Last Updated: January 9, 2018
A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a licensed accounting professional that offers accounting and financial services to the public. Before one can undertake the state-mandated examination that turns an accountant into a credentialed CPA, a set path points the way forward. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 1,397,700 accountants and auditors were employed in the U.S. work force in 2016, but only a small percentage of these accounting workers hold CPA credentials. To start a journey to become a CPA, expect to set goals and prepare carefully. Take the right steps and both respect and rewards are sure to follow. Below we will cover some of the duties and responsibilities of a CPA and career attributes such as salary.
Becoming a CPA is a professional designation that shows your expertise in the field of accounting. With the CPA designation comes a history of responsibility and professional standing. According to the American Institute of CPAs, Certified Public Accountancy denotes authority, authenticity and prestige that sends this message to the world: I’ve gone above and beyond university education in accounting practices and I’m ready to undertake the exam leading to most prestigious credentials an accountant can earn. Compare the CPA to the Bar Exam: Law school graduates can’t gain access to court privileges, power and higher earnings without passing it. Substitute the CPA exam for the Bar Exam. It’s that critical. That’s why the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics set the 2015 median income of accountants and auditors at $67,190 while Payscale.com and other authorities monitoring salaries earned by CPAs agree that a six-figure income isn’t just possible but probable once an accountant with this exam under his belt is established. According to the AICPA, there are nearly 394,000 CPA members in 128 countries. Joining this exclusive club is a worthy ambition.
How to Become a Certified Public Accountant
If you have decided to take the CPA exam, you must follow specific steps. First, obtain an undergraduate degree in accounting from an accredited university preferably, from an institution recognized as being top notch with a reputation for turning out financial scholars ready to undertake serious responsibilities found within the profession. Most states require 150 credit hours as a prerequisite for the CPA, but your success will depend on more than number crunching. You’ll need research, analytical and problem-solving skills, a willingness to be a team player, project management strengths, strong communications skills, listening and speaking, plus a general understanding of technology, since spreadsheets, databases, Internet research platforms, presentation software and other such tools are necessary to perform CPA tasks efficiently. Your ethical standards should be impeccable and you’ll need good people skills to deal with clients, colleagues and management. Earn a master’s degree if you can. It’s not mandatory, but as competition increases for top jobs, having a Master’s in Business Administration, Master’s in Accounting or Master’s in Taxation degree will position you for a brighter future in the years ahead. Once it’s time to take your CPA exam, follow National Association of State Boards of Accountancy recommendations. Obtain study materials you need to sail through modules you are required to complete and it can help to find a study partner with whom you can share prep time. Once you’ve undertaken as much study as possible and you’ve read recommended Candidate Bulletin language, locate the test center in your region. It goes without saying that common sense rules apply: Leave home early enough to plan for traffic delays, arrive at the test center early enough to shake off test jitters, expect security measures, a metal detector scan, photo and fingerprinting and make sure you have brought with you the Launch Code you were assigned. This is important, because without it, you can’t take the CPA exam. After checking in, report to the work station you’re assigned, follow prompts to answer questions and pay attention to the clock so you don’t “time out” before you are done with the test. Once you complete everything and assuming you don’t experience any technical difficulties the waiting game begins. Hopefully, all goes well and you pass with flying colors, but this doesn’t mean you’ve reached the end of your professional commitment. In addition to your CPA credential, you must meet your state’s licensing standards, keep up with new practices through classes and you may even wish to join professional organizations in support of your industry.
How Much Does a CPA Make?
While everybody’s career goal is to love one’s profession and look forward to going to work each day, salary is an important status symbol in a free market society where one’s professional accomplishments can be tied to a healthy paycheck, bonuses and perks. You’ll never be disappointed with the numbers on your check if you become a CPA because with prestige and responsibility come financial rewards. Whether you become a generalist or a specialist focused, for example, on financial accounting, management accounting, auditing, accounting information systems or any of the niche disciplines popping up as technology and practices advance anticipate a nice lifestyle. The Bisk CPA Review website tracks CPA salary examples and while variables, like the area of the country in which a CPA practices, the level of education on a CV and years in practice, can often impact the amount of money one earns, averaging salaries can offer some insights. For example, in 2016, a college graduate majoring in accounting could expect to gross $68,150 (median salary) per year while graduates undertaking the CPA pathway can expect to make the upper 90% of accountant salaries which is over six figures. The salary will extend higher for CPAs in management, employed by Fortune 500 companies or those with narrowly-defined specialties that make their unique CPA credentials hard to find. Increases in wages even during tough economic times are expected. The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a healthy 10-year salary growth rate for CPAs higher than anticipated averages of all careers the government tracks. As the job outlook for CPAs keeps pace with growth, averaging 11-percent between now and 2024, it would be difficult to imagine anything that can slow job expansion in this industry. That’s very good news for you if you’re just starting your journey. For more salary information, try payscale.com.
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