A State By State Accounting Guide

Steps to Becoming an Accountant in Montana

By Susan Maphis, AccountingEdu contributing writer
Updated August 2015

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Montana is counted among only a handful of states that has a two-tier CPA licensing process. Once CPA candidates complete 150 semester hours of college credit, earn a bachelor’s degree at minimum, and pass the Uniform CPA Exam, they are granted a certificate, but do not have full practice rights. Becoming a fully licensed CPA with a permit to practice, which legally grants practice rights independent of oversight, comes once candidates have fulfilled the Montana Board of Public Accountants’ experience requirement of one year of public, governmental, or academic accounting. 

 Because a bachelor’s degree will only result in about 120 semester hours of college credit, aspiring CPAs often enroll in a master’s degree program in accounting to earn the full 150 semester hours required for a CPA license at the same time they are satisfying the experience requirement. 

CPAs in Montana are found working for CPA firms and in private industry in many different areas of specialty that include audit and attestation, financial control, and risk management. Big Four international CPA firm KPMG has offices in Billings and Helena, and nationally recognized public accounting firm, Moss Adams, also has a regional office located in Billings.

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.

The corporate headquarters of payroll outsourcing company, Avitus Group, which is a leading employer of tax specialists, is located in Billings. Fortune 200 diversified energy company, Cenex Harvest State Cooperatives (CHS) with its corporate offices in Laurel, is one of the single biggest private employers of accountants in the state. CHS retains financial controllers, cost and capital accountants as part of its corporate staff as well as accountants trained in sustainability management practices responsible for helping maintain compliance with EPA regulations. The headquarters of First Interstate Bank is located in Billings, and is a major employer of managerial accountants in the state. The State of Montana’s government offices in Helena employ fund accounting specialists in all state and municipal agencies, including Health and Human Services, Labor and Industry, and Military Affairs.

Job Trends for Accountants in Montana

According to the Montana Department of Labor & Industry, between the years 2012 and 2022, an 22.3 percent increase in the number of available jobs is expected in the area of accounting and auditing. As home to Glacier and Yellowstone, two of the country’s most visited national parks, it may come as no surprise that the hospitality and tourism industry is the number one employer of accountants in the state. Montana’s Department of Labor & Industry went on to name the physical engineering/biological research industry as number two, which includes employers like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Missoula and the Montana State University Department of Animal and Range Sciences in Bozeman. Third among the most popular employers of accountants in Montana are insurance agencies and brokerage firms. The operations center of G.E. Capital in Billings, Gallagher Bassett claims company in Missoula, and CUSO Financial Services, LP in Bozeman are all major employers of accountants in the state.

Other top employers throughout Montana as of 2015 include health care services, such as Billings Clinic, Billings Clinic Lab, Billings Hospital, which each employ over 3,000 individuals.

Montana Accountants: Salary and Employment Facts

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the finance and insurance industry employed 17,540 Montanans as of 2014. Most accountants employed in Montana would be counted within this broad industry classification.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor reported 3,030 accountants employed in Montana as of May 2014. According to the BLS, these accountants earned an average annual salary of $61,100, with those in the top 90th percentile earning an average of over $95,000. Accountants in Montana earn much higher annual salaries than the state average of $39,880.

The majority of Montana’s accountants worked in the Southwestern nonmetropolitan area of the state, which includes the areas surrounding Bozeman and Butte. Billings employed the second largest number of accountants in 2014, and the state’s Western nonmetropolitan area, including the Helena area, was number three in terms of concentration of accountants.

Accountants who worked in the Western nonmetropolitan area made the highest salary in the state, at $65,230. Billings area accountants also made higher than the national average, at $61,230.

Montana Tax Laws in the News

The Montana Department of Revenue is offering property tax relief to residents who experienced property damage or loss due to recent flooding in the state. Damage assessment forms for both residential and business property owners are available at the department’s website.

In other tax-related news, earlier in 2011, Montana’s legislature voted to repeal clean energy tax breaks to save the state money. Recently, however, Montana’s Governor Brian Schweitzer vetoed this repeal. He said that repealing these tax credits would also eliminate jobs in the state’s construction, agriculture, and energy sectors. Still, Montana’s legislature has passed many business-friendly laws in 2011. Business equipment taxes were lowered, as were the costs to businesses associated with workers compensation insurance. Montana seems to find a good balance between fiscally and environmentally responsible tax laws, as is evident in the recent passage of a bill designed to create more environmentally centered natural resource jobs in the state.