Whether it is the O’Jays joyfully belting, “money, money, money, money,” Aloe Blacc singing, “I need a dollar,” or Tevye the Dairyman in Joseph Stein’s Fiddler on the Roof chanting, “If I were a rich man,” one element is common to these musical works: money 🙂 !
As an aspiring CPA, you may be wondering, “What is an average CPA salary?” Rightfully so, this is a great question! However, talking about salary tends to be rather taboo. Therefore, your best guess at what a CPA actually makes may be from the rumor mill, from older siblings or other family members, or from casual Google searches. This source of information may be fine for an initial impression, but it can be highly susceptible to misinformation because of lack of knowledge or other sensitivities surrounding talking about an individual’s true salary. For example, Glassdoor will provide an excellent initial impression of how much a CPA makes at a particular firm, in a particular service line, and in a particular city. Be warned that just because someone posts that his or her salary is $200,000 for an audit associate position at a Big 4 Firm in a Midwest City, it does not mean that someone in that position actually makes $200,000. Instead, according to Robert Half’s 2015 Salary Guide, starting salaries for CPAs tend to range from approximately $46,000 to $70,000 across city, firm, and service line.
CPA Salary Statistics
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), students graduating in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting had a median salary expectation of $47,849. Of course, factors such as sample selection bias may be present; however, the median salary expectation tends to correspond with the results compiled in Robert Half’s 2015 Salary Guide above. Specifically, the 2015 Salary Guide goes on to indicate that incoming tax associates typically earn slightly more than incoming audit associates and salaries tend to decrease from large firms to mid-size firms to small firms.
Additionally, NACE’s The Class of 2015 Executive Summary explains that accounting majors are among the most likely to obtain jobs. NACE’s Job Outlook 2015 further confirms its Class of 2015 Executive Summary by explaining that more than 56 percent of employers are willing to hire students with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and 22 percent of employers are willing to hire students with a master’s degree in accounting.
Work with Benefits
As you analyze your entire compensation package, it is also very important to consider non-salary benefits that you may be eligible to receive. Amount of vacation time, CPA reimbursement and bonus, 401(k) plan, health insurance, and maternity or paternity leave are just a few factors that you should consider. For example, PwC recently announced its launch of the Student Loan Paydown (SLP) program, which is geared towards helping staff reduce his or her student loan obligation. Understanding the benefits that are available to you and leveraging these benefits can help you develop your ideal financial picture.
Lastly, as you make your big decision, try not to focus solely on your starting salary. Choosing the right firm with the right people can truly make a difference in your long-term success as a CPA. By understanding where you will be happy and where you will be able to add the most value, you should be able to make up any differences in starting salary. As always, remember to breathe.
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