What Does an Accountant Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Alexandra Gordon © The Balance 2019

Accountants ensure the accuracy of financial statements for individuals, companies, and organizations. They make sure that laws and procedures are followed, and taxes are correct and paid on time. Accountants prepare financial documentation and explains their findings to individuals or a company's or organization's management.

There are several types of accountants. Management accountants prepare financial information that is used internally by the companies that employ them. Public accountants who work for accounting firms or are self-employed perform audits and prepare financial documentation and tax forms for clients. Government accountants work with government agencies' financial records. They also audit businesses, organizations, and individuals that are subject to government regulation and taxation.

Accountant Duties & Responsibilities

Typical job duties accountants need to be able to perform include:

  • Prepare budgets
  • Enter transactions and reconcile account balances
  • Prepare accurate work papers, schedules, and reconciliations for audit purposes
  • Send invoices to accounts
  • Enforce payment terms with accounts
  • Stay up to date on state and local tax laws
  • Work with external auditors
  • Record payments and disbursements

Accountants perform a wide range of duties depending on their employer and the specific focus of their work. Whether working with corporations, individuals, or government agencies, accountants need to be able to file legal financial documents, such as those that public companies must disclose to investors. In the case of individual clients, it might be something as basic as annual income tax forms.

Accountants working within businesses need to be able to analyze internal financial documents, make sure departments are complying with the law, and make budget recommendations.

Accountant Salary

Salaries for accountants can vary widely depending on the employer. Some large firms may pay higher salaries, and independent accountants with a longstanding list of clients also can earn more.

  • Median Annual Salary: $69,350 ($33.34/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $122,220 ($58.75/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $43,020 ($20.68/hour)

Education, Training, & Certification

The minimum education required to become an accountant is a bachelor’s degree. Many accountants will pursue higher degrees and certifications in order to make themselves more marketable.

  • Education: A bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field of study is necessary to get started in a career as an accountant. Some employers prefer job candidates who have a master’s degree in accounting or taxation or an MBA with a concentration in accounting.
  • Certification: To be able to file documents with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, accountants need to become a certified public accountant (CPA). Individual states grant licensure according to their own rules and regulations. After earning a college degree, accountants have to pass the Uniform CPA Examination.

    Accountant Skills & Competencies

    In addition to formal education and a license, the soft skills necessary to be an accountant include:

    • Customer service skills: Many accountants spend a lot of time working with customers, assessing their needs, and assisting them with their finances or taxes. This requires the speaking and listening skills that are part of customer service.
    • Analytical thinking: Accountants need to be able to identify trends or problems when reviewing finances for individuals or businesses.
    • Problem-solving: Working as an accountant often involves helping clients solve specific financial problems. In many cases, accountants discover problems and need to recommend solutions when this happens.
    • Microsoft Office proficiency: Accountants will spend a lot of time working with standard software applications used for businesses, especially Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheet software.
    • Well organized: Tracking and analyzing finances requires a high level of organization in order to stay on top of revenues and expenses as they evolve.

    Job Outlook

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for accountants is projected at 10 percent for the decade ending in 2026. This is better than the 7 percent growth projected for all occupations. Job prospects in this field often are tied to the health of the economy, but accountants always will be needed as more companies go public and as tax codes become more complex.

    Work Environment

    Businesses environments can vary, but most accountants work either for a larger firm that needs their services or they work independently serving individuals and small businesses. Some independent accountants might work out of a home office.

    Work Schedule

    Work schedules typically follow standard business hours. The biggest exception is during tax season when many accountants will work extended hours in order to meet with clients before the filing deadline.

    How to Get the Job

    STUDY

    A bachelor’s degree in accounting is a bare minimum.

    GET A CPA

    Without becoming a certified public accountant, job prospects can be limited.

    GAIN EXPERIENCE

    The best way to build trust and gain clients is through doing good work.

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