What Is A CPA?

What Is A CPA?

When it comes to careers in 2015 with numerous paths and consistently high in demand for talent, the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) ranks right there near the top. In fact, during the course of their careers, many personal bankers, investment brokers, financial advisors, as well as bookkeepers took the next step and became certified public accountants.

Accountants are formally educated professionals who help maintain financial records, analyze financial records and maintain a deep knowledge of tax issues.  An accounting professional does not become a Certified Public Accountant until they pass the four-part CPA Exam. Passing this rigorous exam reflects additional educational and experience requirements, plus an in-depth knowledge and understanding of accounting principles, practices, laws and regulations.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the job growth rate for accountants and auditors will reach 16 percent through 2020. Those who have earned their CPA credential command an average salary of $73,800 – almost $24,000 more than the $50,500 average salary of accounting graduates, according to the BLS.

CPAs are not to be confused with others who might be involved in financial roles, like loan officers, who facilitate personal or business loans; personal bankers, who help certain clients manage their assets, or financial advisors who offer financial counsel.

Each state has its own requirements for qualifying for the CPA license, including that a certain amount of professionally logged, continuing education credits are maintained.  Typically, however, to sit for the CPA Exam most states demand a minimum of 150 hours of post-secondary education from an accredited institution, or bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting or taxation. Two years of relevant work experience also is a standard requirement.

Despite the state-by-state licensing requirements, a single certificate from almost any given state is now applicable across all states and the District of Columbia; CPAs don’t have to be licensed directly by each state where he or she does business as long as they do have a license from another state.

This reflects the need for mobility in an era when businesses conduct their affairs across state and international lines, and the CPA’s services must follow suit.

The positions for which CPAs are sought are increasingly varied, thanks to an operating environment for organizations of all sizes and types that is growing in complexity, and marked by changing and increasingly complicated tax codes. Among them:

  • Assurance Services:Nicheareas of assurance, or providing independent and professional opinions that reduce information risk, are growing for CPAs, alongside traditional audit services.
  • Consulting Services: The CPA’s objective advice and assistance helps individuals, businesses, nonprofits and government entities on financial and strategic fronts.
  • Information Technology (IT) Services: Technological expansion has opened opportunities for tech savvy CPAs to help design and implement advanced systems to fit business needs.
  • Forensic Accounting: Their ability to dig deep into accounting records for evidence of financial fraud has opened opportunities for CPAs within the criminal justice system.
  • Environmental Accounting: CPAs in this field carry out compliance audits and design preventive systems to ensure compliance with our growing body of environmental regulations.
  • International Accounting: CPAs who understand and have mastered international trade laws and regulations are in great demand in today’s global economy.
  • Tax and Financial Planning:These CPAs help individuals and companies with financial planning, investments, taxes, mergers and acquisitions, and more.

Even with the growth in niche opportunities for CPAs, the immediate demand – from individuals and businesses – will be for those professionals who are on top of and able to devise strategies to handle the tax changes designed to bring our nation away from the edge of the “fiscal cliff.”

The compromise legislation resulted in dozens of provisions hitting different households in different ways, from payroll taxes to income taxes (with the wealthiest seeing the biggest jumps) to capital gains and dividends.  It also resulted in the lapsing of some tax breaks for individuals and businesses.

As these and additional tax actions are decided on by policymakers, CPAs who understand the short- and long-term implications are sure to continue to be among the most sought-after, go-to professionals in the business arena.

Those interested in the field of Certified Public Accounting also read:

  • Fastest Route to Becoming a CPA
  • CPA Salaries
  • The Differences Between Applying for the CPA Exam and for Licensure
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