Accountant Salary and Career Outlook

Are you considering a career in accounting? Here is some good news: Accounting is a growing field that can offer diverse job opportunities to financially savvy professionals. With knowledge of accounting principles and the ability to analyze numerical data, accountants are valuable assets across many industries in private, nonprofit and public sectors.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accounting jobs are expected to increase by 90,700 between 2018 and 2028.

Keep reading to learn more about a typical accountant salary, employer demand for accountants, and which accounting jobs may pay higher than average.

Is Accounting a Good Career Choice?

As you decide whether to enter the field of accounting, consider where the industry is headed. Examining factors like the future demand for accountants and anticipated changes to the industry can help you determine whether this path is right for you.

Learn more about projections for the accounting industry and some of the career paths available to accountants below.

Accountant Career Outlook

Accounting is a function almost every business needs to survive. In fact, the profession is often referred to as “the language of business.” This is because accounting reveals the inner workings of a business in a standardized format to both internal and external stakeholders. Because the discipline of accounting is vital and globalization continues, job security in the profession is relatively stable. This security, coupled with growth in the industry, signals that accounting can be a solid career choice. Read on to learn more about the industry outlook for accounting.

Accounting Industry Changes

In recent years, the accounting industry has undergone advancements in technology. For instance, automated data entry and bookkeeping services have reduced the need for manual data entry. Moving forward, innovations in accounting technology will include machine learning in regards to data. As prominent accounting industry figure Erik Asgeirsson notes:

“Over the next five to 10 years, machine learning and predictive analytics will lead to a big boost in the sophistication of how automated data is interpreted. This will allow the trusted adviser of 2030 to provide dramatically greater insights and actionable items for their clients and employers.”

— Erik Asgeirsson, CEO of

However, the rise of technology is not expected to take away jobs from accountants. Rather, the roles of accountants will shift to require more analytical, focused positions.

Accountant Career Path Flexibility

There are certain fundamental skills all accountants must have, such as attention to detail, proficiency with spreadsheets, and the ability to problem-solve. With the foundational knowledge accountants possess, they can choose from a wide array of professional roles.

Accountants can put their skills to use in private companies, dealing with internal financial information of a firm. Conversely, accountants can work in the public sector, aiding government entities in the management of financial resources.

Overall, the average accountant career outlook is promising, offering steady growth in an industry that will likely continue to be in demand. Accounting also provides options in terms of what sector you may wish to work in, from government to private company to self-employed career paths.

Here are the five categories that employed the most accountants in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services
Finance and insurance
Management of companies and enterprises
Self-employed workers

Employer Demand for Accountants with Master’s Degrees

The accounting field is competitive. Earning a master‘s in accounting degree is one way to stand out. It also equips you with credentials you may need to achieve higher paying positions.

Top-level employers like the “Big Four” accounting firms look for qualified candidates and have a large pool of potential employees to choose from. As the BLS notes in its job outlook for accountants:

“Job applicants who have a master’s degree in accounting or a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) with a concentration in accounting also may have an advantage.”

A master’s in accounting is not the only graduate degree that may boost your attractiveness to potential employers in the financial services industry. Other business degrees, such as an MBA, could also be another option. The BLS includes an MBA as a viable option to give you a competitive edge. If an MBA is something you are interested in, consider earning it with a specialization in accounting.

If you want to earn an MS in accounting degree but are unsure how you would fit it into your schedule, consider earning your master’s in accounting online. This option may provide flexibility and pacing unique to your needs.

A master’s degree can give you the needed edge to succeed in the competitive world of accounting. However, you must determine whether pursuing this graduate degree is right for your career path and goals.

4 Highest Paying Accounting Fields

An important consideration in the decision to become an accountant is potential earnings. As mentioned, accounting includes financial services across many industries*. Here are some of the most lucrative industries for accountants:

FieldMedian Annual WagesRole Example
Finance and insurance
Financial analyst, controller 
Management of companies and enterprises
Corporate Treasurer
Cost accountant
Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services
Tax accountant, certified public accountant (CPA)
Government financial manager, forensic accountant

*Sourced from May – 2018

These are just a sample of jobs that may pay higher than average in the accounting field, but there are many more positions available to pursue. These industry-specific accountant salary figures are reported by the BLS.

What is the Average Salary for Accountants?

Accounting is a broad industry that encompasses services like internal and external auditing, tax preparation and financial report creation. An accountant’s salary also depends on the industry they work in. Other factors that influence earnings include the accountant’s level of education and experience.

All things considered, the median annual wage for accountants, $79,520, is above the national median annual wage of $53,4900 for all jobs. This above-average pay is one factor that adds to the appeal of the accounting profession.

Keep in mind that the median number reflects the industry average. Entry-level accountants and those with little job experience will likely have a starting salary of around $50,000-$60,000.

CPA Certification

Another way to boost earnings is with a CPA (certified public accountant) or other certification. This requires a thorough knowledge of accounting.

The CPA examination is made up of four sections that cover:

  1. Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  2. Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
  3. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  4. Regulation (REG)

The CPA certification allows an accountant to perform specific actions that other accountants cannot, such as filing reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission. CPAs are often in demand for employers. As the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) notes:

“The CPA credential is highly regarded. To a potential employer, it means high ethical standards as well as measurable experience, education and skills.”

5 Top Paying States for Accountants

The place you live also factors into your earning capabilities as an accountant. Certain states, specifically those on the East Coast, report above-average accountant salaries.

Here are the five states in the U.S. with the highest pay for accountants*, as reported by the BLS:

StateAnnual Mean Wage
Washington, D.C.
New York
New Jersey

*Sourced from May – 2019

5 Top Paying Metropolitan Areas for Accountants

For a more focused look, here are the cities where accountants earn the most*:

Metropolitan AreaAnnual Mean Wage
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
Salinas, CA
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT

*Sourced from May – 2019

Keep in mind these are average salaries and your unique earnings will be impacted by factors like experience and education, to name a few. Additionally, the high cost of living in cities like D.C and New York may offset higher earnings.

Jumpstart Your Career in Accounting

All things considered, the accountant career outlook can be promising. Growth in the industry has spurred the creation of new jobs. Technological changes are ushering innovation into even the most established accounting firms.

It will be important to decide which accounting concentration you wish to work in and to discover what credentials you may need to pursue your ideal accounting job.

With this information in mind, understand that the industry is competitive. Earning a master’s degree in accounting or gaining CPA certification can differentiate you from others in the field.