to a small business owner regarding the financial implications of a decision like offering health care benefits to employees. Some public accountants have the opportunity to work as forensic accountants, who use their accounting skills to investigate financial crimes, such money laundering, and embezzlement.

Most public accountants work for public firms that provide accounting services, or they’re self-employed and own their own businesses. Individuals working for accounting firms typically work standard, 40-hour weeks, but those who are self-employed may work considerably more hours depending on the number of clients they have. Additionally, public accountants may increase their hours during peak times, such as tax filing season, or near the end of a financial quarter. Some public accounts also travel frequently, visiting clients and companies with which they work.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupational growth for accountants and auditors was expected to increase by 22% from 2008 to 2018. Reasons for the growth include increased governmental regulations, requiring that companies undergo higher levels of financial scrutiny, and economic expansion, which paves the way for more businesses that can hire accountants. Additionally, globalization may open up opportunities for accountants knowledgeable about international financial laws. This rapid growth in employment makes accounting an attractive career choice for both new graduates and career changers.

Salary

In May 2010, the median yearly salary for accountants and auditors was $61,690, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest 10% earned $38,940 or less, while the top 90% earned $106,880 or more. Accountants practicing in states such as New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey typically earn higher salaries than those working in other regions of the country.

Public accountants can increase their employment prospects and potentially earn higher incomes by becoming Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), obtaining master’s degrees, seeking additional certifications, or specializing in niche areas. To become CPAs, public accountants must meet state licensing requirements, which include passing the Uniform CPA examination, a demanding four-part test. In most states, public accountants must also complete at least 150 hours of college coursework, and possess professional experience in the accounting field. Accountants interested in certification can enroll in educational institutions, or join professional societies that provide the training they seek. Specialization is often the result of developing professional expertise in a particular area over many years.

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