A State By State Accounting Guide

Steps to Becoming an Accountant in California

By Susan Maphis, AccountingEdu contributing writer
Updated August 2015

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The Employment Development Department (EED) of California expects that between 2008 and 2018 there will be a 19.2 percent increase in the number of accounting jobs in the state. This increase amounts to about 5000 openings each year between now and 2018.

In 2014, the California Board of Accountancy fully integrated the protocols of the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA), and now requires all applicants for CPA licensure to have 150 semester hours of college credit and one year of accounting experience. Since a bachelor’s degree consists of just 120 semester hours, aspiring CPAs often enroll in master’s degree programs in accounting to earn the 30 additional semester hours required for a CPA license while satisfying the pre-licensure experience requirements.

Featured Undergraduate Program

*Accredited accounting programs are available in a flexible online format that puts an undergraduate degree in accounting well within reach. Prepare to earn your CPA license and develop the skills employers are looking for with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Featured Graduate Program

*Qualifying for a CPA license requires a bachelor’s degree at minimum and a total of 150 semester hours of college credit to include coursework in accounting, business and ethics. Since bachelor’s programs typically result in just 120 semester hours of credit, the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) maintains that earning a Master of Science in Accounting is the best way to achieve the full 150 semester hours you need to become licensed.

All of the “Big Four” international CPA firms (Deloitte & Touche, KPMG, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and Ernst & Young) have offices here, as do other leading firms such as Mayer Hoffman McCann and Moss Adams.

Top Industries and Employment Trends for California Accountants

The EDD has recently published data showing that more and more accountants are working in capacities other than basic bookkeeping. Auditors, accounting managers and controllers are all found in some of America’s biggest banks and publically traded companies headquartered in California. This includes organizations as diverse as Wells Fargo in S.F. and ship building giant Northrop Grumman in L.A. 

In the wake of economic turbulence, there has been an increasing number of accountants called to the world of business to perform internal audits and management functions where they are now more frequently collaborating in Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) meetings, the findings of which are included in regular GPFFRs (general purpose federal financial reports) to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). 

The Employment Development Department of California has also noted an increase in the number of graduates who become highly specialized accountants involved in accounting information system design and IT network auditing for systems management companies like Symantec in Mountain View. The Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Labor in San Francisco also employs IT auditors to draft computerized audit programs used in federal, state and municipal agencies.

California Accountants: Employment Facts

Optimistic occupational forecasts continue to attract accountants to the Golden State. According to the United States Department of Labor, there were 151,900 accountants and auditors gainfully employed throughout California in 2012. By 2022, this number is expected to climb to nearly 177,500. As a result of this 17% employment growth rate, accountants will have access to approximately 7,060 new jobs annually during this ten-year cycle.

Jobseekers that search for positions in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale metropolitan division and the Santa Rosa-Petaluma district may find exceptional opportunities, as these regions were recognized among the country’s top ten metropolitan areas with the highest levels of employment and job concentrations for accountants in 2014.

Other places in California that accommodated large numbers of accountants that year included:

  • San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana
  • San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City
  • Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara

Salary Report for California’s Accountants

In 2014, the United States Department of Labor named California as the state with the most accountants in the country. At that time, accountants practicing here earned an average annual salary of $78,090 and an average hourly wage of $37.54. Financially driven accountants can far exceed this state salary average by focusing on a long-term commitment toward amassing experience and ultimately earning a CPA license.

Salary differentiations according to accountants’ experience levels in California are as follows:

  • Entry-Level: $44,300
  • Mid-Career: $71,200
  • Experienced: $120,700

While deciding where to work in California, accountants should consider how their location could influence their future salary earning potential. In 2014, the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area and the city of Salinas were named the second and third highest-paying metropolitan areas for accountants in the country, respectively. Accountants in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara region earned an average of $92,950 annually, while those in Salinas earned an average of $90,850 annually.

Additional areas that offered high-paying accountant jobs included (Average salaries provided by the US Department of Labor in 2014):

  • Oakland-Fremont-Hayward: $82,460
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont: $85,910
  • San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City: $87,840
  • Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta: $79,340
  • San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos: $78,030
  • Napa: $77,630
  • Santa Cruz-Watsonville: $76,920
  • Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura: $76,770
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale Metro: $76,300
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana: $76,180

California Tax Laws in the News

California is the latest state to approve a bill that would tax online retailers such as Amazon.com. Under a recent bill authorized by the state Assembly, which currently awaits state Senate approval, online retailers with offices in California would have to collect state sales and use taxes from customers. It is estimated that unreported sales and use taxes total some $1 billion annually, and many legislators see this bill as a way to generate much-needed revenue for the state.

The California Senate also recently approved a bill that would require corporations to return tax credits to the state if they fail to actually create new jobs for Californians. Currently, the state gives $14 billion in corporate tax breaks to stimulate growth that would encourage these companies to hire new employees but many California based corporations are failing to deliver on the promise of new jobs. If passed, this law would hold California corporations accountable. Twenty other states have already held their corporations accountable through similar legislative measures.