A State By State Accounting Guide

Steps to Becoming an Accountant in Pennsylvania

By Susan Maphis, AccountingEdu contributing writer
Updated August 2015

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More than 54,000 accountants and auditors were employed in Pennsylvania in 2015 according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor projects that in the current ten-year period ending 2022, employment opportunities for accountants in the state will increase by 8.2 percent, which translates to over 1,200 new accounting jobs.

Associate’s degree holders may apply to the Pennsylvania Board of Accountancy to become licensed as registered public accountants (PAs). Registered public accountants operate independent practices providing tax services to the public, and also often work in payroll processing companies like Payroll Professionals, Inc. in Milmont Park or Payroll Services Solution in Philadelphia. 

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.

Those willing to put forth the years of preparation needed to become certified public accountants start by earning bachelor’s degrees in accounting at minimum, then go on to gain a year of experience after taking the Uniform CPA Exam. While satisfying the experience requirement, many would-be CPAs in Pennsylvania also begin working to earn a master’s degree in accounting to earn the full 150 semester hours required for a CPA license. CPAs in Pennsylvania establish independent practices and can also be found working with some of the world’s leading accounting and professional services firms such as “Big Four” firms like Ernst & Young, which has offices in Philadelphia; KPMG, with offices in Harrisburg; or national firms like Mayer Hoffman McCann P.C., which has a location in Plymouth Meeting. 

Areas of Employment for Accountants in Pennsylvania

Government accountants working at the county and state levels hold positions that include junior associate with the Accounting Department of Cumberland County and Senior Accountant for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The diversity of governmental accounting means opportunities also exist with federal agencies like the IRS, which has offices in Philadelphia. 

Management accountants, cost and capital accountants, internal auditors, and financial controllers work throughout the private sector for a diverse array of organizations including federally contracted companies like Naval Sea Systems Command in Philadelphia; Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. in Allentown; and medical device manufacturer and distributor, Synthes, with headquarters in West Chester. 

IT systems auditors and accounting information systems specialists knowledgeable of new and emergent accounting technology are found working throughout the state for multinationals like the global insurance giant, Ace Group, which has offices in Philadelphia, as well as for local software and IT service companies like SunGard, which is headquartered in Wayne. 

Business valuation specialists and financial analysts handle litigious business matters and provide consultation services. Many are found working for companies like Trout, Ebersole & Groff, LLP in Lancaster; Financial Research Associates in Bala Cynwyd; and financial consulting and business valuation firm, Value Management, Inc., in Jamison.

Big business equates to huge responsibilities for the accountants, controllers and auditors that track billions of dollars worth of expenditures and income. As of 2013, more than 20 businesses from Pennsylvania made it onto the Fortune 500 list, including Amerisource Bergen in Chesterbrook, Chester County; Comcast in Philadelphia; RiteAid in Camp Hill; United States Steel in Pittsburgh, and more. Each of these companies brings in between $300 million and $79 billion annually, creating a strong demand for top-notch accountants.

Pennsylvania Accountancy Salary and Employment Facts

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 Pennsylvania accountants averaged $33.71 per hour, which translated to an annual salary of $70,120, and the top 10 percent of accountants in the state made close to $110,000 per year.

Generally speaking, the state’s larger metropolitan areas, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the Allentown/Bethlehem area, employ the greatest number of accountants. In fact, in 2014 the Philadelphia area was one of the top 10 metropolitan areas in the U.S. in terms of having the highest number of accountants, with over 22,000 accountants employed in that area alone. Top accounting and business services firms found here include Jefferson Wells International and business and management consulting firm, Proxygen Company. 

Philadelphia is also one of the highest paying areas of Pennsylvania, with accountants making an average of $77,110 in 2014, and top accountants in that area making up to $118,570. Chief employers of accountants in this area include information technology company, CDI Corporation and consumer product packaging manufacturer, Crown Holdings.

The less populated regions of Northeastern Pennsylvania, including the towns of Bloomsburg and Lackawana employ considerably fewer. The far Western area, which includes towns like Clarion and South Union Township, employs around 1,170 accountants. Earnings for accountants in this area average $58,880 annually. Organizations employing accountants in this area include non-profit community development lenders, MetroAction in Scranton, and tax and business advisory servicer, Parente Randolph, with offices in Williamsport.

Pennsylvania Accountancy and Tax Laws in the News

The Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PIPA) is making news for suggesting ways in which the state can trim excess spending from its budget. The institute has targeted public education and proposed the idea that by capping administrative and business office expenses at 4.3% of the total budget, so as to be consistent with the most efficiently run Pennsylvania school district, the state could save some $613 million annually. Accountants who join this organization may not only find themselves presenting budget analysis proposals to the state government, but also benefiting from professional education, networking, and leadership opportunities the institute provides.

Significant changes to the tax laws in Pennsylvania that have gotten a lot of attention as of late include repeal of the estate tax for those who died in 2010 or later. Elimination of the $250 deduction for public school teachers who purchase school supplies using money from their own pockets and expiration of the $4,000 deduction previously available to students for college and tuition fees are also controversial measures that have recently taken effect.