Accountants are the professionals responsible for ensuring that individuals, organizations, governments, and corporations are using their money well, paying taxes properly and on time, and maintaining accurate and legal financial management systems. While job duties vary depending on the specific occupation, most of the professionals who work in accounting work with financial records in some way, shape, or form. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of accountants and auditors is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. A complex regulatory and tax environment, a growing economy, and globalization are all expected to continue to result in a strong demand for these professionals. Whether you are positive you are interested in an accounting career and you are looking for top-paying accounting jobs or you are just looking to learn more about the types of accountants that are out there, keep reading below.
What Does an Accountant Do?
At their core, accountants work with government agencies, nonprofit organizations, large corporations, small businesses, and individuals to organize and prepare tax and financial documents. The field of accounting is generally viewed as the organization of financial and business records and transactions, the summarization of those transactions, and the analysis, verification, and reporting of financial results. Accounting only revolves around monetary transactions, thus giving the field the nickname “the language of business.” Ultimately, the purpose of accounting is to help users make better and more informed decisions.
Some of the most common tasks that accountants can expect to perform include maintaining and organizing financial records as well as evaluating a company’s financial operations and recommending best financial practices to management. Accountants may also prepare tax returns, examine a company’s financial statements to ensure they are legal and accurate, and suggest ways that a company can improve profits, increase revenue, and lower their costs. Accountants are typically responsible for examining accounting systems and account books to ensure that they are not only efficient but that they also conform to accounting procedures and accepted standards.
In the U.S., accountants may choose to become a certified public accountant (CPA). These professionals are required to meet their states’ licensing requirements. Qualifications vary, but most aspiring CPAs must complete a total of 150 hours of postsecondary study, or 30 additional hours beyond the standard 120-hour undergraduate accounting degree. Future accountants must also demonstrate documented experience in the field and earn a satisfactory score on the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination. The main difference between CPAs and non-CPAs is that the former is legally allowed to prepare reviewed and audited financial statements, documents, and transactions for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
What are the Four Types of Accounting?
If you are considering a career in accounting, one of the biggest decisions you will make early on will be the general accounting area you wish to focus on. This is because your decision will dictate your entire career path, including the level of education you will need to complete, the type of professional certification and education you will need, and the types of clients with whom you will work. However, despite being a weighty decision, most aspiring accountants have no trouble choosing. Think about factors such as whether you see yourself employed in the public or private sector, if you wish to work away from or closely with your clients, and whether you are interested in working independently or for a business or organization. Although there are many specialties within the field of accounting, the four main areas are internal accounting, governmental accounting, management accounting, and public accounting.
The field of internal auditing involves providing an objective, independent examination of a company’s financial picture. Internal auditors are tasked with identifying financial fraud or mismanagement as well as identifying ways that a company can reduce its waste and improve its current financial management strategies. All publicly-traded companies are required by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to conduct routine internal audits. Investors use these audits to get an accurate picture of the finances at these companies to determine if a security is worth the purchasing risk.
Governmental accounting is a broad umbrella term that refers to the accounting practice used to examine and maintain the financial records of government agencies. It also applies to the auditing of individuals and private businesses that focus on activities that involve government taxation or regulations. Therefore, the governmental accounting specialty may include other types of accounting such as tax accounting or financial accounting. Fund accounting may also be used, particularly by nonprofit organizations, to separate their resources into categories. This allows the organizations to better track the use and source of the funds, allowing them to be responsible and clear about how they use the tax dollars they receive. Entry-level positions are available within municipal and state government agencies as well as within the federal government. New hires may seek career opportunities in the accounting profession as tax examiners who are responsible for reviewing filed returns for legal compliance and accuracy, staff accountants or junior auditors, or revenue agents. Those with experience may advance into management and senior positions with similar responsibilities.
Also known as private, industrial, corporate, cost, or managerial accounting, management accounting involves working with business managers and helping them to make the best business decisions for their organizations. Management accountants are responsible for preparing detailed forecasts and reports for managers — not the public — to review. They manage, implement, and design financial management systems that analyze and track the company’s internal financial information. The goal is to help with risk management, strategic management, and performance management. Within the broad management accounting umbrella lies several subspecialties, including resource consumption accounting and project accounting. New management accountants often begin their careers as staff accountants or junior internal auditors in tax accounting, management accounting, or financial reporting and accounting. With time and experience, these professionals can move into senior or management-level positions as internal audit managers, tax managers, management accounting managers, or financial reporting and accounting managers. Other possible accounting careers within corporations include chief financial officer (CFO), controller, or assistant controller.
The public accounting specialty covers many services such as compiling tax returns, providing financial planning services for an individual or consulting services for a business, and both compiling and issuing a company’s public financial reports. Public accounting can further be divided into several types of accounting, including external auditing, tax accounting, forensic accounting, and financial accounting. Entry-level public accountants may find roles as staff auditors or tax staff accountants. Those with experience can become a senior accountant and, with more responsibility, move into a management role in accounting positions titles such as tax manager, audit manager, or consulting/management services manager.
What are 10 Different Types of Accounting Jobs?
Essentially, accounting is a popular, lucrative field that strives to track the activities of businesses and organizations. Accounting allows financial managers to better understand where their company’s money is going and how these expenditures affect the company’s performance and bottom line. Accounting also helps financial managers to make decisions to ensure the company increases its profits while reducing its losses. If this sounds like a field in which you would like to work but you are overwhelmed with possibilities, you might be asking yourself, “What can I do with an accounting degree?” Therefore, we have outlined 10 of the most common jobs in order from the lowest-paying to the highest-paying occupation as of May 2018.
1. Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks
Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks are responsible for producing financial records for organizations. They check financial records for accuracy, update statements, and record financial transactions. The records that these professionals work with include profit and loss, accounts payable, accounts receivable, receipts, and expenditures. They use databases, spreadsheets, and specialized computer accounting software to enter bills, receipts, and information. Most bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks need some level of postsecondary education and also develop their skills through moderate-term on-the-job training. Although no formal degree is required, most professionals in this occupation have some college-level education and gain experience through on-the-job training.
2. Tax Preparer
Tax Preparers are tasked with preparing tax returns for small businesses or individuals. However, these individuals do not necessarily have the same educational background or level of responsibility that certified, registered, or public accountants have. The IRS broadly classifies tax preparers as anyone who is paid for preparing income tax returns for someone else, including public accountants, individuals working at walk-in tax preparation centers, owners of independent tax preparation services, registered or public accountants, and even certified public accountants (CPAs). The top five highest-paying states for tax preparers include the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New York, Colorado, and California.
3. Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents
Revenue agents and tax examiners and collectors determine how much an entity owes in taxes and then collects that tax from businesses and individuals on behalf of local, state, and federal governments. They review filed tax returns, contact taxpayers to address issues and request documentation, conduct investigations and field audits, evaluate financial information, keep records on their cases, notify taxpayers of underpayments or overpayments, and request additional payments or issue refunds as necessary. A bachelor’s degree is the typical entry-level education required for these positions, and most employees gain moderate-term on-the-job training.
4. Appraisers and Assessors of Real Estate
Before land and builds are developed, insured, taxed, mortgaged, or sold, appraisers and assessors of real estate must provide a value estimate on them. These professionals verify that the real estate properties match the legal descriptions found in public records, inspect existing and new properties, and photograph both the exterior and interior of properties. Appraisers and assessors also analyze similar properties nearby to help provide values, prepare and maintain current data on each property, and prepare written reports on the property values. They typically work in areas in which they are familiar so that they understand concerns that might influence the value of the property. A bachelor’s degree is typically required for these occupations, and appraisers and assessors benefit from long-term on-the-job training.
5. Cost Estimator
Cost estimators help organizations and businesses by collecting and analyzing data to estimate the labor, materials, money, and time needed to provide a service, construct a building, or manufacture a product. They typically specialize in a certain product or industry such as manufacturing or construction. Cost estimators are responsible for collaborating with contractors, clients, architects, and engineers as well as reading technical documents and blueprints to prepare estimates. They identify factors that affect costs such as labor, materials, and production time. Cost estimators maintain records of actual and estimated costs, recommend ways to reduce costs, and work with sales teams to prepare bids and estimates for clients. A bachelor’s degree is the typical entry-level education required.
6. Budget Analyst
Budget analysts are responsible for helping private and public institutions organize their finances by monitoring institutional spending, evaluating budget proposals, and preparing budget reports. These professionals also analyze data to determine the benefits, costs, and risks of various programs and recommend funding levels based on their results. Although it is usually up to the top executive or government official to make the final decision regarding an entity’s budget, they count on budget analysts to provide them with accurate, clear information that will allow them to make the best decision possible. Aspiring budget analysts need only a bachelor’s degree to work in the field.
7. Financial Examiner
Financial examiners are tasked with making sure companies and organizations are adhering to the laws that govern financial transactions and institutions. They are generally employed in one of two areas: consumer compliance or risk assessment. Financial examiners in consumer compliance make sure that institutions are treating their customers fairly by monitoring lending activity. Those in risk assessment are responsible for evaluating the health of financial institutions to ensure that the banks are not offering risky loans and that they have on-hand funds to mitigate unexpected losses. A bachelor’s degree and long-term on-the-job training are required for financial examiners.
8. Financial Analyst
Individuals and businesses making investment and financial decisions rely on financial analysts for guidance. These professionals are divided into sell-side analysts and buy-side analysts and have the skills and knowledge to accurately assess the performance of bonds, stocks, and other types of investments, known as portfolios. Financial analysts must be able to study business and economic trends, evaluate historical and financial data, and examine a company’s financial statements in order to assess its strengths and weaknesses. Also known as investment analysts and securities analysts, financial analysts are typically employed in insurance companies, securities firms, mutual funds, pension funds, banks, and other businesses. Risk analysts, ratings analysts, fund managers, and portfolio managers are all examples of types of financial analysts. Financial analysts must hold a bachelor’s degree for most positions.
9. Personal Financial Advisor
Personal financial advisors help individuals manage their budgets and finances by providing advice on retirement, taxes, estate planning, college savings, mortgages, insurance, and investments. They monitor clients’ accounts and determine if their clients must make a change to accommodate life changes or improve financial performance. Although most personal advisors assist on a variety of topics, some specialize in areas such as risk management or retirement. Wealth managers and private bankers are two examples of personal financial advisors who work with those who have a significant amount of money to invest. A bachelor’s degree and long-term on-the-job training are required for this position.
10. Financial Manager
Financial managers are one of the highest-paid workers in the field of accounting. These individuals develop plans and strategies, direct investment activities, and produce financial reports for an organization’s long-term financial goals. Their duties also include tasks specific to their industry or organization. For instance, financial managers in healthcare must be experts in healthcare finance, while government financial managers should have a solid foundation in budgeting processes and government appropriations. Financial managers must have an understanding of the special regulations and tax laws that affect their clients’ industries. Types of financial managers include insurance managers, risk managers, cash managers, credit managers, treasurers and finance officers, and controllers. A bachelor’s degree and a minimum of five years of experience in the field are necessary for this occupation.
What are the Different Types of Accounting Degrees?
If one or more of the above careers appeal to you, you might consider entering the field of accounting by earning an accounting degree. However, once you begin to research how to jumpstart your accounting career, you will find that there are many career opportunities available at all education levels. Each degree can take you in a different direction, so how do you know the path that is right for you? Below, we look at all of the types of accounting degrees to help you better understand where you can take your career in accounting.
As is the case with most fields, accounting provides several degree levels that range from the associate degree to the doctoral degree. At the higher levels, students can expect more specialized curriculum requirements. Some schools also offer accounting programs that result in an accounting certificate for students looking to develop technical accounting knowledge and skills to use in their current roles. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most auditor and accountant positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. However, depending on the position, some employers prefer to hire candidates who have earned a master’s degree in accounting or in business administration with an accounting concentration.
The level of education also influences the career path that a graduate is prepared to take. For example, an accounting certificate is useful for those who want to get their feet wet and try working in the field before spending time and money on a degree. An associate degree covers topics such as statistics, business, introductory accounting, economics, and basic bookkeeping to introduce students to the field. A bachelor’s degree in accounting teaches both basic and intermediate accounting skills and often allows students the opportunity to concentration on a specific area of accounting. At the master’s level, students may further specialize in a subdiscipline such as tax, government, finance, or auditing, with coursework covering areas like financial analysis, business ethics, and business for accountants. Finally, doctorates in accounting are typically designed for students interested in teaching at the university level or conducting research. The first two years of doctoral programs typically focus on advanced accounting concepts, while the final two years are devoted to specific research for a thesis topic.
Although the time you can expect to spend on your degree will vary according to the school and the specific program, most certificates or diplomas in accounting can be earned within six months, while an associate degree may take two years. Most bachelor’s degrees in accounting can be completed within four years, with a Master of Accounting or Master of Business Administration taking an additional one to two years beyond the undergraduate program. Doctoral students looking to earn either a Doctor of Philosophy or a Doctor of Business Administration will spend anywhere from one to five years on their degree.
Ultimately, choosing the right degree program involves conducting research on the available programs and understanding your academic and professional goals. There are dozens of types of accounting degrees offered, ranging from a general accounting degree to a specialized area of study. For instance, a master’s degree in accounting with a specialization in tax concentrates mainly on taxation, while a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a specialization in accounting provides students with a solid foundation and broad overview of the principles of accounting. Regardless of the degree path you choose, the field of accounting is an in-demand, lucrative one that leads to many exciting, rewarding careers.
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