According to the BLS, the average accounting salary was $73,670 in 2014. However, that figure is across almost 1.2M employed accountants in the United States. What does that mean for specific fields, and especially for new graduates?
In 2015, most first-year accounting salaries grew 3 – 4% over 2014 levels, showing accountants are in strong demand. In particular, health care is a growing sector driving significant demand for accounting. A new accountant’s salary will vary based on the role, the industry, and the location. Using the Robert Half survey of accountant salaries, we’ve summarized some of the key things you need to know for predicting new graduate accounting salaries in 2015.
Public Accounting Salaries Start Around $50,000 – $70,000.
Accounting salaries for first-year employees in public accounting firms (e.g., E&Y) experienced strong growth between 2014 and 2015. Across tax, audit, and management services, large firms are starting junior staff at $55,000 to $70,000 per year. Small and mid-size firms also offer strong starting salaries, ranging from $45,000 to $60,000. There is only a slight difference between tax, audit, and management services (i.e., management consulting) for first-year accounting salaries, although the latter does tend to pay higher in the range.
Accounting salaries in public accounting firms also tend to rise sharply after the first few years. We are seeing this trend again in 2015. A new graduate who starts in management consulting in a large firm can jump from $54,000 to $80,000+ within 3 years.
Corporate Accounting Salaries Start Around $40,000 – $60,000.
Corporate accounting is a large field with lots of different functions. This includes internal audit, tax accounting, managerial accounting, and financial accounting. To get into this field, most people will need a CPA designation.
Internal audit salaries in 2015 start at $49,000 for first year auditors in a small company and go up to $64,250 for large companies. Importantly, this audit salary reflects an almost 4% jump from 2014 salary levels, highlighting the strong demand for this position.
Tax accountant salaries experienced similarly strong growth from 2014, jumping almost 4%. In 2015, new graduates can expect to find positions ranging from $46,000 to $60,000 per year. In larger companies, new graduates have the potential to quickly jump to the mid-$70,000 salary level within 1 – 3 years.
Outside of the more specialized audit and tax accountant salaries, the opportunities are still great for new accounting graduates. Financial accountants1 should expect a starting salary ranging from $45,000 to $55,000 in larger companies. Management accountant salaries are slightly higher, ranging up to $57,000. More operational positions (such as payroll support or bookkeeping) generally have lower salaries than those listed above. However, these positions will often not require a bachelor degree in accounting or similar qualification.
Financial Services Accounting Salaries Start at $50,000+ and Have High Potential
Financial Services, including Banking, Financial Planning, and Risk roles, all have especially healthy starting salaries. Across these areas, first year employees can earn $50,000 – $70,000. Perhaps most motivating is that the financial services industry has some of the highest possible salaries for more experienced accountants. CFO’s or Managing Directors in Banking are predicted to earn well above $250,000 in 2015 (and often much, much more).
Bonuses Add to Accounting Salaries
Bonuses are an important part of an accountant’s salary and they are not included in the figures above. It always varies by sector or employer, but don’t discount the amount that this annual check can increase your take-home accounting salary.
Graduate Degrees and Certifications Increase Salary by 5 – 15%
Although some positions rely on degrees or certifications to even be considered, it’s important to know that accounting salaries across the board are higher when you’re more qualified. As noted in the Robert Half survey, salaries for most entry-level positions are 5 – 15% higher for those with graduate degree (e.g., Graduate Certificate or a Master’s Degree) or specialized certifications.
Accounting Salaries are Highest in California and New York
Cost of living, the demand for talent, taxes, and other factors all play into the local salaries for accountants. For those looking to maximize their overall accounting paycheck, start by looking in California and New York. New York City tops the list, where accountants receive 138% of the average national salary (e.g., they get $138 for every $100 Greensboro, NC receives). San Francisco is only a fraction behind, where accounting salaries are 137% of the national average.
Your Next Step: Get Educated
Accounting salaries have historically been strong and stable, driven by consistent demand for accounting services. If you’re interested in entering accounting as a career, check out our How Do I Become guide or jump on over to our college search page and get educated.
1 References “General Accountant” role in Robert Half survey