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Four main types of accountants are available to serve the accounting needs of individuals, large organizations, small businesses, and government agencies. These types of accounting include corporate, forensic, government, and public.
Accountants maintain financial records and interpret financial information. An accountant at one firm might maintain financial ledgers, while another might take on payroll management duties. Accountants can also specialize in specific areas, such as tax codes.
Accountants and CPAs handle many of the same accounting tasks. However, a CPA is an accountant who has passed a state exam to become a certified public accountant. A CPA is typically more trusted in an advisory position when in a business setting.
Most individuals don’t need to hire an accountant, except for when tax season arrives. A small business owner is more likely to need an accountant than an individual because business owners have more complex record-keeping requirements.
Forensic accountants use generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to investigate and solve financial mysteries that are typically related to uncovering or resolving suspected criminal activity, such as embezzling. These accountants may work for individuals, businesses, and government agencies.
Processing payroll and employee benefits are key roles of payroll accountants. Some other duties performed by payroll accountants include using software and handling financial statements. These professionals might also analyze financial ledgers, prepare and present reports to management, and advise regarding investment opportunities.
You can work as an accountant without majoring in it. However, earning a degree and becoming a CPA offers more earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, certified public accountants who have received at least a bachelor’s degree earn a median annual wage of $73,560.
You need to have strong math and analytical skills to be an accountant. Most companies require accountants to have earned at least a bachelor’s degree and CPA. Some lower-level accounting positions in accounting might require only knowledge of certain accounting principles, such as how to manage receivables.
Some two-year college programs prepare students to take the CPA exam; however, most employers require accountants to have at least a bachelor’s degree, which is a four-year degree.
You don't have to earn a CPA to be an accountant, however, getting your CPA opens opportunities to earn higher wages in this field. Many companies, especially larger ones and government agencies, require at least a four-year degree and CPA when hiring accountants.
According to the American Institute of CPAs, requirements for becoming a CPA vary by state. Each state requires education, passing the Uniform CPA exam, and some amount of experience before issuing the certification. A minimum of a bachelor’s degree or 150 semester hours is typically required before taking the certification exam.
If you’re interested in a career in accounting, it’s worthwhile to get a CPA. It opens opportunities to earn higher wages and offers a wider variety of accounting jobs, so you can choose the type of accounting you want to do.