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Certified Public Accountant: Career Info, Job Duties & Employment Options

Certified public accountants require a fair amount of formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and certification requirements to see if a certified public accountant career is right for you.

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A certified public accountant (CPA) needs a minimum of a bachelor's degree and a credential in order to find employment. However, once licensed, a CPA can find employment in multiple fields, including handling private and corporate taxes, and acting as consultants for tax software development or human resources programs.

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Essential Information

Certified public accountants (CPAs) usually must hold a bachelor's degree and pass a four-part exam in order to gain the CPA credential. Some of these professionals work for large companies, while others may be self-employed or work for the government or the insurance industry.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Pass four-part Uniform CPA Examination
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 11% (all accountants and auditors)
Average Salary (2015)* $75,280 (all accountants and auditors)

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Certified Public Accountant Career Info

To become a CPA, earning a bachelor's or master's degree and passing the exam given by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is necessary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants who earn certification find they have an advantage in a fast-growing job market (www.bls.gov). CPAs work in many industries, as nearly all businesses need accounting advice, help setting up their books and preparing taxes. Some even work as investigators for law enforcement agencies and the government.

The average salary for a certified public accountant was $75,280 per year as of May 2015, according to BLS. Though not required, a master's degree may bring a higher initial salary than the starting wages offered to bachelor's degree holders. CPAs working at companies and accounting firms tend to see their wages and position rise within four to six years, says the AICPA. Many CPAs work in standard office settings, though travel is sometimes required in order to meet with clients on-site. A 40-hour workweek is common, but busy seasons and large workloads require extra hours.

Job Duties

Depending on the industry, job duties for CPAs can vary, says the BLS. Certified public accountants who specialize in tax services prepare taxes for companies and individuals and serve as consultants for businesses regarding decisions relating to tax benefits.

Tech-savvy CPAs give input on the design of computerized and paper-based systems of bookkeeping. Others advise companies about employee compensation and benefits packages. Some CPAs work as auditors, overseeing financial statements and reporting to shareholders and government authorities. CPAs may start their own businesses or work for public accounting firms.

Employment Options

According to the AICPA, accountants find work in virtually every industry in every town, city and country. The fields of entertainment, technology, sports, government, travel and insurance all require accountants. CPAs also work for non-profit organizations and schools. Individuals, large companies and small businesses require the services of accountants.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation hires CPAs as special agents to investigate fraud, embezzlement and other financial criminal activity. Even CPAs who want to work to save the environment have a place in the corporate world. Those who wish to work independently can start their own businesses.

CPAs can work virtually anywhere and in any field, depending on their interests. Only a bachelor's degree is required but acquiring a master's degree may help the professional CPA start with a higher salary. The job market for CPAs is also quite large, with employment available in multiple industries and sectors around the world.

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