Steps to Becoming an Accountant in Georgia
Certified public accountants hold bachelor’s degrees to meet minimum licensing requirements, but often go on to earn graduate degrees in order to earn the full 150 semester hours required for licensure through Georgia’s Board of Accountancy. This is because most bachelor’s programs include just 120 semester hours, making a master’s program in accounting perfect for filling the gap and developing the advanced accounting skills necessary to become a CPA. They are found throughout the accounting and management teams of corporations, as well as operating independent practices of their own or working for world class CPA and business consultation firms including the “Big Four” – KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and PricewaterhouseCoopers – all of which have offices in Atlanta. Becoming a non-certified public accountant with more limited practice privileges does not require licensure from Georgia’s Board of Accountancy.
Managerial accountants, financial controllers, cost and capital accountants are also bachelor’s or graduate degree holders found throughout private industry, including the many Fortune 500 companies that call Georgia home. The biggest employers of corporate accountants in Georgia continue to be the Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Atlanta that have become household names; retailer Home Depot, UPS and Coca-Cola. Corporate Accountants are found working in many capacities and for many different types of businesses, whether seeking to maximize profits as part of management teams for transportation giant Gulfstream Aerospace in Savannah, or specializing in performing internal compliance audits in the corporate headquarters of Sun Trust Banks in Atlanta. Insurance giant and Fortune 500 company, Aflac, with headquarters in Columbus, is also a leading area employer of both corporate management accountants and actuarial accountants.
Government accountants usually hold a bachelor’s degree and sometimes a state-issued CPA license. Accountants are found in the Georgia Department of Public Health Accounting Office in Fulton County and the Georgia Department of Human Resources in Albany, among many other state and municipal government agencies.
Job Growth and Salary Expectations for Accountants in Georgia
The Georgia Department of Labor lists accounting as one of its “Hot Careers to 2026” based on the field’s high wages, fast job growth, and the high level of annual job openings expected during the ten-year period leading up to 2026. Atlanta is where much of the action is, and made the top ten list of cities with the highest employment levels for accountants according to a 2018 report released by the US Department of Labor.
As home to corporate offices for a large number of prominent companies, it’s the accountants that make the wheels of industry turn that are in highest demand here. The Georgia Department of Economic Development reported that eighteen Fortune 500 companies had their global headquarters in the state in 2019, supporting jobs for controllers, management accountants, internal auditors, staff accountants and more. This includes such large companies as Home Depot, UPS, Coca-Cola, and Delta Airlines.
The Georgia Department of Labor predicts a high level of job growth for accountants in the state: 16.7 percent between 2016 and 2026– more than 50 percent faster than the national rate for the accounting profession. This level of job growth along with normal turnover should result in 4,190 accounting positions becoming available every year during the ten-year period of their analysis.
The US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median salary for accountants in the state at $68,870, with accountants in the top ten percent making $120,560.
BLS numbers can be misleading, however. With nearly 40,000 accountants working in the field across the state, the median pulls in data from every corner of the industry; everything from one-man shops working down in Elmodel and Big Four consultancies in glitzy Atlanta skyscrapers.
Salaries for Accountants in Different Specialized Roles
The 2019 Robert Half Accounting and Finance Salary Guide helps clarify the data relative to experience, industry, and specialization. Offering starting salary numbers at the 25th, 50th, and 95th percentiles (before bonuses) for a variety of positions, the guide offers more precise guidance for anyone plotting a career in the accounting industry.
The remaining divergence in ranges is usually explained by the sector of service, size of the employing firm, and special expertise or credentials required, such as a CPA license.
Corporate Staff Accountants in Financial Services
Financial services is a sector where there’s a lot of money floating around, and it’s not hard to get a solid starting salary even with little accounting experience. Even general staff accountants in Atlanta with as little as a year of experience can make from $54,590 to $102,290 (25th to 95th percentile).
With experience, those numbers only go up:
- 3 to 5 years experience: $63,335 – $120,045
- 5+ years experience: $72,080 – $137,005
Controllers offer companies a deep reserve of expertise as well as years of experience in the industry they are employed in. In return, they get significant starting salary rates, between $97,520 and $220,215 with a $125,345 midpoint in Atlanta.
Forensic accountants in Atlanta, as elsewhere in Georgia, are in high demand due to their expertise in parsing out any sign of fraud or malfeasance and following the money trail in litigation or other investigations. They command starting salaries of between $80,560 and $153,435 with a $97,250 midpoint as of 2019.
Tax Specialists and Auditors in Public Accounting Firms
Public accountants serving as external auditors and tax specialists provide their services to businesses of all shapes and sizes, in every industry and every part of the state. That can lead to a wide divergence in starting salaries, but those at the top of the profession usually hold CPA licenses and the earning power it commands: in Atlanta, a senior manager working in assurance services might make between $116,070 and $221,275 with a $139,125 midpoint to start.
At other levels of experience in other specialties, Atlanta CPAs and non-certified public accountants are typically offered starting salaries within the following ranges (25th to 95th percentile):
- Management – $78,970 – $151,050
- Senior – $56,445 – $107,590
- 1-3 years experience – $46,110 – $87,715
- Management – $91,425 – $174,105
- Senior – $64,130 – $119,780
- 1-3 years experience – $50,615 – $96,990
Accountants in Executive Roles
Chief Financial Officers in Georgia are extremely well paid for their industry-specific expertise, business acumen, and the fact that at some point along the way most have earned a CPA license and have maintained it in good standing during their climb up the corporate ladder. Their salaries tend to differ depending on the size and revenues of the employer. CFOs in corporate offices in Atlanta were offered starting salaries of between $99,425 and $407,745 in 2019, for example.
Salaries for Accountants and Auditors in Georgia’s Metropolitan and Non-metropolitan areas
The US Department of Labor indicated that accountants and auditors in Atlanta had a substantially higher average salary than their colleagues throughout the rest of the state in 2018.
(This broad classification includes accounting professionals in different areas of specialty, with different credentials, and with varying levels of experience.)
Tax Preparer Salaries Throughout Georgia
According to the US Department of Labor, salaries for tax preparers in Georgia were better in the Atlanta and Valdosta areas than in other parts of the state in 2018.
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_ga.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 Georgia Department of Labor 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.