Originally posted on June 18, 2020 @ 5:39 pm

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 the District. 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.

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.

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

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Managerial accountants, financial controllers, internal auditors, cost and capital accountants are also found everywhere in the District, from the large privately held job placement and recruiting firm The Mergis Group; to

 government contract consultants Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP in Washington; to strategic technological consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton headquartered in McLean, VA.

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 or 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, all contributes to the District being one of the best-paying areas in the country for accountants and auditors.

The Washington D.C. Department of Employment Services listed financial managers, financial analysts, and accountants and auditors as being among the 50 Hot Jobs in the District through 2026. The department predicts job growth of 6.6% over the ten-year period preceding 2026. This level of growth along with normal turnover should open up 1,230 accounting positions on average each year during this period.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average salary for an accountant in DC was $91,890 a year in 2018. The BLS data provides a very broad picture of what is actually a very diverse field. Specialization, experience, and location can have dramatic effects on earnings in different accounting roles.

Salaries for Accountants in Different Specialized Roles

The 2019 Robert Half Accounting and Finance Salary Guide gives a more comprehensive breakdown of those salaries in the District, including everything from industry and firm size to experience and credentials in determining the typical salary.

Robert Half reports starting salaries at the 25th, 50th, and 95th percentile. Although the numbers don’t account for bonuses or other incentives, they give a much better idea of what to expect in certain areas of practice.

Corporate Staff Accountants in Financial Services

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.

To start, an accountant in a financial services firm here can make from $68,495 to $128,345, with an $82,460 midpoint.

Moving up the ladder, they can expect salaries within these ranges:

  • 3 to 5 years experience: $79,468 – $150,622
  • 5+ years experience: $90,440 – $171,902

Corporate Controllers

Controllers in the District can expect to pull down between $122,360 and $276,308 to start, with a $157,272 midpoint due to 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.

Forensic Accountants

Forensic accountants in DC earn respectable salaries that ranged between $101,080 and $192,518, from the bottom quarter to the top five percent. Their specialization and expertise makes them valuable in both regulatory and corporate practice in the greater DC area.

Tax Specialists and Auditors in Public Accounting Firms

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 in tax service firms can make as much as $148,295 to $282,292 with a $178,220 midpoint.

In other areas of expertise at other experience levels, starting salaries in the 25th to 95th percentile range look like this:

Assurance/Audit Services:

  • Management – $99,085 – $189,525
  • Senior – $70,822 – $134,995
  • 1-3 years experience – $57,855 – $110,058

Tax Services:

  • Management – $114,712 – $218,452
  • Senior – $80,465 – $150,290
  • 1-3 years experience – $63,508 – $121,695

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. CFOs in the District of Columbia earned from $224,438 to $665,000 at the 25th to 95th percentile.

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

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics 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 (2018).

Area Name
Annual Mean Wage
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

(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 DC area, including adjoining parts of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, were substantially higher than those in the rest of the country according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018 report.

Area Name
Annual Mean Wage
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

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_dc.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 Washington D.C. Department of Employment Services and 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.