What is the average CPA Salary?

According to the AICPA Salary Insights 2019, the average salary of a CPA based in the United States is $122,000 per year, excluding bonuses. Depending on firm size and location, the average starting salary for an accountant ranges from $40,000 to $57,500. But consider this, adding a CPA license to your graduate degree increases your salary up to 15% annually!

If you want to know how much CPAs make in their career paths, here are a few facts and figures to get you started.

Factors that determine CPA Salary

Firm Size and CPA Job
Public Accounting vs. Private Accounting
Experience
Location

CPA Salary by Firm Size and Role

Employers of accountants are classified into two general areas—public accounting and private accounting. Public accounting involves working for a CPA firm while private accounting includes working for companies, not-for-profits, and governments.

Public accounting firms range in size from smaller, local “mom and pops” with two or three accountants to robust, multi-office international operations with thousands of CPAs on staff. In top accounting firms, positions are specialized in areas such as audit, tax, or advisory services.  As expected, smaller firm CPAs are expected to be generalists and work across many areas, but they may specialize over time.

Large firms are willing and able to pay a premium to attract top talent, often because they are located in larger metro regions and must compete with other firms. The more employees and assets a firm has, or the more clients they serve, the more complex various accounting functions become, and accountants’ salaries reflect that. The Big 4 accounting firms (Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers) are good examples of where a starting CPA salary could be higher than at a smaller local firm.

Compensation and company culture vary wildly from employer to employer, but similarly sized organizations tend to have a few things in common:

Large Firms tend to offer some benefits (e.g., gyms, cafeterias, and childcare) that smaller firms are unable to provide due to their size and budgets.
Small Firms are usually more flexible when it comes to work/life balance and offer greater access to management, so individuals have greater say in the direction of the firm.

According to the 2020 Robert Half Salary Guide, firms across industries are increasing CPA salaries, and “skilled accounting and finance talent is in short supply,” leading to bidding wars for talent. Some companies are offering bigger bonuses, more perks, and additional vacation time to attract recent accounting graduates. A CPA license will help you land an even bigger starting salary than you could without it.

Depending on the type of accounting, the size of the company, and your role within the company, your annual paycheck could add up to totals like those outlined below.

CPA Salary by Company Size in Public Accounting Firms

The public accounting profession is dominated by the Big 4, followed by large international firms, regional firms, and local firms. Work life varies significantly across these differing sized firm, so it is important to check them out before you make a final decision.

Salaries differ by service area and firm size. For example, the tables below provide the range of salaries for audit/assurance services, tax services, and advisory/consulting services by firm size. 

Public Accountant Salary

Audit/Assurance Services

CPAs in these roles generally help clients meet their reporting requirements by providing an objective and independent examination of their financial statements, timely and constructive input with management on accounting and reporting matters, and a robust and clear perspective to audit committees.

Auditor Salary

 Small Firm
(Revenue up to $25 mm)
Medium Firm
(Revenue $25 mm to $250 mm)
Large Firm
(Revenue $250+ mm)
Entry Level$50,000 – $61,250$54,250 – $67,000$61,500 – $73,500
1 to 3 Yrs Experience$57,500 – $72,000$62,500 – $81,250$70,000 – $88,500
Senior$68,500 – $89,000$77,500 – $101,500$85,750 – $109,750
Manager*$86,250 – $113,500$96,750 – $130,250$107,500 – $147,250
Sr. Manager/Director*$103,500 – $146,750$116,250 – $180,000$132,750 – $206,500

Source: Robert Half 2017 Salary Guide Accounting & Finance – reporting by firm size discontinued after 2017
* CPA certification required/assumed

 

Tax Accountant

Small businesses, as well as individuals, hire an independent CPA or public accounting firm to prepare and file their tax returns. The top accounting firms, particularly the Big 4, typically won’t bother with preparing individual tax returns, but focus much of their work on helping clients explore legal strategies for mitigating taxes. Larger businesses tend to have in-house staff to prepare tax returns and often rely upon their auditor to review this work.

Tax Accountant Salary

 Small Firm
(Revenue up to $25 mm)
Medium Firm
(Revenue $25 mm to $250 mm)
Large Firm
(Revenue $250+ mm)
Entry Level$51,000 – $60,750$54,250 – $67,000$61,250 – $75,000
1 to 3 Yrs Experience$57,250 – $72,750$61,750 – $81,750$69,250 – $90,000
Senior$70,250 – $88,000$76,750 – $104,750$86,000 – $115,000
Manager*$86,750 – $115,000$97,000 – $134,250$105,000 – $151,500
Sr. Manager/Director*$104,500 – $149,000$118,250 – $182,250$133,000 – $213,500

Source: Robert Half 2017 Salary Guide Accounting & Finance – reporting by firm size discontinued after 2017
* CPA certification required/assumed

 

Advisory/Consulting Services

While professionals in small public accounting firms are likely to play an advisory role as part their generalist work, some smaller firms do have specific consulting practices. These roles are generally defined on helping understand clients’ accounting and tax issues and helping them to improve their internal processes, legal strategies, and reporting as a way to lower their operational costs and tax burdens.

Tax Consultant Salary

 Small Firm
(Revenue up to $25 mm)
Medium Firm
(Revenue $25 mm to $250 mm)
Large Firm
(Revenue $250+ mm)
Entry Level$51,000 – $62,500$54,250 – $67,000$59,750 – $76,750
1 to 3 Yrs Experience$58,000 – $71,500$64,250 – $79,750$71,750 – $89,500
Senior$68,250 – $89,500$76,500 – $103,250$84,250 – $113,750
Manager$86,250 – $113,500$97,500 – $129,500$105,000 – $149,000
Sr. Manager/Director$103,500 – $149,250$114,250 – $180,500$131,750 – $210,250

Source: Robert Half 2017 Salary Guide Accounting & Finance – reporting by firm size discontinued after 2017
* CPA certification required/assumed

CPA Salary by Company Size in a Private Accounting Firm

On the private side, CPAs appear in a much more diverse range of positions. Salaries continue to differ by firm size, in general, increasing for larger companies. Below are just a few examples. Remember! Those who hold a CPA license will see increases in the salary levels below of up to 15%.

Private Accountant Salary

Financial Reporting

Financial reporting accountants research accounting rules and regulations and make recommendations regarding company policy. They are responsible for the public reporting of a company or organization’s financial status. This work involves collecting and maintaining data, detecting trends, and forecasting future needs.

 Small Companies
(Revenue up to $25 mm)
Midsize Companies
(Revenue $25 mm to $250 mm)
Large Companies
(Revenue $250+ mm)
Entry Level$55,250 – $65,000$56,250 – $63,500$57,750 – $68,750
1 to 3 Yrs Experience$65,000 – $78,250$68,500 – $80,750$71,000 – $89,250
Senior$79,250 – $95,250$84,250 – $106,250$94,000 – $116,250
Manager$96,000 – $120,000$106,500 – $138,250$117,750 – $159,500

Source: Robert Half 2017 Salary Guide Accounting & Finance – reporting by firm size discontinued after 2017
* CPA certification required/assumed

 

General Accounting

General accountants prepare balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and other financial reports. Responsibilities also include analyzing trends, costs, revenues, financial commitments, and obligations incurred to predict future revenues and expenses. They also report the organization’s finances to management and offer suggestions about resource utilization, tax strategies, and assumptions underlying budget forecasts.

 Small Companies
(Revenue up to $25 mm)
Midsize Companies
(Revenue $25 mm to $250 mm)
Large Companies
(Revenue $250+ mm)
Entry Level$44,250 – $51,250$45,750 – $57,750$49,750 – $59,500
1 to 3 Yrs Experience$50,000 – $64,250$54,000 – $71,000$58,750 – $75,750
Senior$63,250 – $76,250$66,500 – $87,500$75,000 – $95,750
Manager$73,000 – $97,000$81,750 – $106,250$92,750 – $128,250

Source: Robert Half 2017 Salary Guide Accounting & Finance – reporting by firm size discontinued after 2017
* CPA certification required/assumed

 

Financial Analysis

Accountants working in these roles generally help clients to objectively analyze businesses, projects, budgets, and other finance-related transactions to determine their performance and suitability. Typically, financial analysis is used to analyze whether an entity is stable, solvent, liquid, or profitable enough to warrant a monetary investment.

 Small Companies
(Revenue up to $25 mm)
Midsize Companies
(Revenue $25 mm to $250 mm)
Large Companies
(Revenue $250+ mm)
Entry Level$47,500 – $55,750$50,750 – $61,000$52,750 – $66,000
1 to 3 Yrs Experience$54,250 – $70,250$61,250 – $78,500$64,500 – $85,750
Senior$66,000 – $86,250$77,250 – $99,500$84,750 – $110,250
Manager$81,000 – $103,000$92,250 – $122,000$104,000 – $141,750

Source: Robert Half 2017 Salary Guide Accounting & Finance – reporting by firm size discontinued after 2017
* CPA certification required/assumed

Some positions appear only in medium-sized and large firms. The large company differential continues to appear for these positions also.

 

Internal Audit

Accountants in these roles typically assess a company’s business processes, include the company’s risks, and the efficacy of its risk management efforts. These roles are responsible for ensuring that the organization is complying with relevant laws and statutes. They must accurately evaluate internal control and make recommendations on how to improve business processes to clients and their internal committees.

 Midsize Companies
(Revenue $25 mm to $250 mm)
Large Companies

(Revenue $250+ mm)
Entry Level$55,250 – $67,250$58,000 – $68,750
1 to 3 Yrs Experience$63,750 – $84,250$68,250 – $89,750
Senior$82,000 – $101,750$88,250 – $115,000
Manager

$96,750 – $131,250

$109,750 – $156,500

Source: Robert Half 2017 Salary Guide Accounting & Finance – reporting by firm size discontinued after 2017
* CPA certification required/assumed

 

IT Audit

These roles typically assess the viability of a client’s IT processes and include the company’s security and data information risks and the efficacy of its risk management efforts. These roles are responsible for ensuring that the organization is complying with relevant laws and statutes. They must accurately evaluate internal control and make recommendations on how to improve IT processes to clients.

 Midsize Companies
(Revenue $25 mm to $250 mm)
Large Companies
(Revenue $250+ mm)
Entry Level$60,250 – $76,000$66,500 – $80,500
1 to 3 Yrs Experience$74,250 – $94,750$78,750 – $103,500
Senior$95,000 – $117,000$104,000 – $136,000
Manager$112,250 – $152,750$121,500 – $171,500

Source: Robert Half 2017 Salary Guide Accounting & Finance – reporting by firm size discontinued after 2017
* CPA certification required/assumed

 

SEC Financial Reporting

These roles, while varied in their input and responsibility, help clients manage all aspects of the financial and Securities and Exchange Commission reporting for a publicly-traded company, including technical accounting research related to new and proposed accounting standards.

 Midsize Companies
(Revenue $25 mm to $250 mm)
Large Companies
(Revenue $250+ mm)
Analyst$78,250 – $97,500$82,000 – $104,250
Manager$107,000 – $135,000$118,000 – $153,750
Director$133,500 – $172,250$150,250 – $201,250

Source: Robert Half 2017 Salary Guide Accounting & Finance – reporting by firm size discontinued after 2017
* CPA certification required/assumed

CPA Salary by Experience Level

Before we take a closer look at the average CPA salary, let’s talk about experience. What types of work are performed at each level—from entry level to senior leadership positions? In the audit/assurance track, recent graduates typically enter the firm as staff accountants.

What do CPAs do?

In the past, staff accountants were often charged with performing the most tedious and time-consuming tasks, e.g., vouching cash disbursements. Today, technology has taken over many of these repetitive, detailed tasks. Staff accountants now start off running—analyzing data sets, meeting with clients, and writing algorithms to identify high risk transactions. 

Here’s what a CPA job would look like at every experience level

Entry Level
These entry-level positions involve intensive on-the-job (OJT) learning, seeing what the “real world” actually looks like, and applying what was learned in school. 

1-3 years
During the next one to three years, experience is gained in performing the full range of auditing procedures and preparing financial statements. 

Senior Level
At the senior level, the accountant is expected to supervise audits, review the work of staff, and recommend internal control improvements. 

Manager
Advancement beyond the senior level generally requires obtaining CPA certification. Managers supervise multiple engagements and assume administrative responsibilities, e.g., scheduling, performance evaluation, as well as maintaining client relationships.

Director
The senior manager/director level is the highest non-partner level achievable. These very experienced individuals perform many partner-type functions, e.g., training and supervision, staffing and scheduling, client development, but are not equity owners in the firm. 

Partner
Partners are owners of the firm and participate in firm profits. Per the AICPA, only 2% of those who join the firm reach the partnership level. 

EXPERT TIP

If you’re looking for working more on a project basis with fewer recurring engagements, the advisory/consulting services area often involves more projects than audit/assurance and tax services.

CPA Salary by Location

Location is another factor that strongly influences average accountant salary levels. Large metropolitan areas tend to offer higher average CPA salaries due to the higher cost of living as well as the greater demand for accountants in those areas. To give you an idea, here are the top paying states and metropolitan areas for accountants followed by the states that offer the most accounting jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

What is the average CPA Salary by State?

Highest Average Accountant Salary by States

According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top paying states for accountants are: 

latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top paying states for accountants are

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

StateAverage Accountant SalaryNo. of Accounting Jobs
District of Columbia$98,13010,590
New York$96,300110,780
New Jersey$90,40037,370
Virginia$85,64041,230
Connecticut$84,89014,550

 

Highest Average Accountant Salary by Metropolitan Areas

Drilling down a little further into the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, here are five of the top paying U.S. metropolitan areas which employ large numbers of accountants. The message here is that if you like city living and accounting, opportunities abound!

Highest Average Accountant Salary by Metropolitan Areas

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Metro AreaAverage Accountant SalaryNo. of Accounting Jobs
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA$99,900117,620
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV$93,18040,630
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$92,63026,730
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX$86,19033,670
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA$84,65061,520

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Benefits That Come With a CPA Job

With a CPA license, compensation extends far beyond just salary and monetary compensation, with different firms and companies providing healthcare, paid time off (PTO), office perks, and other benefits—which go a long way in determining job satisfaction for many accountants. While many firms and companies are experimenting with a range of new perks, such as student loan relief and unlimited PTO, let’s quickly explore some of the benefits that should also be examined when evaluating CPA salary options.

Traditional Benefits

The benefits typically offered by organizations include health insurance, paid time off (including vacation, sick leave, and paid holidays), retirement savings plans, and dental and vision insurance. Robert Half, a premier industry staffing agency, surveyed employers for its most recent 2021 Salary Guide and reported the following:

Benefit offered% of companies
Health insurance68%
Paid time off63%
Dental insurance59%
Retirement savings plan55%
Vision insurance52%

Source: Robert Half 2021 Salary Guide Accounting & Finance

 

New Benefits/Perks Additions for Accounting Jobs

More interesting are the newer additions to employee benefits, which address not only wellness but work flexibility and incentive offerings. Wellness programs include:

Physical wellness, e.g., access to gym facilities, incentives for healthy behavior, and healthy food choices
Mental wellness, e.g., stress management resources
Financial wellness, e.g., retirement planning

Incentive offerings are financial rewards linked to job performance that include spot awards, profit-sharing, bonuses, and stock. These motivational payments are expected to increase in amount and frequency as well as type.

The most common perks offered by organizations reflect the priorities and needs of the current workforce. These include:

Perks Offered% of Companies
Flexible work schedules or telecommuting46%
Paid parental leave33%
Employee discounts, e.g., auto, home, electronics26%
Employer-subsidized meals/snacks21%
Paid time off for volunteer activities24%
Matching gifts program for employee donations/fundraising19%

Source: Robert Half 2021 Salary Guide Accounting & Finance

Top Industries for CPAs

Industries with highest CPA Salaries for 2019 were:

Mining, Quarrying, Oil and Gas Extraction
Media, Communication, and Information
Sales, Purchasing, and Supply Chain
Finance and Insurance
Wholesale, Retail and Trade

Accounting Careers – Chart Your Path

The specific requirements and responsibilities of your specific accounting job will depend on your role and position. Similar to the benefits, these roles can vary widely from company to company and firm to firm, so be vigilante in understanding what the role truly is and requires during the job interview process.

Top Accounting Jobs

While it is true that accountants are always needed, the demand for specific positions fluctuates over time. Robert Half reported the most “in-demand” positions in their 2020 Salary Guide identifying four percentile categories. The 25th percentile reflects a relatively new accountant with limited experience and skills at a small organization/unit. The 50th percentile identifies an accountant with an average level of experience and skills at a midsize organization/unit. The 75Th percentile addresses accountants with more than average experience and skills at a larger or more complex organization. The last percentile, 95th, includes highly accomplished and experienced accountants serving in complex roles or offering specialized skill sets at larger, multi-unit, or complex organizations.

Positions are shown in alphabetical order:

 

 

25th Percentile50th Percentile75th Percentile95th Percentile
Accounting manager Oversees daily operations of accounting department, including monitoring and analyzing accounting data and producing financial reports or statements.$79,500$95,750$114,000$147,000
Business Analyst (1-3 Years)Helps leadership team budget and re-forecast operations / financials of the company.$56,750$71,250$87,250$115,250
ControllerGuides financial decisions by establishing, monitoring, and enforcing policies, procedures, and controls.$110,250$134,000$157,750$208,500
Financial Analyst (1-3 Years)Improves financial status by analyzing results, monitoring variances, identifying trends, and recommending actions to management.$57,500$69,500$82,500$107,750
Internal Auditor (1-3 Years)Contribute to the audit cycle including risk management and control management over operations’ effectiveness, financial reliability, and compliance.$60,250$73,750$87,250$98,250
Payroll managerUpdates payroll records by reviewing changes in exemptions, insurance coverage, savings deductions, job titles, and department transfers.$61,250$75,500$89,750$130,250
Accountant (5+ Years)Responsibilities include reconciling account balances and bank statements, maintaining general ledger, and preparing month-end close procedures.$71,000$86,500$102,000$135,250
Accountant (1-3 Years)Maintain the general ledger, reviewing financial statements, preparing financial reports, assisting with audits and budgeting processes, and reconciling accounts.$53,500$62,250$76,500$100,000

Source: Robert Half 2021 Salary Guide Accounting & Finance

resource image
resource image
resource image