Certified Public Accountants, often referred to as CPAs, perform a variety of finance related tasks for individuals, corporations and governments. These tasks including auditing, recordkeeping, filing taxes, and preparing financial data and reports. Not all accountants are licensed CPAs, but the certification is often a requirement to obtain lucrative jobs and file certain types of financial statements.
Accountants often work more than 40 hours per week, especially during certain times of the year, such as when income taxes or financial statements are filed. Accountants typically work in offices, but they can sometimes take work home or travel to perform audits or attend meetings at other branches.
Most accountants work in one of four major fields of accounting. All accountants work with numbers and financial data. Accountants analyze financial information, prepare financial reports, communicate financial information, verify financial statements, and prepare and file taxes and other financial documents. However, within each accounting field, many variations in specific job functions exist.
Public accountants typically work for public accounting firms, own their own firms or work as forensic accountants. Public accountants work with a number of clients including individuals, corporations, and organizations as well as state and federal governments. Some public accountants focus on advising, preparing and filing tax returns. Other public accountants assist clients with asset protection, give financial advice, or help to design accounting systems. Still others focus on auditing and reporting company’s financial statements. Forensic accountants investigate the legality of financial activities and help prosecute white-collar crimes including fraud, embezzlement, and money laundering.
Government accountants, work for federal or state governments. They ensure that individuals and corporations follow tax regulations and laws. Some focus on financial recordkeeping and auditing. Others create, analyze and manage budgets, or ensure that governments follow the law when making purchases and receiving revenue. IRS agents are examples of government accountants working to ensure that individuals and corporations correctly follow tax laws.
Management accountants are considered private accountants because their work and interests lie with a single corporation. Some manage business expenditures. Others create budgets or manage company assets such as stocks. Management accountants sometimes assist with the financial aspects of product development and launches or they prepare financial documents used by executives to make business decisions. Still others work to prepare and report financial statements for non-internal groups such as auditors, investors, and creditors.
Like management accountants, internal auditors work solely for a single corporation. Their primary job is to design and execute controls that ensure that a company is correctly reporting and documenting financial records as well as properly managing money. Auditors also check for fraud and investigate financial documents to make sure that a company follows stated policies, and federal regulations.
To become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) a person must meet educational requirements, pass the CPA exam, and obtain professional experience. The requirements to meet licensing qualifications differ between states, but once a candidate meets all the requirements, they can apply for licensure through the accounting board in the state they reside in.
In most states, 150 hours of college coursework is required to become a licensed CPA. This is more than the credit hours typically required for a Bachelor’s degree, and many students take extra courses or enroll in a Master’s degree program to meet the educational requirement. Further, to remain certified, most states require that accountants take continuing education courses throughout their careers.
Many states require that accounts have professional accounting experience prior to examination and licensure. Often, the requirement includes at least one year of work under the supervision of a CPA.
The CPA exam is only open to accountants who meet state Board of Accountancy requirements. It is a difficult exam and less than half of all accountants pass the first time. The exam contains four sections, and although all four parts don’t have to be passed at the same time, in most states, accountants have 18 months after passing the first section to pass the other sections.
Accountants and auditors earn an average of $49,430 per year. However, the salary range for most accountants falls between $45,900 and $78,000 per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, accountants typically receive benefits including medical insurance, dental insurance, paid vacation, and a retirement plan.
Although CPAs generally have strong job prospects, there is a high level of competition for senior positions. Holding a CPA license as well as specialized knowledge gives these accountants an advantage over other candidates in a job search. Additionally, strong interpersonal skills and knowledge of accounting software gives some CPAs a competitive edge.