Steps to Becoming an Accountant in the District of Columbia

Since non-certified public accountants don’t need to be licensed in the District, they can immediately enter into practice after graduation from associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs. Among the businesses that employ public accountants to perform corporate payroll and tax preparation services is the Washington-based public accounting firm Ayala & Associates.

With certification, which requires a bachelor’s degree at minimum, a total of 150 semester hours of college credit, passing scores on the Uniform CPA Exam, and a year of relevant work experience in D.C., candidates interested in becoming public accountants can hold the distinction that comes with earning CPA credentials. Since most bachelor’s degree programs consist of just 120 semester hours, aspiring CPAs very often go on to earn a master’s in accounting to acquire the additional credit hours required for a CPA license in our nation’s capital. CPAs work for some of the world’s largest and most respected professional services and management consultation firms including “Big Four” international CPA firms KPMG, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Ernst and Young, all of which have offices in Washington.

Find out more about CPA requirements in our step-by-step guide on how to become a CPA in Washington, D.C.

Areas of Employment for Accountants in the District of Columbia

For all the obvious reasons, government accounting continues to be an important area of specialization in Washington. Employers of government accountants in the D.C. area are extremely diverse and include federal agencies like the Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Non-profit accountancy can be quite similar to government accounting, as it involves the practice of fund accountancy with respect to the use of tax revenue and donated monies.

Those interested in becoming accountants focused on the unique needs of non-profit organizations work the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an international think tank that has its U.S. headquarters in Washington, or NeighborWorks America, a community development organization.

Managerial accountants, financial controllers, internal auditors, and cost and capital accountants are also found everywhere in Washington D.C., from the large privately held job placement and recruiting firm the Mergis Group to government contract consultants Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP to strategic technological consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which is headquartered in McLean, VA.

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IT auditors and accounting information systems specialists in the D.C. area work for NASDAQ OMX in Rockville, MD; data company Keane, Inc. in D.C.; and the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association in Arlington, VA.

Forensic accountants trained in fraud investigation are found in both government and private industry where they work for the congressionally established Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and for financial services giant Kearney & Company in Alexandria, VA.

Job Growth and Salary Expectations for Accountants in Washington, DC

A high concentration of public accounting firms, combined with a high concentration of personal and corporate wealth in and around the DC metropolitan area, contribute to the District’s standing as one of the best-paying areas in the country for accountants and auditors.

According to the Washington D.C. Department of Employment Services, there were 12,950 accountants and auditors working in our nation’s capital in 2018. By 2028, this number is projected to grow to 14,000, an increase of 8.1% during this ten-year period. An estimated 1,360 annual openings as a result of new job growth, natural job turnover, and retirements are expected here through 2028.

According to May 2020 numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants and auditors earned a median salary of $103,410, with the top earners (top 10%) earning about $161,140 during this time.

Salaries for Accountants in Different Specialized Roles

The above BLS data provides a broad picture of what is actually a very diverse field. Specialization, experience, and location can have dramatic effects on earnings in different accounting roles. Fortunately, the BLS also highlights what these professionals are earning based on industry, experience, and more.

Note that the following base salaries do not take into account bonuses and other financial incentives that are typical of many accounting roles, particularly among those in specialized and executing roles.

Corporate Staff Accountants, Bookkeepers, and Accounting Clerks

The financial services industry offers explosive earning potential for accountants… but it’s a definite meritocracy, where time in the saddle adds up only if you have the results to show for it.

Those fresh to the profession can expect to earn about $46,840 in our nation’s capital (25th percentile), while mid-career professionals earn about $57,240 (median salary) and those in senior-level and managerial roles earn between $68,190 and $79,090 (75th – 90th percentile).

Forensic Accountants

The specialized skillset of forensic accountants makes them valuable in both regulatory and corporate practice in the greater D.C. area. These professionals earn about $133,840, which represents the 75th percentile among accountants and auditors in Washington D.C.

Controllers and Other Financial Managers

Controllers and other financial managers in Washington D.C. earn top salaries that reflect their expertise in regulatory compliance and the internal policies that corporations follow to ensure they are always operating in the black and on the right side of the law. As of 2020, these senior-level accounting professionals earned $161,720 at the median level and $196,440 at the 75th percentile.

CPAs and Auditors

Public accountants have a role to play at firms of every size, from the Big Four consultancies down to a specialist corner shop handling tax services for small businesses.

That accounts for a huge range of possible starting salaries, but in D.C., senior managers earn about $161,140, which represents accountants and auditors in the top 10%.

Accountants in Executive Roles

Corporate CFOs are the kings of the accounting jungle, and accordingly, command the highest salaries. It takes years to get there, and usually means earning a CPA license along the way, but once they do, the paychecks are massive. Those in the lower 25th percentile earn about $184,850 here, while those anywhere in the 50th percentile and up earn more than $208,000 annually.

Accountant and Auditor Salaries in the Washington D.C. Area

The BLS provides a detailed analysis of the salaries for general accountants and auditors in the DC area that included parts of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia, as of 2020:

Area Name
Employment
Annual median wage
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
41890
89220

(This broad classification includes accounting professionals in different areas of specialty, with different credentials, and with varying levels of experience.)

Tax Preparer Salaries in the DC Area

The salaries for tax preparers in the D.C. area, including adjoining parts of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, tend to surpass tax preparers in many parts of the country:

Area Name
Employment
Annual median wage
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
2020
38940

 

May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job growth data for Accountants and AuditorsFinancial ManagersBookkeeping, Accounting and Auditing Clerks, and Chief Executives. Figures represent state data, not school specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2021.

Job growth projections sourced from the Washington D.C. Department of Employment Services and reported in the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Long Term Occupational Projections (2018-2028) database – https://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm.