Steps to Becoming an Accountant in Colorado
Many accountant jobs will call for state-issued CPA licensure through the Colorado State Board of Accountancy. A CPA license requires earning a bachelor’s degree, at minimum, a total of 150 semester hours of college credit, and gaining a year of practical work experience after passing the Uniform CPA Exam. While satisfying the experience requirement, many aspiring CPAs also begin working to earn a master’s degree in accounting to earn the full 150 semester hours required for a CPA license since most bachelor’s programs consist of just 120. All of the “Big Four” public accounting firms (KPMG, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Deloitte & Touche, and Ernst & Young) have offices in Denver, as do the international public accounting firms Grant Thornton and GHP Horwath, the latter of which has its US headquarters here.
Accounting Jobs in Colorado
In 2019, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Colorado as a whole had the second highest concentration of accounting jobs of any state. In fact, the Boulder area had the second highest concentration of accountants of any metro area in the nation, while the nonmetropolitan area of Northwest Colorado had the third highest concentration of accountants of any non-metro area in the country.
Even in a favorable business climate brought on by a regulatory purge and new tax codes working to the benefit of corporations, the very fact that things are in a state of flux means businesses and wealthy individuals are relying on the talented accountants in their ranks now more than ever. This is being seen in the fact that even during a time of unprecedented hiring, the many new accountants coming into the field aren’t causing starting salary offers to be watered down. In fact, corporations are forced to up the ante on starting offers as a way to compete for top talent.
Major employers of accountants in the north central Colorado nonmetropolitan area are diverse in terms of business structure, although they often cater to Colorado’s huge tourist industry. Among these are outdoors product manufacturer and retailer Timberland in Steamboat Springs and hotel management company Terrapin Investments in Aspen.
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment predicts particularly strong job growth in the period between 2016 and 2026, projecting a rate of increase beyond 24%—nearly twice the national average for this field. The Colorado DOL expects some 4,510 accounting jobs to become available in Colorado during this ten-year period.
Salary Expectations for Accountants in Different Roles
The average salary for an accountant in Colorado was $82,320 in 2018 according to the state’s Department of Labor and Employment. Experienced professionals earned an average of $127,720 a year in the state. These are overall averages for accountants at every level and with different credentials and specialized skillsets developed around different industries, so they don’t say much about how these things influence pay.
It’s the 2019 Robert Half Accounting and Finance Salary Guide that offers real insights, reporting salaries for accountants in high-demand specialty areas of practice, and with different backgrounds and experience. (All ranges shown represent starting salary offers for the 25th–95th percentile. These base salaries do not include bonuses and other incentives that are often a part of total compensation.)
Corporate Staff Accountants
Staff accountants at large firms in Denver with management level experience were offered starting salaries ranging from $83,112 to $154,780a year and a median offer of $100,280, with differences largely dependant on the size and clout of the firms they work for.
Even without this kind of advanced experience, staff accountants in Denver can expect strong starting salaries:
- 1-3 years experience – $53,410 – $105,730
- 3 plus years experience – $69,488 – $127,258
Controllers earned substantially higher salaries for their specialized experience and knowledge and the appreciable contributions they make to strategic decision making and revenue. For instance, controllers in large financial services firms in Boulder earned between $124,844 and $236,762. In Denver, controllers in large businesses outside the financial services industry were offered starting salaries of between $114,995 and $286,398.
Starting salaries for forensic accountants ranged from $82,840 to $157,778 for those with a strong reputation backed by several years of experience. In Colorado Springs, the starting salary range was between $73,340 and $139,684.
CPAs and Auditors in Accounting Firms
CPAs with the experience required to fill director-level positions at major firms with offices in Denver are offered a median salary of $143,062, and as much as $227,538 for those with the experience and reputation it takes to field top offers.
Even non-certified public accountants with less experience who landed positions with big accounting and business services firms performing tax and audit/assurance services can expect to pull down good salaries (25th-95th percentile):
- Management – $81,205 – $155,325
- Senior – $58,043 – $110,635
- 1-3 years experience – $47,415 – $90,198
- Management – $94,012 – $179,032
- Senior – $65,945 – $123,170
- 1-3 years experience – $52,048 – $99,735
Accountants in Top Leadership Positions
Naturally, some of the highest salaries are reserved for accounting professionals that put in the years it takes to climb the corporate ladder and cement the reputation it takes to become a chief financial officer. In just about every case this would involve earning the coveted CPA along the way (25th–95th percentile):
- Denver: $132,162 – $542,002
- Boulder: $142,469 – $584,269
Accountant and Auditor Salaries in Rural and Urban Parts of Colorado
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data for a broad classification of general accountants and auditors, and found salaries to be much higher in the Denver and Boulder areas in 2018 than elsewhere in the state.
(This broad classification includes accounting professionals in different areas of specialty, with different credentials, and with varying levels of experience.)
Tax Preparer Salaries in Colorado
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for tax preparers in Colorado was the highest in Greeley in 2018, closely followed by Colorado Springs.
Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2018. Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of specialty within the field of accounting and auditing – https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_co.htm#13-2011. BLS salary data represents state and MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
Salary data for specific job titles sourced from the 2019 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting & Finance Professionals –
https://www.roberthalf.com/salary-guide/accounting-and-finance. All ranges represent starting salaries at the 25th and 95th percentiles unless otherwise noted, with midpoint figures representing the 50th percentile. Experience, specialty area, credentials, and role all influence where salaries might fall within this range. These base salaries do not include bonuses or other incentives.
Job growth projections sourced from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employmentand reported in the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Long Term Occupational Projections (2016-2026) database – https://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm.
All salary and job growth data accessed in May 2019.