With a master’s degree in accounting and the appropriate certifications and experience, the sky is the limit when it comes to career advancement. In accounting, as in many other career fields, the higher your position, the more lucrative your income is likely to be. The combination of a master’s degree, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license and plenty of ambition can help you reach salaries well into the six-figure range.
Senior and Executive Leadership Roles
It’s not easy to work your way to a top leadership position such as accounting firm partner, chief financial officer or controller. However, if you manage this rise to a leadership role, your reward is a lucrative salary. For many of these senior management positions, it’s possible for accountants to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
The highest paid job, according to the Robert Half Salary Guide, is Chief Financial Officer. The midpoint salary for a CFO is $ 200,000, while those in the 75th percentile earn $240,500 and the 95th percentile equals a salary of $498,000. This isn’t the only accounting and auditing role where top salaries can reach nearly $500,000. Treasurers in the field of corporate accounting earn $185,000 annually at the 50th percentile, but their wages rise to $483,500 at the 95th percentile. The highest paid Vice Presidents of Finance earn $400,000 or more, and Managing Directors of banking and financial markets make $302,500 at the 95th percentile.
All in all, the 2018 Robert Half Survey identified more than 50 accounting and auditing jobs with a six-figure midpoint salary, most of which involve job titles such as manager, director, president, vice president, controller or chief officer.
Of course, not everyone can or wants to work in management. However, plenty of accounting professionals work their way up to senior-level roles with the help of a CPA license. Their salaries may not climb to the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year range, but they can be lucrative in their own right.
Even without the CPA certification, senior level jobs for accountants often pay well. In public accounting, senior accountants at a small firm may earn anywhere from $67,500 to $85,000. Medium firms tend to pay wages in the $74,000 to $101,000 range. At a large public accounting firm, senior level accountants earn $83,000 – $111,250. Wages are slightly lower in the field of corporate accounting, but senior level accountants here still earn $60,750 to $92,250, depending on the size of the firm.
However, if you attain your CPA license, then you can expect to see a pay boost of 10 to 15 percent above what your peers without the credential earn, according to the Association of International Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Over the course of your career as a CPA, you would earn more than one million dollars above what an unlicensed accountant would make, the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) reported. Often, earning a master’s degree plays an important role in helping you attain your CPA license. Going to graduate school serves the purpose of better preparing you for the challenges of the CPA exam as well as meeting the 150 semester hours requirement to be eligible to become a CPA in most states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Simply having a master’s degree, whether or not you have your CPA license, can also improve your earning potential. The BLS reports that there is a “wage premium” for earning a master’s degree in the field of accounting.
An Accountant’s Income Potential
As a whole, accountants and auditors have a median wage of $69,350, the BLS reported. They make well above the $37,690 median salary for all occupations in the U.S. However, the salary range within this occupation is large, with the lowest paid accountants and auditors earning just $43,020, while the highest paid 10 percent made more than $122,220.
While nothing will guarantee you a six-figure salary in the field of accounting, there are steps you can take at every level of your career to improve your earning potential. Students can take on internship opportunities to gain real-world work experience. Entry-level accountants can find a mentor to help them develop their skills. Staff accountants can keep volunteering for more challenging work assignments. Experienced public accountants can take the CPA exam.
The median hourly wage for accountants and auditors is $33.34, according to the BLS.