Accountants are responsible for the accuracy and timeliness of financial reports and documents, including income tax returns, payroll tax reports and sales tax returns. Most have earned a four-year degree in finance or accounting, but a number have earned a master’s in business, finance or accounting. According to the job outlook released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupation is expected to grow approximately 11 percent between 2014 and 2024, which is a growth rate that is above average for all occupations in the United States. Salaries for accountants vary by geographic location as well as industry, but overall, accountants typically earn a comfortable living.
Overall Wage Statistics
The Bureau of Labor Statistics last released its employment and wages report for accountants in December 2015 for the data it compiled in May 2014. According to this report, accountants in the United States earned an average of $73,670 annually regardless of location or employer. However, 10 percent earned no more than $40,850, while 10 percent earned $115,950 or more.
Industries with the Highest Average Salaries
Accountants who worked for securities and commodity contracts intermediation and brokerage firms had the highest average salary at $95,970. These firms are typically in the underwriting of securities issues or in making markets for commodities or securities; some act as agents between sellers and buyers. This is a relatively small field as it employed fewer than 6,700 accountants in 2014. The industry’s distant cousin, the securities and commodities exchanges, employed only 160 accountants and ranked third on the list of best-paying industries with an average annual salary of $90,430. The federal government provided the second-highest salaries — $93,430 — and employed almost 23,000 accountants. Software publishers paid an average of $89,890 annually and employed slightly more than 6,500 accountants.
Salaries for Industries Employing the Greatest Number of Accountants
Of the five top-paying industries on the list published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, none of them were included on the list of the five industries employing the greatest number of accountants. Out of approximately 1.2 million accountants, nearly 327,000 worked for a public accounting or bookkeeping firm, a payroll service or a tax preparation firm. As a group, these accountants averaged $77,510 per year. Approximately 91,000 managed a company or enterprise and earned a mean salary of $74,430. Local and state governments paid respective salaries of $62,890 and $58,100 and employed approximately 42,000 and 37,500 accountants respectively. Another 27,590 accountants worked for firms offering consulting services in the areas of science, management and technology; this group averaged $78,110 annually.
Salaries by Geographic Location
The employer’s location also played a critical part in the salaries paid. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the highest salaries were in the District of Columbia and the states of New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Massachusetts. Accountants in these states averaged $90,320, $89,850, $84,160, $80,360 and $80,030 respectively. However, salaries can vary widely within a state. Accountants in the greater New York City area averaged $96,740 annually, significantly more than the statewide average. Other cities with high salaries were located in states that did not make the list of best-paying states. The metropolitan area with the second-highest salary was San Jose, California, where accountants averaged $92,950. In Dothan, Alabama, the average was $89,980, and in Odessa, Texas, it was $87,220.
The median salary for accountants in 2014 was $65,940, meaning that half earned less and half earned more. Jobs in the highest-paying industries are not as plentiful as those in many of the industries that offer lower rates of pay. Location is also a factor. Rural areas tend to offer lower pay than major metropolitan areas although exceptions exist. In summary, an accountant can expect to earn an annual salary of $40,000 to more than $115,000. With the demand for accountants increasing, however, and the variety of employers who need their skills, the future looks very bright indeed.
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