Steps to Becoming an Accountant in Iowa

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 Iowa.

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

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.

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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 for Accountants in Iowa

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median salary for accountants and auditors in Iowa was $64,720 as of May 2020.

According to the Iowa Workforce Information Network, the state will experience about 1,290 annual openings in the field of accounting between 2018 and 2028 due to a blend of new job growth, natural job turnover, and retirements, revealing a nearly 10% increase in jobs during this time.

Salaries for Accountants in Different Specialized Roles

Because accountants deal in numbers, they are among the first to look for a more detailed breakdown when it comes to salary numbers in accounting jobs. There are many different types of role that an accountant can take on, and each of those roles can command dramatically different salary levels.

The following BLS salaries as of May 2020 provide deeper insight into the earning power of accountants and auditors in Iowa. Note that the following base salaries don’t account for pay incentives like bonuses and stock options, both of which are commonplace among accountants, particularly those in specialized and executive roles.

Corporate Staff Accountants, Bookkeepers, and Accounting Clerks

Sometimes it seems like everyone is clamoring to get into financial services, and with the paychecks available at the high end, it’s easy to see why.

But even relatively new staff accountants can do well for themselves in this sector. According to the BLS, corporate staff accountants, bookkeepers, and accounting clerks in the lower 25th percentile earn $31,670 in Iowa. Earn a few years of experience and you’ll earn closer to the median here, which is $39,790. Accountants in this field with managerial titles and extensive experience earn salaries closer to the 75th -90th percentile, or about $50,050 – $61,210.

Forensic Accountants

Forensic accountants bring investigative expertise to the legal field, and their strong salaries reflect this specialized knowledge. As of May 2020, the BLS reports that these accounting professionals earned about $82,870 in Iowa, which represents the 75th percentile among accountants and auditors in the state.

In larger metro areas, their earning potential is even higher. For example, in the Cedar Rapids metro area, they earn about $85,520.

Controllers and Other Financial Managers

Controllers bring deep expertise in accounting to the corporations they work for, along with a lot of practical experience in their own industry. In Iowa, they earn a median salary of about $108,230, while those with significant experience and specialized credentials tend to earn salaries that are closer to the 75th – 90th percentile: $147,210 – $198,040.

CPAs and Auditors

Public accounting firms in Iowa deal with companies in every sector and size. Along with a CPA license, specialized knowledge in areas like assurance/audit services usually results in top salaries.

CPAs and auditors earn salaries that place them in the 90th percentile among all accountants and auditors, which in Iowa is $105,570. In larger metro areas, the earning power is even greater. For example, in Iowa City, these professionals earn about $112,180.

Accountants in Executive Roles

Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), who often have a long background in accounting and hold CPA licenses even before working their way up the corporate ranks, are the top earners within the accounting professional classification. These executive-level business leaders earn salaries that often exceed $200,000, even at the median level. For example, in Dubuque, they earn about $202,810 at the median level and more than $208,000 in the 75th percentile and up.

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

May 2020 BLS numbers reveal a standard salary range for accountants throughout Iowa, with those at the median level earning about $60,000 and those in the top 10% earning into the six figures, in most cases.

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

Area Name
Annual median wage
Cedar Rapids
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island
Des Moines-West Des Moines
Iowa City
Sioux City
Waterloo-Cedar Falls

Salaries for Tax Preparers in Iowa

The median salaries for Iowa’s tax preparers are all over the board depending on the region, with some of these professionals earning salaries in the upper $30,000s in many areas to near $60,000 in the Davenport metro area.

Area Name
Annual median wage
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island
Des Moines-West Des Moines
Iowa City
Northeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Southeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area


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 national data, not school specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2021.

Job growth projections sourced from the Iowa Workforce Information Network and reported in the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Long Term Occupational Projections (2018-2028) database –

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