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Accountant Career Path – Accountant Average Salary


Name: Christine White
Job Title: Accountant
Where: Virginia
Employer: Self-Employed
Years of Experience: 20
Education: BBA, Averett University in Danville, VA
Salary: See the PayScale Research Center for an accountant average salary.

Accountant Career Path – Accountant Average Salary

If you're interested in an accountant career path and/or an accountant average salary, this interview with accountant Christine White crunches the numbers. Christine has gone out of her way to follow her own path as an accountant by continuing her education with online accounting classes, pursuing forensic accounting, and always focusing on excellent customer service. She spoke to us about how she started her accountant career path, the responsibilities of accounting jobs, the education needed for an accountant career and how self-employment vs. working at a firm may impact an accountant's average salary.

This Salary Story also covers different jobs for accountants, including tax accountant jobs. And, if you're already taking steps toward an accountant career path, don't miss Christine's tips for how to handle the stress of tax season. Don't put this off until April 15th, read it today!

Accountant Job Description:

I provide basic bookkeeping services such as payroll, bank reconciliations, general ledger posting, I also do financial statement compilations. I provide HR functions like Employee Handbook compilation and benefits management. I do taxes: personal, corporate, estate, payroll, sales tax, and business property taxes. I help my clients with asset and depreciation management.

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Excellent client service is my goal. I go to my client rather than have them come to me. I find that clients are more relaxed in their own surroundings and I can make keen observations that help me ask the right questions and clue into client concerns. I think a lot of accountants forget the personal side of our services. I want to be different.

Can you describe your accountant career path?

I took a concentration of accounting in high school and took a couple of positions as bookkeeper. I finally landed a job as bookkeeper for a CPA and caught the accounting bug. I started at the local community college and got my Associates in Accounting. Then I went for my BBA.

I am enrolled in a Masters of Forensic Accounting program. The CPA who hired me was my mentor and he gave me excellent training. I have 10 years experience in public accounting and 10 years in private accounting. I have done accounting for manufacturers, doctors, lawyers, restaurants, retail, and A&E firms.

Can you recall any humorous moments from your accounting career?

My mentor and I would have rubber band shootouts during tax season to cut the tension and have some fun. We would also have water gun showdowns. He was the anti-typical accountant and I have followed in his footsteps in that regard. By the end of tax season, the typical accountant will work an average of 70 hours a week, if the accountant is organized that is.

Sometimes, I don’t get a day off during tax season and, by April 15, I am a bit punch happy. The crazier tax returns tend to pop up in April. Usually, I take an extension on any returns that come into the office beginning April 1 just to be on the safe side. This helps cut some of the stress at that time. I always go out and celebrate on April 15!

Once the deadline has passed, the office hours ease up, but since I own my own firm, I still work quite a bit. The advantage to owning my own firm is that I can take off on Fridays and take ballroom dance lessons in another state!

Tell us about the skills accountants need and the education needed for an accountant career.

I think practical experience is very important. One of the hottest careers right now is Forensic Accounting. Florida Atlantic University has a great masters program for this. I did a paper for my BBA at Averett University on Forensic Accounting. Forensic accountants are needed in divorce proceedings, fraud cases, and buy-outs.

Forensic accountants are much in demand with the IRS, FBI, and insurance companies. If a person likes playing detective, psychologist, and enjoys accounting, this is the path to take in terms of education. A CPA can become a CFE–Certified Fraud Examiner by taking an exam.

As an adult getting advanced education, I found Averett University to have a great program that worked with my schedule. I will be doing my Masters at Florida Atlantic University completely online and that has a lot of appeal for me, as I tend to be an independent type of student. Ideally, getting your college education right out of high school is the best way, but with the Internet, adult education opportunities abound.

What is the outlook on jobs for accountants?

Accounting is a pretty stable career. Taxes, audits, bookkeeping always needs to be done. With the fall-out from Enron and the other accounting scandals, the field has actually expanded. Hence, forensic accounting is growing fast.

It is hard work, but starting your own firm may be the best way to get what you want in terms of salary and benefits–eventually. If owning your own firm is a dream, but resources are thin, get into a small CPA firm with the view of becoming partner and eventually owner.

CPA firms always seem to be hiring and in areas like Raleigh-Durham, it is possible to get well-paying jobs as a private accountant. Some of the larger private firms even allow their accountants to work at home part of the time.

What factors can affect the typical accountant salary?

Smaller towns typically don’t pay as much. In my experience though, smaller firms tend to be more willing to pay more than large companies. That could be just the area I am in. Larger cities with Fortune 500 companies probably have more to offer wage-wise.

The bottom line with accountants: the more you bring to the table in terms of education and experience, the more earning potential you have. Some accountants just concentrate on audits or taxes, but being well rounded can open more doors.

How does your salary compare to an accountant average salary?  Find out with PayScale’s salary survey.

Matt Schneider
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