Steps to Becoming an Accountant in Illinois

The Big Four accounting firms of Deloitte & Touche, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and KPMG all have sizeable offices in Chicago. Although some accountants start as bookkeepers, tax preparers, or enrolled agents and have minimal formal education, positions within corporations and accounting firms are held by those with bachelor’s or grad degrees in accounting or business degrees that include an accounting concentration.

Those with their sights set on CPA licensure often earn a master’s degree in accounting as a way to gain advanced accounting skills and earn the 150 total semester hours required to be eligible for licensure through the Illinois Board of Examiners.

Becoming an accountant in Illinois with either the Licensed Certified Public Accountant (LCPA) or Registered Certified Public Accountant (RCPA) designation requires a bachelor’s degree, the successful completion of the Uniform CPA Exam, and one year of accounting experience. The Illinois Board of Examiners (IBOE) assesses the educational credentials of candidates to determine eligibility to sit for the CPA exam, while the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations (IDFPR) is responsible for granting licensure and practice privileges.

Find out more about CPA requirements in our step-by-step guide on how to become a CPA in Illinois.

Illinois Accountants: Salary and Employment Facts

Illinois is home to some of the most well-compensated management accountants, financial controllers, treasurers, and CFOs in the nation, hosting operations and corporate offices for such global juggernauts as Archer Daniels Midland, Boeing, Walgreens, and more. In fact, 36 Fortune 500 companies were headquartered in Chicago as of 2021, according to World Business Chicago.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the Chicago metro area was ranked third in the nation for its employment level for accountants, according to May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) numbers.

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The field of accounting is growing in Chicago and throughout Illinois. According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, there were 58,210 accountants and auditors in the state in 2018. By 2028, this number is projected to increase to 61,040. During this ten-year period, the profession will experience about 5,840 average job openings every year due to a blend of new job growth, natural job turnover, and retirements.

This type of impressive growth is spurred on by an increase in the number of businesses operating in Illinois, changes in laws that affect the financial services industry, and the increased attention being given to organizational accounting integrity. The specialized areas of international business and information systems auditing will see exceptional growth in the coming years.

According to the BLS, the median salary for accountants and auditors in Illinois was $71,270, as of May 2020. Experienced professionals in the top 10% earned an average of $118,520 during this time.

Salaries for Illinois Accountants in Specialized Roles

The BLS also provides a breakdown of salaries for accountants and auditors based on everything from industry-specific roles to experience levels.

Note that the following BLS salaries don’t account for bonuses and other financial incentives that are frequently part of specialty, managerial, and executive-level roles in accounting.

Corporate Staff Accountants, Bookkeepers, and Accounting Clerks

Corporate staff accountants, bookkeepers, and accounting clerks who were fairly new to the profession earned about $34,400 in Illinois as of May 2020, while those at the median level earned about $43,350 and those in the 75th – 90th percentile earned between $53,790 and $65,170 during this time.

Forensic Accountants

Filling a unique and narrow niche, forensic accountants command even higher salaries for their highly specialized skills. In Illinois, these accounting professionals earn about $91,020, which represents the 75th percentile among accountants and auditors.

Controllers and Other Financial Managers

Controllers and other financial managers earn a median salary of $132,360, making them among the top paid accountants in the profession in Illinois. The top-earning controllers (75th – 90th percentile) earn between $182,790 and more than $208,000.

CPAs and Auditors

Public accountants performing audit and assurance services for wealthy individuals, families, and corporations earn some of the top salaries among accountants and auditors in Illinois. For example, these professionals earn about $121,460 in the Chicago metro area (includes Naperville and Elgin), which represents the top 10% of all earners in the accounting profession.

Accounting Professionals in Executive Positions

The highest salaries are reserved for Chief Financial Officers, many of whom are CPAs with many years of experience and highly specialized skills. At the lower end of the pay scale (25th percentile), these executive-level accountants earn about $151,350, while those in the top 50th percentile earn more than $208,000.

Salaries for Accountants and Auditors Throughout Illinois

According to the BLS, general accountants and auditors in Chicago and Peoria metro areas earned salaries that were significantly higher than their colleagues in other parts of Illinois in May 2020.

Area Name
Annual median wage

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

Tax Preparer Salaries Throughout Illinois

Salaries for tax preparers throughout Illinois’ metro areas tend to vary significantly at all pay levels:

Area Name
Annual median wage


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 Illinois Department of Employment Security and reported in the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Long Term Occupational Projections (2018-2028) database –

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