How to Become a CPA

If you enjoy working with numbers and have a well-organized and analytical nature, you might be wondering how to become a CPA. Certified public accountants, or CPAs, help businesses, government agencies, organizations or individuals manage their financial records, including tax returns and other important documents.

Some CPAs find work in accounting firms or in-house for businesses or organizations, while those with entrepreneurial spirits may choose to be self-employed, instead. Accountants analyze mathematical information, such as income reported on tax documents from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to determine how much an individual or company owes the government or how much of a tax refund they should receive. CPAs must be familiar with federal and state laws governing filing status, deductions and payment schedules to accurately prepare financial documents. They often help companies organize records and provide advice on keeping track of money efficiently and reducing business costs.

Aspiring CPAs should begin preparing for their career by earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting from an accredited college or university. The vast majority of states require that CPAs complete 150 semester hours of coursework during their college education, a requirement that goes beyond the normal hourly requirements of the typical bachelor’s degree program. To fill in the additional 30 semester hours of work, many aspiring CPA’s choose to complete a master’s program, especially if they wish to improve their marketability and someday advance to high-level roles. Because of this educational requirement, five-year programs that culminate in both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree are common among aspiring CPAs. During their education, students should take advantage of internship opportunities to acquire real-world accounting experience.

CPAs are highly-educated and credentialed accountants. In addition to their experience and 150 semester hours of formal education, they must complete the Uniform CPA Examination, a four-part test administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and taken by aspiring CPAs across the nation. CPAs must be committed to continuing their education throughout their careers. They must also obtain licensure as required by the state in which they intend to work. To enhance their skills, improve their marketability and possibly prepare for career advancement, CPAs may also seek certification in a number of specialties from the American Institute of CPAs. Popular certifications include Personal Financial Specialist (PFS), Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) and Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP).

Accountants earn a median salary of $61,690 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). CPAs have a positive job outlook, with the BLS anticipating a slightly above-average growth rate of 16 percent for all accountants and expecting CPAs to enjoy much of that career growth. CNN Money ranked the job number nine on its 2010 “Best Jobs in America” list. If you are good at math, pay attention to details and skillfully analyze numbers and information, knowing how to become a CPA could be your first step toward a constantly in-demand career in the field of business and finance.

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