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What Does a Public Accountant Do?

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a public accountant. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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Public accountants perform audits, taxes, consultations, and accounting services for a public accounting firm. A bachelor's degree is the standard educational requirement, though additional college credit beyond that is usually necessary in order to qualify for the CPA exam.

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  • Accounting with Computers, General
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Essential Information

A public accountant works for a public accounting firm that performs auditing, tax, consulting and accounting services for other businesses, organizations or individuals. Although job tasks vary by specialty, such as tax accounting or forensic accounting, some common duties include making sure financial documents are correct, working with budgets and providing financial advice. A bachelor's degree related to accounting is required for most positions, while a master's degree in the field is preferred. Many professionals go on to earn the distinction of Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Required Education Bachelor's degree in accounting or related field for entry-level positions; master's degree related to accounting preferred
Certification CPA credential
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 11% for all accountants and auditors
Average Salary (2015)* $75,280 annually for all accountants and auditors

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Public Accountant Job Duties

General responsibilities shared by all public accountants include preparing and verifying vital financial documents, analyzing budgets and planning finances. Public accountants give advice and provide basic financial information to a range of clients, from individuals to corporations. They also perform bookkeeping, consulting and auditing tasks.

However, the duties of a public accountant vary by individual concentration; for example, some public accountants specialize in tax issues. Their responsibilities involve working with income tax returns and filing taxes in accordance with rules and regulations. Another specialty is forensic accounting, a branch that involves investigating financial fraud.

Certification and Licensure Information for Public Accountants

Public accountants need to be certified if they file a report with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission; only those with the CPA designation are allowed to perform audits of publicly traded American corporations. Becoming a Certified Public Accountant involves passing the Uniform CPA Examination, which is administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. While the exam remains the same throughout the country, individuals must meet a different set of requirements for each state; the most common prerequisites include a bachelor's degree and two years of experience, and maintaining certification requires completion of continuing education credits.

Employment Outlook for Public Accountants

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected employment growth for all types of accountants, including public accountants, to rise by 11% between 2014 and 2024. Job prospects should be good for accountants; however, CPAs should have better job prospects than their non-certified counterparts, due to their additional training and experience.

Public Accountant Salary Information

The BLS reported that in May 2015, accountants and auditors earned a mean salary of $75,280 per year. The majority of salaries fell between $41,400 and $118,930 the same year.

Regardless of specialty, a public accountant must have strong mathematics and business finance skills, and they must be organized as well as thorough. Employment opportunities should be good during the 2014-2024 decade, with job openings projected to increase faster than average.

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