Accounting: Public Accountancy

Public accountancy is the branch of accounting dedicated to general accounting for businesses and individuals. It is differentiated from tax accounting and other specialized branches, although certified public accountants usually handle all of the major types of accounting. In order to become a certified public accountant, the most common career track for public accountancy, an individual must pass the CPA exam for his or her state.

What Type of Work Does a CPA Do?

An accountant works with financial figures, but that is too great a simplification of the accountant’s job duties. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants do the following:

  • Prepare and examine financial statements for businesses and individuals to ensure that they comply with all local, state, and federal regulations for accounting
  • Prepare tax returns for individuals and businesses and ensure that taxes are paid in a timely manner to the correct agencies
  • Help business owners and individuals prepare accounting systems based on accepted accounting practices
  • Create, maintain, and organize financial records
  • Analyze and make recommendations to individuals and businesses about financial decisions

Accountants are usually responsible for far more than simply “keeping the books.” They are an integral part of a team that helps business owners maximize profits and minimize expenditures.

How Much Do CPAs Make and What Is the Job Outlook?

Most CPAs work at least 40 hours a week and earn a median yearly salary of $61,690, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. CPAs may experience times of high work volume, especially around tax time, so an hourly wage is difficult to compute from an annual salary. Many CPAs work for accounting firms, but some open their own businesses so that they have more work flexibility.

The job outlook for CPAs is about average when compared with the growth of other jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, CPA jobs are expected to grow by about 16 percent over the next ten years. CPAs can position themselves to be employed in the greatest number of positions by having other skills such as fluency in a second language that can be used in international accounting jobs or in dealing with second-language business clients.

How Do I Become a CPA?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, every accountant that works for a business on the Securities and Exchange Commission list is required to be certified. Accountants for small businesses may not have to be certified, but many choose the certification route to build credibility.

Most accountants have a four-year degree from an accredited school and sit for the Certified Public Account test given by their state. 46 states currently require 150 hours of college curriculum to quality to take the test, which is 30 hours more than a normal four-year degree. In response to this requirement, many colleges now offer a combined bachelor’s / master’s accounting path so that students can actually get two degrees while preparing for the CPA exam.

The test is given by the state and is based on a standardized national test known as the Uniform CPA Examination. This test contains four parts that must all be passed within 18 months of taking the first part of the exam.

Accountants can also seek certification as an auditor, a management accountant, or an internal systems auditor through separate testing. The Institute of Management Accountants, Institute of Internal Auditors, and the ISACA offer these tests and certifications. The American Institute of CPAs also offers accreditation in Accredited Business Valuation and certification as a Certified Information Technology Professional.

Some people have an idea that accounting is a “dry” job that provides no excitement. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you enjoy organizing and manipulating data, interacting with businesses and clients, and helping business owners and individuals make more money, accounting can be an exciting career and can offer many benefits to a person who has these skills.

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