How Can I Become a Financial Accountant?

Explore the career requirements for a financial accountant. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Accounting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Financial Accountant?

Financial accountants prepare and evaluate financial documents for organizations and individuals. In particular, they are responsible for maintaining financial records, preparing taxes and ensuring regulatory compliance. They also identify areas for improvement and advise clients on possible ways to reduce expenditures and maximize income. Some accountants specialize in a certain type of accounting based on the type of clients they prefer to work for; for instance, individuals may choose to focus on public accounting, management accounting or government accounting. Here is a breakdown of job specifics:

Degree Required Bachelor's degree (minimum)
Education Field of Study Finance, accounting or related field
Key Responsibilities Work with complex calculations, information systems and financial documents; communicate complicated financial information
Licensure CPA license required for some positions
Job Growth (2014-24) 11% for all accountants and auditors*
Average Salary (2015) $75,280 for all accountants and auditors*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need to Work as a Financial Accountant?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most financial accountant positions require at least a bachelor's degree in finance, accounting or business administration. Employers may prefer candidates with a master's degree in finance.

A bachelor's degree program in one of these majors prepares you for entry-level positions as auditors, controllers or Certified Public Accountants (CPA). They offer a curriculum that includes basic courses such as:

  • Core accounting principles
  • Ethics
  • Auditing
  • Taxation
  • Business law

What if I Don't Have a Degree?

Some employers offer junior accounting positions that don't necessarily require a degree and provide a gateway to advancement. You'll need to seek employers that offer bookkeeping, accounting clerk or other financial positions. Once you've demonstrated your knowledge and skills in these positions you may want to apply to junior accounting opportunities as they arise.

As a junior accountant, you'll typically work in a support capacity under the direct supervision of an accountant or finance director. Many junior accountants receive promotions to accounting positions once they prove their knowledge and expertise.

Do I Need Certification?

Financial accountants who obtain the CPA credential enjoy greater job prospects and increased earnings potential, according to the BLS. By law, accountants who file reports with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are required to obtain CPA licensing through their state's licensing board. Most states require 150 hours of college coursework to be eligible for the examination. Once you become a CPA, you'll need to complete a certain amount of continuing education to renew your license.

Prepare for the Job Duties

As a financial accountant, you can expect to work with complex calculations, information systems and financial documents. You may select a specialization such as managerial, forensic or public accounting. Public accountants may work for public accounting firms or government agencies. Or, they may run their own business. Accounting work requires a keen eye to perform constant analysis of company finances and to prevent fraud.

What Are Some Related Alternative Jobs?

A closely related job is work as an auditor. These professionals investigate financial records, either within an organization or as a member of an outside oversight body, to make sure that funds are not being mismanaged. Like accountants, auditors usually need a bachelor's degree in order to get a job; professional certifications are also available and may improve job prospects. Another possibility is a job as a financial analyst. Rather than evaluating and advising on financial records, like accountants do, financial analysts appraise stocks, bonds and other investments in order to advise their clients on financial decisions. Financial analysts need a bachelor's degree, but a master's degree is required for some advanced positions.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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