Accountants play the important role of tracking and organizing the financial activities of businesses, corporations, and individuals. They ensure that all spending and income is documented, employees are paid, and budgets are followed. Accountants also confirm that taxes are filed properly and on time.
How To Become An Accountant
To become an accountant you must receive at least a Bachelor’s degree, either in accounting or another field of business. A Master’s degree makes accountants more competitive, but is not mandatory. There are many different professional accounting certifications one can earn after graduating, the most prominent being Certified Public Accountant credentials.
Earn a high school degree or GED
When taking high school courses, you should focus on math subjects. Beyond the standard concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, a strong knowledge of statistics and algebra will help you in your future college courses.
Earn a Bachelor’s degree
When earning your bachelor’s degree, you will want to focus on financial and accounting courses, including courses on tax law. Additionally, upper level arithmetic courses such as statistics will be beneficial.
Build up work experience
After earning your bachelor’s degree, you will need to gain some work experience before pursuing certifications like CPA credentials. Many employers hire accountants who have just earned their degree for entry-level positions. Alternatively, you can seek an accounting internship.
Become a CPA
In order to become a CPA (Certified Public Accountant), you will need to take and pass the CPA exam. Most states have additional requirements one must meet in order to receive a CPA certification, such as work experience and the approval of an accountant who is already a licensed CPA. Some states, such as California, do not require a CPA applicant to have any prior work experience.
Earn an MBA
An MBA (Masters of Business Administration) will give you a competitive edge. The coursework for an MBA focuses on expanding the business knowledge you acquired with your Bachelor’s degree. Most MBA programs include courses in financial management and business statistics, as well as material based on business ethics.
The cost of becoming an accountant varies based on which school or schools you choose to attend and which certifications you obtain. Undergraduate education from a State school can cost around $20,000 – $40,000 a year. Private universities may cost twice that. MBA programs can cost around $60,000 for two years of courses. You can expect to pay around $1700 total for the CPA exam including application and registration fees.
Job Description / Responsibilities
Accountants spend a majority of their time preparing and analyzing financial records. They ensure the records are up to date and that they properly reflect the financial actions of the client. Accountants also ensure that their client’s taxes are paid.
- Accountants are responsible for keeping track of their client’s finances. This involves curating accounting records, financial statements, and any other financial report a client uses.
- Employers expect their accountants to calculate the taxes they owe and to prepare tax returns. This also includes ensuring that all expenditures have been properly reported.
- Every financial transaction that a client makes is documented by their accountants. These documents are used to ensure that the amount of money spent and received by a client is correctly recorded.
- If employed by a business or company, accountants create annual budgets and confirm that the budget is being adhered to. Budget reports are created periodically by accountants to compare the budget to the actual amount of money being spent.
- Accountants make sure that a client’s financial actions comply with all legal requirements. As such, accountants are required to stay up to date with local, federal, and state regulations.
- In the event of an audit or other federal inquiry into a client’s finances, accountants represent their clients. This representation involves providing records of all financial actions taken by a client to the taxing authorities.
- Clients often go to their accountants to be advised in matters such as employee compensation, health care benefits, and other expenditures that the client may wish to alter.
- Accountants can be expected to analyze current business trends and use that information to advise client’s regarding their business operations.
- In order to maximize profits, accountants examine their client’s operations and recommend solutions to problems, or give advice on how to avoid future problems.
- The world of financial regulations changes rapidly. Accountants nurture their professional knowledge by regularly reading business publications and attending educational workshops.
The employment outlook for accountants is expected to grow about eleven percent between 2014 and 2024 according to the United States Department of Labor. This growth is rapid when compared to the growth average for all occupations, which is predicted to be around seven percent during the same time period.
The predicted increase in demand for accountants can be attributed to a growing economy. As the economy recovers from recession, more workers will be needed to handle the growing number of financial records. Another reason for the rise in accounting positions is the constant implementation of new and complex tax regulations.
Accountants with professional qualifications and Master’s degrees will have the best job prospects, but the increasing demand for accountants means that many entry-level positions will be available.
The majority of accountants are currently employed by businesses and companies, and perform such duties as tax preparation, payroll, and bookkeeping. Other employers include the government and insurance companies.
Accountants usually work in offices, but some have the ability to work from home. Working in an office environment means that accountants often work in teams. Accountants may also be required to travel to meet with their clients.
Most accountants work full-time with one in five working more than forty hours a week. Typically accountants will be expected to work longer hours during certain times of the year, such as the end of financial quarters, or during tax season.
The work environment can be stressful during these times of the year, but for the rest of the year, accountants enjoy fixed schedules and consistent workloads. The work is often fast-paced, which is potentially stressful to some while motivating to others.
The only safety concern that should worry potential accountants is health problems that may come with a stressful job. The stress in an accountant’s work environment can lead to deteriorating mental health as well as some physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure.
Here is a list of resources that may be helpful for accountants, or for people that want to enter the field of accounting.
American Accounting Association: A community of academic accountants. The AAA conducts research into the field of accounting and publishes articles intended to educate new and experienced accountants alike.
National Society of Accountants: An organization of accountants that promotes professional competence and ethical practices for its members. A great resource to build connections with other accountants.
Journal of Accountancy: A journal that provides up to date news about changes in the world of accounting. The publication covers topics such as new technology, changes in regulations, and advice for accountants.
The CPA Journal: This journal covers topics pertinent to Certified Public Accountants such as taxation, finance, and auditing. The CPA Journal also accepts articles from accountants not employed by them.
Ethisphere Institute: A think-tank for all people working in business. This quarterly publication provides discussions based on business ethics, sustainability, and dealing with corruption.
Accounting Jobs Today: A job site that provides opportunities for accountants wishing to be hired. The site also gives tools to help improve resumes and information on how to become more hirable.
American Institute of Certified Accountants: A professional network comprised of accountants with CPA certification. Gives members resources to ensure a high standard of accounting work.
The Accounting Review: A publication put out by the American Accounting Association. Used by many businesses and journals to research accounting firms and schools.
Accounting Crossing: A site that offers thousands of job opportunities across the nation. Positions can be filtered based on location, job types, and qualifications required by the employer.
Journal of Accounting Research: A journal out of the University of Chicago that focuses on accounting and economic research. Articles cover research methods and the interpretation of data.
A job as an accountant requires several skills. Some of these skills come naturally, and some have to be learned and strengthened as you advance in your accounting career.
- Mathematics: Accountants are constantly using basic math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) and you must be able to perform such functions quickly. Advanced math, such as statistics, is also frequently used.
- Analytical: The majority of an accountant’s job is working with numbers. You must be able to analyze, compare and interpret numbers and data.
- Attention to Detail: A single wrong number can sometimes lead to huge miscalculations of budgets or taxes. It is important to pay attention to every figure and piece of data that you deal with.
- Organization: Accountants deal with a lot of figures and numbers. It is vital that your work is organized and in order to avoid any possible mistakes.
- Communication: Accountants will likely work with other accountants in teams, as well as communicate information, either in person or electronically, with other departments in a business and other companies.
- Initiative: Accountants are often given firm deadlines. It is your responsibility as an accountant to meet these deadlines, even if it means working extra hours in the office or taking work home.
- Adaptability: The rules and regulations of finance and taxation are always changing. As an accountant, you must be able to make adjustments in your work to fit these changes.
- Computer Proficiency: The vast majority of financial records are stored electronically. You will need to know how to work with computers and have a basic understanding of how to retrieve data.
- Integrity: As with all areas of business, accountants must behave ethically and avoid taking advantage of situations that would unfairly benefit them or their employer.
- Creativity: While much of accounting is structured and heavily regulated, there are often situations where new ideas can be used.