According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the median wage for accountants is $70,500 per year or $33.89 per hour.
Of course, how much accountants actually earn depends on experience, location, position, and industry.
Highest and Lowest Average Accountant Salary
Along with median earnings, the BLS also reports the highest and the lowest salaries for accountants, which are as follows:
- The lowest 10% of accountants earned less than $43,650 per year
- The highest 10% of accountants earn more than $122,840
The lower end reflects inexperienced accountants working for low-paying industries like the government while the higher end reflects experienced accountants working in higher paying industries like finance and insurance.
Accountant Starting Salary by Degree Type
As it is with most professions, how much you earn as an accountant depends on your level of education and experience. For accounting, the more educated you are, the higher your earning potential.
NACE’s annual starting salary survey, which collects data from employers to calculate projected starting salaries for all college majors, found the following:
Accountant Starting Salary for Bachelor’s Degree Holders
Accountants fresh out of college with a bachelor’s degree earn an average starting salary of $57,511. Fifty percent of recent accounting graduates earn between $54,000 to $60,000. To maximize your earnings, consider entering the chemical (pharmaceutical) manufacturing industry or the information industry. These industries pay accountants a mean salary of $62,115 and $61,250 respectively.
Accountant Starting Salary for Master’s Degree Holders
Students who pursue their master’s degree boost their average starting salary up to $69,605, a 21% increase. Fifty percent earn between $59,500 and $73,620. Students who opt for the finance, insurance, and real estate industry can expect to earn an average salary of $94,833.
Accountant Salary by Specialty
The type of accounting you go into greatly affects your average earnings and income potential.
Average CPA Salary
CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant. Accountants who decide to become CPAs must complete 150 semester hours of college coursework, pass a national license exam, and meet other state requirements. The extra work pays off because becoming a CPA improves job prospects and earning potential. The BLS doesn’t make a distinction between accountants and CPAs, but AccountingEdu suggests that CPAs earn more than regular accountants.
PayScale also tracks salary data for CPAs and general accountants. PayScale reports the average CPA salary at $64,765 per year and average accountant salary at $50,591*. This means that CPAs earn about 28% more than a regular accountant.
Payscale’s reported average salary for accountants appears much lower than the median wage reported by the BLS. It’s important to note that PayScale collects self-reported salary information from employees while the BLS is a government organization that collects data directly from employers. Payscale’s average accountant salary figure also excludes CPA salary data while the BLS figure includes all types of accountants.
Average Tax Preparer Salary
Tax preparers earn significantly less than accountants. Data from the BLS shows that tax preparers earn an annual median wage of just $39,390. That’s a $31,110 difference in salary between a tax preparer and an accountant. The lowest 10% of tax preparers earn less than $20,550 per year while the highest 10% earn more than $81,720.
Average Forensic Accountant Salary
Forensic accountants are part detective and part accountant. They analyze financial records to see if they’re compliant, investigate fraud, and testify as expert witnesses in court. On average, forensic accountants earn $65,645 per year. The lower 10% earn less than $45,000 and the top 10% earn upwards of $106,000.
Average Management Accountant Salary
Management accountants provide financial information that business leaders need to make strategic decisions. They help with budgeting, risk management, profitability analysis, and more. To do this job, you need a bachelor’s degree in accounting and need to become a certified management accountant (CMA).
Management accountants earn an average salary of $59,282 with average additional compensation of $5,300 between bonuses and profit sharing. Eighty percent earn between $38,000 and $89,000.
Accountant Salary by Industry
Where you work makes a world of difference in the accounting world. Some industries just pay accountants a whole lot more than others.
Average Accountant Salary in the Top-Paying Industries
According to 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these are the top paying industries for accountants:
- School and Employee Bus Transportation: $109,250 annual average wage
- Federal Executive Branch: $100,080 annual average wage
- Securities, Commodity Contracts, Financial Investments: $97,00 annual average wage
- Other Investment Pools and Funds: $96,770 annual average wage
- Other Pipeline Transportation: $93,590 annual average wage
Average Accountant Salary in the Lowest-Paying Industries
The following industries pay accountants the least:
- State Technical and Trade Schools: $48,440 annual average wage
- State Psychiatric & Substance Abuse Hospitals: $53,320 annual average wage
- Casino Hotels: $54,850 annual average wage
- Gasoline Stations: $55,020 annual average wage
- Services for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities: $57,830 annual average wage
Average Accountant Salary in the Most Popular Industry
Fewer than 54,000 accountants and auditors work in the top-paying industries, so the best-paying jobs are hard to come by. The Accounting, Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping, and Payroll Services industry provides the most jobs for accountants and auditors. In 2018, this industry employed 325,930 accountants and auditors with an average accountant salary of $83,710. That’s approximately 26% of the accountant and auditor workforce.
Average Self-Employed Accountant Salary
According to the BLS, 7% of accountants opt for the non-traditional route, starting their own small business or working on a contract basis. According to PayScale*, self-employed Certified Public Accountants bring in an average salary of $119,831. The lower 10% earn less than $60,000 while the top 10% earn more than $200,000. PayScale also estimates that the average self-employed accountant (not including CPAs) earns an average salary of $58,600.
The income might look enticing, but it’s not all going straight to the bank. Self-employed workers don’t have an employer to cover certain taxes, contribute to a retirement account, or sponsor a health insurance plan. They need to cover those costs themselves, which can significantly reduce their net income.
*Based on seven individuals reporting income data for this job type
Average Accountant Salary by State and City
Your earnings aren’t just affected by the industry you choose or your education. Where you work matters too. Some states pay accountants and CPAs more than others. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll have extra cash to spend—or use to pay down your student loans. It could indicate that the cost of living in those states or cities is just higher.
States with the Highest Average Accountant Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the following are the highest-paying states and territories for accountants as of May 2018:
- District of Columbia: $98,130 annual average wage
- New York: $96,300 annual average wage
- New Jersey: $90,400 annual average wage
- Virginia: $85,640 annual average wage
- Connecticut: $84,890 annual average wage
Cities with the Highest Average Accountant Salary
If you’re looking to earn top dollar, don’t count out other states just yet. Here are the five highest-paying metropolitan areas for accountants:
- New York/Newark/Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA: $99,900 annual average wage
- Salinas, CA: $94,710 annual average wage
- Bridgeport/Stamford/Norwalk, CT: $95,390 annual average wage
- Washington/Arlington/Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV: $93,180 annual average wage
- San Francisco/Oakland/Hayward, CA: $92,630 annual average wage
States with the Lowest Average Accountant Salary
Accountants earn the least in these states:
- Mississippi: $59,960 annual average wage
- North Dakota: $60,550 annual average wage
- South Carolina: $64,220 annual average wage
- Hawaii: $64,410 annual average wage
- Idaho: $64,640 annual average wage
Remember, lower earnings aren’t necessarily a bad thing if the cost of living in the state is low. However, don’t assume that’s the case. Accountants working in Hawaii may make less on average than accountants working in 46 other states, but Hawaii still has the highest cost of living in the United States.
Is Becoming an Accountant Worth It?
You’ve seen how much an accountant can make, but is it enough to justify taking out loans for your undergraduate and/or graduate degree? Let’s take a look at how prepared graduates are to pay back their debt.
Job Outlook for Accountants in the United States
Job opportunities for accountants show no sign of slowing down. The demand for accountants will rise as more businesses go public, the economy improves, and the globalization of business continues. Companies will need experienced accountants that specialize in their niche needs as well as entry-level accountants fresh out of college. According to the BLS, from 2016 to 2026, employment is expected to grow by 10%, which is 3% faster than the average for all professions.
Debt-to-Income Ratio for Accountants
Paying off your student debt is a numbers game. Will you make enough after graduation to be able to pay back your loans? A study completed by Credible.com suggests that accounting puts you in a much better spot to pay back your debt than other majors.
Credible’s study calculated and analyzed the student debt-to-income ratio for different degree programs. Their findings show that students who graduate with a master’s in accounting have a 7.91% student debt-to-income ratio (the fourth lowest of all degrees in the study). This is significantly lower than the average for all graduate students, which is 10.88%.
Undergraduates who studying accounting make out well too. Students with a four-year business degree, which includes accounting, have around an 8.85% student debt-to-income ratio. This is the sixth lowest of all the degrees in the study and 1.1% lower than the average for all undergraduates. It’s also higher than accountants with a master’s degree, suggesting that earning your master’s in accounting is certainly worth it too.
Return on Investment for Accountants
To get an even better idea of whether an accounting degree is worth it, use PayScale’s Best Value Colleges for Business Majors tool. It shows you the return on investment (ROI) of a business major, which includes accounting, at different schools across the country. It takes the four-year cost, typical years to graduate, average loan amount, and average alumni salaries into account, so you’re left with a good idea of which schools are worth your money. The higher your 20-year net ROI, the more worth it is to study accounting at that college.
Yes, An Accounting Degree is Usually Worth It
Thanks to the field’s high job stability and high earning potential, becoming an accountant is usually worth it. Sure, studying accounting doesn’t mean you’ll graduate debt-free, but it does mean that you’ll graduate better equipped to afford your monthly student loan payments than other graduates.
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Compare the Best Student Loan Refinance Rates
Here are our top student loan refinance picks for 2019
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Student Debt Relief Loan Refinancing Advertiser Disclosure
College Ave: College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply. (1)The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as the borrower or cosigner, if applicable, enrolls in auto-pay and authorizes our loan servicer to automatically deduct your monthly payments from a valid bank account via Automated Clearing House (“ACH”). The rate reduction applies for as long as the monthly payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account and is suspended during periods of forbearance and certain deferments. Variable rates may increase after consummation. (2)$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees. (3)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. Information advertised valid as of 1/27/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
ELFI: Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply. To qualify for refinancing or student loans consolidation through ELFI, you must have at least $15,000 in student loan debt and must have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher from an approved post-secondary institution.
LendKey: Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
CommonBond: Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate.
Splash Financial: Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval.com
Earnest: To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest’s fixed-rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with autopay) to 7.89% APR (with autopay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.50% APR (with autopay) to 7.27% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms of 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 0.26% and 5.03% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of April 23, 2019 and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay Discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 04/23/19. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice.
Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 303 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
Ascent: Ascent’s undergraduate and graduate student are funded by Bank of Lake Mills or DR Bank, each Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: www.AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs. Rates are effective as of 11/1/2023 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs require interest-only payments, the shortest loan term, and a cosigner, and are only available to our most creditworthy applicants and cosigners with the highest average credit scores.
*The minimum amount is $2,001 except for the state of Massachusetts. Minimum loan amount for borrowers with a Massachusetts permanent address is $6,001.