A State By State Accounting Guide
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Steps to Becoming an Accountant in Iowa

According to information provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, the number of accounting jobs in Iowa will increase 17% between 2012 and 2022, which is slightly higher than the national rate of 13%. This rate of growth translates into 620 new jobs annually. Iowa has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, ranking 6th overall. Low unemployment and a high rate of growth in the field are very encouraging factors for those interested in becoming accountants in Iowa. The three largest cities in Iowa; Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport, are home to locations for the world’s biggest CPA firms. In fact, three of the Big Four accounting firms have offices in Iowa. Ernst & Young and KPMG have offices in Des Moines while Deloitte has offices located in Cedar Rapids and Davenport. Other major regional and national accounting firms like McGladrey & Pullen; Clifton Gunderson and Bergan, Paulsen & Company also have offices in Iowa.

Iowa is among the few states that still licenses public accountants other than CPAs, offering the Licensed Public Accountant (LPA) designation with limited practice privileges. The Iowa Accountancy Examining Board, as part of the Professional Licensing and Regulation Division of the Iowa Department of Commerce, is the licensing body for both LPAs and CPAs and has a unique licensing process for each. Earning the esteemed CPA credential requires 150 semester hours of college credit, one year of practical experience, and passing scores on the Uniform CPA Exam. Because a bachelor’s degree results in just 120 semester hours of college credit, a master’s in accounting provides the ideal way to earn the additional credit hours required for a CPA license in Indiana.

LPAs must fulfill at least one of the following requirements:

  1. Two years of experience in the employ of a CPA or LPA
  2. A degree in accounting from a four-year college or university accredited by the North Central Accreditation Association
  3. A degree in accounting from a business or correspondence school accredited by the Association of Independent Colleges and Schools, or the National Home Study Council

LPAs must renew their license every three years and must fulfill at least 120 hours of continuing education in that time period. The state-administered examination for becoming an LPA is offered twice a year.

Although CPAs in Iowa must fulfill some requirements similar to LPAs, there are more specific and stringent guidelines. The bachelor’s degree program must consist of at least 150 semester hours of credit with an accounting concentration. Applicants must also pass the four-part Uniform CPA Examination and gain one year of qualifying experience prior to licensure. CPAs in Iowa are also required to earn 120 hours of continuing education within each three-year licensing period.

Salary and Employment Facts

The Iowa Workforce Information Network reported that the median salary for an accountant in Iowa was $55,433 in 2014, while top earners averaged $73,281. 

The 2015 Robert Half Salary Guide provides further detail on the salaries associated with specific types of accounting jobs in Iowa:

For instance, general accountants at large corporate accounting firms in Des Moines earned an average starting salary of $68,750, and five years later were earning an average of $87,750.

Accountants with specialized experience in high-demand areas of accountancy like forensics earned even more.  Forensic accountants in Des Moines earned salaries that ranged from $71,500 to $111,500 a year.

Controllers at small financial services firms in Cedar Rapids and Davenport earned between $85,560 and $114,855.  At large financial firms in these areas, salaries for controllers were reported to be as much as twice that of those working in smaller firms.

Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), who often hold CPA licenses, were the top earners within the accounting professional classification.  These executive-level business leaders within Des Moines-based financial services firms earned between $155,000 and $275,000 a year.

Salaries for Accountants in Iowa’s Rural Areas and Urban Centers

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the salaries of Iowa’s accountants were fairly similar throughout metropolitan and nonmetropolitan parts of the state as of 2014.  Accountants in the Des Moines area had the highest average salary, while top earners (90th percentile) in Dubuque were the most highly paid:

Area name
Annual mean wage
Ames IA
Cedar Rapids IA
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island IA-IL
Des Moines-West Des Moines IA
Dubuque IA
Iowa City IA
Sioux City IA-NE-SD
Waterloo-Cedar Falls IA
Northeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Northwest Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Southwest Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Southeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area

Salaries for Tax Preparers in Iowa

While the average salary for tax preparers in Iowa was the highest in the Des Moines area while, the median salary was slightly higher in the Southeast nonmetropolitan part of the state as compared to Des Moines (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014): 

Area name
Annual mean wage
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island IA-IL
Des Moines-West Des Moines IA
Northeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Northwest Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Estimate not released
Southeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Estimate not released

Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2014. Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of specialty within the field of accounting and auditing

Iowa’s Business Climate

Iowa’s Targeted Jobs Withholding Tax Credit Pilot Program began in 2006 and creates economic incentives for businesses and designated “pilot” cities to work together in the interest of creating growth and expansion opportunities for targeted businesses located within urban renewal areas.

This is just one example of the economic incentives the state is offering to new and expanding businesses. Iowa’s Department of Economic Development lists several targeted industries that are expected to expand as a result of tax incentives, advanced infrastructure and centralized locations. Top among these targeted Iowa industries are advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, biosciences, information technology, financial services and food manufacturing.

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