Many believe the terms "public accountant," or PA, and "certified public accountant," or CPA, are synonymous, but they actually reflect disparate career paths, education and training. Public accountants don't go through the rigorous testing, supervision and education process that CPAs are required to complete. PAs don't necessarily have to have a bachelor's degree in accounting, but they do need to be good with numbers and familiar with bookkeeping software, such as QuickBooks. A PA can also prepare tax returns and compiled financial statements. Related occupations include forensic accountant jobs and general accounting clerk jobs.
PA Job Education Requirements
No specific education is required to become a public accountant, although some employers require work experience and/or an associate's degree in accounting or bookkeeping. For PAs who prepare tax returns, the IRS requires tax preparers who are at least 18 years old and compensated for their work to register and pass a test. The IRS then sends the PA a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). To qualify for CPA jobs, a public accountant will need to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited program, complete supervision requirements, pass the CPA exam and comply with continuing education requirements.
PA Job Market
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment in the accounting and auditing profession will grow by 13 percent by 2022, which is only slightly faster than the 11-percent national average. Job growth in the accounting profession is inextricably linked to the health of the economy, so the future of the profession largely depends on overall economic growth. On the other hand, corporate scandals and recent financial upheavals have helped cement the need for scrupulous and knowledgeable accountants. The BLS predicts that the profession will increasingly favor CPAs over PAs as well as accountants with master's degrees as opposed to a bachelor's education.
PA Job Salary Information
The BLS does not distinguish between certified and non-certified public accountants in its average salary reports, so its estimates may be a bit inflated for non-CPA accountants. The average salary for all accountants and auditors is $72,500, with the lowest-earning 10 percent of the profession making $40,370. Recent accounting grads who do not yet have a CPA earn an average of $50,500. Accountants who work in the securities and commodity trading industry tend to have the highest average salaries, while those who work for the local government have the lowest. The highest-paying states for this profession are Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey.