What are the highest paying accounting jobs?

Accountant & Bookkeeper Guides

6 min read

A four-year accounting degree opens up a lot of career paths. You can work in the accounting, tax or payroll department of a corporation, manage the books of a smaller business, join a firm, or work for the government. But what sort of salary can you expect?

Accountants have options

Accounting qualifications give you a lot of career options. The opportunities are even greater for those who continue with their education. With five years of college, and the right courses, you can test to become a CPA. With a Masters in Accounting or Taxation, or a PhD, you can serve as an accounting professor.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the average pay of all types of accountants and auditors with at least a bachelor’s degree is $67,190 a year, or $32.30 an hour (in 2016). That’s risen about 9 percent from 2010. For qualified CPAs, the median salary increased to $73,800 per year. There is, however, a huge range.

Finding the highest paying accounting jobs

We reviewed information from PayScale.com and two financial staffing firms – Robert Half, and Accounting Principles – to help find the highest paying accounting jobs. These figures are aggregated from a wide range of data and should only be treated as a general guide. Actual pay could vary significantly depending on the specific region and market you work in.

Entry level/staff accountants

A graduate accountant’s salary will often depend on the firm they work for. But on average, they can expect to earn a starting salary of $48,000. Accountants at this level are typically involved with tasks like handling accounts payable (AP) and accounts receivable (AR), tracking budgets, basic reporting, and preparing profit-and-loss statements, balance sheets and other financial reports.

Accounts payable/receivable clerks

AP and AR clerk positions are often filled by skilled paraprofessionals who have a two-year degree in accounting, or a number of years of bookkeeping experience.

In these roles, you’d ensure payments are made to contractors, and that payments from customers are processed. AP and AR clerks also perform periodic reconciliation, with management oversight. Salaries range from about $36,000 to $49,000, depending on experience, location and the size of the business.

Managerial accountant

A managerial accountant is responsible for looking after internal accounts, such as payables, receivables, budgeting, assets, auditing or strategic planning. They may also prepare periodic reports. This role normally requires only a few years’ experience, and has an average salary of about $56,000.

Government accountant

Accountants can choose from many different types of government jobs, at the local, state and federal levels. Accountants in these roles often oversee procurement and contracts, budgets, and other financial affairs of government entities.

Professionals in government roles must be familiar with fund accounting processes because budgets are often earmarked for specific activities. Government accountant salaries average $59,000 a year.

Financial analyst

A financial analyst reviews accounting numbers to identify trends, and to try and find the underlying causes. The professional often prepares revenue and expense analyzes. They also develop projections and reports of periodic financial data. The pay for a financial analyst is about $72,000.

Accounting qualifications support a lot of different careers. And with cloud accounting, there are more types of jobs coming online all the time.

Tax manager

The tax manager at a corporation oversees compliance with federal and state tax regulations, including:

  • corporate income tax (depending on the states in which the business must report)

  • sales and use tax

They also create reports for state and local jurisdictions in which the business has sufficient physical presence (or nexus). The average salary for a tax manager is $90,000.

Internal audit manager

The role of internal auditor is increasingly important for businesses with regulatory oversight and reporting requirements. The primary duties include evaluation of risks, improving operations and maintaining financial controls.

These auditors examine financial statements for compliance and accuracy, assess financial operations, and track operational performance. Salaries range widely. A junior internal auditor at a small organization might earn up to $65,000. Senior audit managers at large enterprises have an average salary of more than $200,000.

Forensic accountant

Forensic accountants investigate financial irregularities or crimes, and often help litigators. These specialists comb through the books of companiesto find where, when and how the money went missing.

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE), forensic accountants with CFE credentials earn $105,000.

Accounting educators

Most college professors took their positions after earning a PhD and a dedicated academic career. However, some professional accountants choose to teach accounting courses at local universities or community colleges, or even high schools.

Associate professors can make $115,000, while assistant professors, who often need only a master's degree, can earn as much as $110,000. The highest paying accounting jobs in academia go to full accounting professors. At four-year colleges, they earn about $140,000.

Accounting director/controller

In this role, you’ll be responsible for a variety of accounting duties and reporting. You’ll supervise a team of managers, associates and analysts.

The accounting director/controller often holds a Vice President position in the organization, which makes it one of the highest paying accounting jobs in the market. They report to the Chief Financial Officer and draw a salary of about $152,000.

Finance executive

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) – or sometimes Chief Accounting Officer – of a business is responsible for the overall financial strategy, from planning and record-keeping, to government reporting and taxs. They also supervise the staff who look after day-to-day financial issues, such as sales, transfer of goods, inventories, fixed assets and subsidiary holdings.

These positions are filled by professionals with more than a decade in accounting and management. As such, it’s one of the highest paying accounting jobs, with an average salary of $303,000.

Accounting firm partner

Firm partners earned their position and title either by starting their own firm or partnership, or by gaining years of experience and then buying into an established practice.

Each partner is generally in charge of a practice section. They also have their own personal clients and may have other management responsibilities. Their income depends on the size and specialty of the practice.

According to Marc Rosenberg, a CPA who provides management consulting to accounting firms, the average annual income for equity partners was $333,000 in 2015 (including bonuses). Salaries for firm partners can range from $200,000 up to $700,000. It takes about 12-14 years to reach partner level, according to Inside Public Accounting’s 2013 survey.

Landing the right job

You’ll need to put in years of quality work to land one of the highest paying accounting jobs, but the rewards can be great – and the salaries too. Don’t forget to reassess your priorities as you advance through the ranks. You might find the right work-life balance relatively early in your career and choose to stay at that level. There’s nothing wrong with that.

The accounting profession supports a lot of different jobs so you have options. And with cloud accounting, there are more types of jobs coming online all the time. Professionals can now start a virtual practice with a laptop and a wi-fi connection – and that’s creating a lot of fresh new career opportunities. If you can’t find what you want right now, it won’t be long before you do.