Becoming a CPA, or a Certified Public Accountant, is not easy, which is why a CPA starting salary is relatively high. That being said, becoming a CPA – especially a CPA with a Master's in Business Administration (MBA) – takes a lot of hard work. It can be useful to learn the average salary for an accountant and how degrees and certifications impact how much you earn, plus what to expect from an MBA average salary, CPA starting salary and more.
Average Salary for an Accountant
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles data on income in various fields. They report that the median income for accountants and auditors in 2021 was $77,250 per year or $37.14 per hour. Of course, this figure includes everyone who works in these positions, not just those with advanced degrees and certifications like a CPA or MBA. As AIS explains, a CPA is a credential, and an MBA is an academic program; this distinction is important to understand.
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A CPA starting salary or MBA starting salary will be on the lower end, though higher than a person entering the workforce without advanced degrees. An accounting major salary would be close to the lowest paid in the field, especially if they're just starting their career; the lowest 10 percent of earners made a median salary of $47,970 in 2021.
According to other sources, the average starting salary for someone with a CPA license is around $62,000. Someone with only an MBA usually earns a starting salary of around $51,000. After 10 years, the person with the CPA has a higher expected salary, around $111,000, while MBAs earn around $98,000. Remember that many people enter the workforce and begin their careers while earning their graduate degree or pursuing CPA certification. Sometimes, employers will even help pay for your advanced degree or provide support in other ways as you pursue higher education.
How to Become a CPA
The official way to become a CPA is relatively simple. You only need to earn a bachelor's degree and pass the CPA exams. However, the exams are very challenging, and many people prepare for them by attending graduate school, earning their MBA along the way.
You should major in accounting during your undergraduate education. You can choose a related field, such as finance, but be sure to take many courses to learn the actual skills and practices of accountants.
Once you pass the CPA exams, you still have to apply for your license with the state in which you plan to practice. Most states require that you renew your license every one to two years. You may need to meet continuing education requirements in order to keep your license current.
Which Accountants Earn the Most Money?
The highest 10 percent of accountants earned $128,970 in 2021. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants in finance and insurance tend to make slightly more money than their counterparts in management, government, bookkeeping and tax preparation.
Statistically speaking, accountants living in the District of Columbia made the highest mean income in 2021, $110,240, followed by those in New York at $105,790. Don't forget to consider other mitigating factors: A CPA salary in New York will be higher than in Kansas, but it costs much more money to live in New York.
Keep in mind that accountants very often have to work overtime during tax season, especially as the mid-April tax deadline looms. Some accountants are compensated with overtime pay, while others have more flexible schedules or generous vacation time during the rest of the year.