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How to Become an Accountant

Would you like to know how to become an accountant? The information below will guide you through the education, experience, and certification necessary to become an accountant and/or CPA. As an accountant, you'll work with numbers as you manage the day-to-day financial and accounting process of a business. You'll need to have a good eye that catches mathematical errors, and understand laws and regulations as they pertain to the tax code.

Many people start out in accounting by participating in internships while they pursue one of many possible accredited online degrees. Upon graduation, you may want to work under a CPA to gain the experience necessary to take and pass the certification for your own CPA designation. In order to be successful as an accountant and progress quickly in your career, you must, above all be honest, and maintain your ethics, as you will be responsible for a vast amount of financial responsibility within a business. Given time, your loyalty will be rewarded. Check out the information below...

Accountant Roadmap

Clicking on these links will take you to the corresponding section below. This way, you can skip around or simply scroll down to read the information section by section as you explore how to become an accountant.

Types of Accountants

There are many types of accountants. Some are:

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Bookkeeper
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
  • Accounts Payable Clerk
  • Accounts Receivable Clerk
  • Auditing Clerk
  • Certified Internal Auditor
  • Forensic Accountant
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Controller

 

Accountant Job Description

As an accountant, you are a record keeper. You'll be responsible for keeping financial and accounting records for expenditures, receipts, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and profit and loss. Depending on the type of company you work for, you may have different tasks. For example, a list of duties for bookkeepers includes:

  • Recording transactions
  • Making deposits
  • Producing financial statements
  • Creating financial reports
  • Verifying and balancing receipts
  • Managing payroll
  • Sending and receiving payments
  • Creating and tracking invoices
  • Following up on past due invoices
  • Make purchases and purchase orders

For accountants in a larger firm, duties may include:

  • Verifying records
  • Checking figures for mathematical accuracy
  • Reconciling transactions
  • Balancing profit/loss statements

 

Education Requirements

Many people who are skilled in keeping records find themselves able to attain a job as an accountant without any formal education in business, finance, or accounting. Many people who start out this way go to work for a small, mom & pop type of business, where they are taught the skills needed to do the accounting and payroll functions necessary for the job. However, others find getting at least an associates degree is beneficial to landing that first job. Therefore, you might consider getting a business degree online, including a finance degree or accounting degree. Specific degrees include:

How to Become a Certified Bookkeeper

The Certified Bookkeeper designation is offered by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers. Requirements for earning the CB designation are:

  • Experience: Two (2) years' full-time experience or the part-time or freelance equivalent
  • Examination: Take and pass a 4-part national examination
  • Code of Ethics: Sign and adhere to the AIPB Code of Ethics

The Certified Bookkeeper exam consists of material covering topics like adjusting entries, error correction, bank reconciliation), payroll, depreciation, inventory, and internal controls and fraud prevention.

Upon passing the examination, you'll demonstrate that you have the skills needed as a bookkeeper, including skills in general ledger, payroll, accounts receivable, and accounts payable. Find out more on how to become a certified bookkeeper at the AIPB website.

How to Become a CPA

CPA stands for certified public accountant. All CPAs are accountants, but not all accountants are CPAs. The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) offers a CPA Certificate Program covers a variety of accounting topics including auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation.

CPA Requirements

In order to be eligible for certification, you must meet the requirements within your individual state. For specific CPA requirements, refer to the appropriate state board of accountancy listed below. Generally, the requirements for a CPA designation include:

  • 1 – 2 years experience under a CPA
  • Minimum of 150 semester hours of undergraduate coursework
  • Take and pass the CPA exam
  • Take and pass an ethics exam

In order to maintain your certification, you must complete continuing professional education each year. Generally, this is about 40 hours of coursework.

State Boards of Accountancy

Here's a list of the State Boards of Accountancy

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
Guam
Hawaii

Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi

Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania

Puerto Rico
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

 

Additional Skills Needed to be an Accountant

Technology plays a large part in your job as an accountant. In addition to superior math and finance skills, you'll be expected to be able to use a computer, along with various types of computer software including accounting software, general ledger software, spreadsheets, and databases. Quickbooks and TurboTax are some of the prominent accounting software out there, but there are hundreds of different types of accounting software and some companies have software developed specifically for their industry. Therefore, learning the general concepts behind using technology along with basic accounting principles will be more important that learning a specific type of program.

Because you'll be working in an office environment, other skills that will help you succeed as an accountant include:

  • Communication skills
  • Customer service skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to recognize errors, especially with numbers

Career Advancement in Accounting

When you begin your career in accounting, you may start out as an accounting clerk or accounting assistant. With a few years of experience, you may become a staff accountant. With 3-5 years of experience, you may be promoted to junior accountant. With 5+ years of experience, you may expect to be eligible for senior accountant positions. Of course, with each promotion, you can expect more responsibilities, and a higher salary.

Accountant Organizations

National organizations for accountants include:

State CPA Societies

This is a list of state societies and associations for accountants:

State Accountant Associations

Theses are the associations for accountants within each state:

 

Accountant Jobs

One of the best ways to get a job as an accountant with little or no experience is to apply at a temp agency. In many cases, this will give you hands-on experience that may lead to a full-time accounting job. Other ways to break into the accounting industry are to participate in summer internships or volunteer at charitable organizations to earn experience.

Of course, we'd like to see you get your degree in accounting, since that will provide you with the proverbial "foot in the door" for many companies looking to hire you as an accountant. Take a look at some of our business degrees online.

Accountant Salary

One of the many questions people ask is: "How much money will I make as an accountant?" According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual salary of bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks were $34,030 per year in 2010. This equates to $16.36 per hour. Earnings range between $21,270 and $51,470.


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