CPA Salary Guide: Earning Power from Junior Accountants to Partners

Before anyone gets into accounting, it is natural to ponder about the future of the profession and the salary prospect.

For those who are already accountants, the next question is whether it is worthwhile to pursue the CPA, and whether the hard-earned qualification will bring tangible benefits.

Accountants love statistics and charts, so this is my attempt to prove to you that this is an excellent career choice in the 21st century. I will also show you how the “one-off” effort of getting the CPA will lead to more fruitful financial benefits for years to come.

For those who prefer to read the text, here is what we went over in the video:

CPA Salary Guide for Public Accounting

Let’s look into public accounting where the salary is divided into small, medium and large CPA firms. All amount in US dollars.

1. Junior Accountants (1-3 years)

(USD in thousands)

cpa salary of junior accountantsAccountants fresh out of college typically start their career with a salary range of low to mid $50K.

As they accumulate their experience and get their CPA qualification, most will have a pretty decent salary raise to $70K – $80K, even approach $90K for those who are lucky enough to work during “good” times and live in expensive cities such as New York.

2. Senior Accountants (4-6 years)

As accountants climb up the career ladder and become assistant managers and managers, the firm will award them with an increased salary every year.

From here the difference becomes more apparent between small firms (i.e. local CPA firm serving mom-and-pop shops) to big firms such as the Big 4 and other national accounting firms.

Such difference can be as much as $60K in the high range, but again it also depends on the location and how competitive the job market is overall.

3. Director and Senior Managers

By now, many of the public accountants would have moved to the corporate or other financial field.

For those who stay and become partners — here is the reward: these CPA’s salary will be multiples of what they earned a few years ago and can even reach half a million dollars per year.

The range can be pretty big — if one works in a small local CPA firm, you simply can’t charge too much to each client and so the revenue (thus the salary) will remain to be limited.

However, for Big 4 and other major firms with many million-dollar accounts, it is understandable that partners can actually get a very good income. Having said that, the stress and the workload that come with it will also be quite different.

CPA Salary Guide for Corporate Accounting

Many public accountants switch to corporate for a better work-life balance or for other family reasons. Some make the change because they don’t want to be a “salesman” soliciting clients but would rather happily stay in the middle and back office.

In terms of the salary prospect for these CPAs, it does make a difference when you make the switch.

1. Junior Level (1-3 years)

The difference in salary due to company size is less apparent in non-public or corporate accounting. You can expect to get anywhere from US$50K to $70K depending on the industry and the location. Typically, the level is slightly lower than that in public accounting.

2. Senior Level (4-6 years)

With 4-6 years of experience, finance professionals in accounting department will generally get a salary raise by promotion, and will get $60K to mid $70K. For highly profitable industries or those specializing in niches with high demand, you can expect to get paid more.

While getting the CPA will certainly help in your resume, this qualification is not necessary at this stage in non-public accounting.

3. Managers

4. Senior Management Level

We don’t have a chart for this, but for finance executives with 10+ years of experience and become the controller or CFO of the organization, you can expect to get more than $100K even for small local firms. For important positions in listed companies, you will be paid multiples of that.

At this stage a CPA qualification is almost necessary — so if you didn’t get it 5-10 years ago, you will have to make up for it, or wait to get fired. I am not trying to scare you — I get an email from these senior guys every week and ask me how to take the exam when they are in their 40s or even 50s.

What is the Role of CPA Designation in Your Career?

In summary, here are the reasons for you to consider:

  • In general, you can expect a salary raise of 10-15% once you become a CPA. That’s every year. Just think about the cumulative impact.
  • As you move up the career especially in a CPA firm, it is mandatory that you get the CPA license. This is definitely the case if you are aspiring to be the partner.
  • Even for corporate accounting, for important roles such as controllers and CFOs people expect you to be a CPA. If you procrastinate and don’t get this done until 15 years later, it’s just harder at that age to go back to the text books and tackle exams.

Source: ThisWaytoCPA.com summarizing the data from Robert Half 2016 Salary Guide and Holland & Associates Public Accounting Survey

Would You Like To Become A CPA Someday… Or Now?

You can learn about on how to become a CPA here. If you are serious to get started, I encourage you to sign up for my mini-course which is free to subscribe.

If you like this post and would like to learn more about the CPA exam, check out my mini-course which is completely free. I have two versions designed for candidates with different background:

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For US Candidates
(Those with US degrees, or
graduate/live/work in the US)
For Intl Candidates
(Those who study abroad, or
graduate/live/work outside of the US)

About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites

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  • silky says:

    I recently cleared all my four papers (11/04/2015). Now I am looking for a job. The problem is that I have no work experience related to the field of accounting. As a result, the offers are far and few between. I really am loosing my will and patience. What should I do? What position should I look at? Big 4 seems out of question ( are there any chance?). Also , if I do get a job at entry level in a small firm, what kind of salary should I be looking at? Please help me!!!

    • Tindo says:

      You can get into the Big 4. I got a full time offer after my very first internship but I am still to graduate. Apply for internships or a full time job. Don’t give up. They actually hire people who never did internships.

  • Jay says:

    Silky,

    I understand your concerns. Experience and knowing people is key to career growth. Also, what you’re not told is that there is a glut of designated accountants (over supplied), making it an employer (consumer) market. Most markets out there are saturated, with very little innovation. Companies are looking at more and more ways to increase productivity while cutting costs.

    Moreover, don’t get fooled by the salary surveys of the CPA or any other resources. These surveys are very subjective and are based on participation, and mostly it ends up that people who are in good positions that participate in these surveys. The data on these surveys are affected by outliers (the 5% of top notch execs who make over 1 million). You never get to hear how many designated accountants are in fact unemployed or under employed for a long period of time in these surveys, in fact when I did my MBA, most my fellow students at least 50% of them were looking for a job for a well over 1 year and were all designated accountants. The reality is that the true salaries offered in the market place are much less than what these surveys show due to an oversupply of accountants. Most employers are not ready to throw big packages unless you can prove them that you bring value to their business, and don’t forget that there are many designated candidates whom you’re competing with. Moreover, although technology has advanced neither company’s needs nor the jobs of people have changed dramatically. There is still a significant demand for all type of workers in the market place, and in most jobs you need to start somewhere low and gradually make your way up the ladder to make a decent pay close what these surveys say. This is what I did 12 years ago and took me 10 years to get closer to where the survey average is, but my starting salary was $30k. When I look back I know that I did the right thing. I also know that some people I met in the MBA program are still looking after 3 years for job, just because there still dreaming that they can make $100k right off the bat, and don’t want to take that $40k job somewhere to gradually make themselves up the ladder in the traditional way.

  • Sumit G says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for sharing this information.it is quite useful and motivating as well. I am hopeful that I will complete cpa soon

    Kind Regards
    Sumit

  • Benard Wege says:

    Hi….gaining more by your talks and advice’s in the cooperate world out here….its quite useful and advantageous for one who has his tools in that line of the career… thanks so much…hope of completing mine soon

  • shaun says:

    I feel like these are low. The average CPA firm starts out around 50-60k where I am at and the average private company starts out around 40-50k here too.

    When I make senior I’ll want 70k+, but it may take a little while to get there. Of course eventually I’ll want 6 figures lol

  • Mita m trivedi says:

    This us50 k package is annulybasis.or monthl basis.
    I m from India and I m chartered accountant ..I m planning to do CPA and move to us..
    Lil bit concerned and confused..

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