Montana is counted among only a handful of states that has a two-tier CPA licensing process. Once CPA candidates complete 150 semester hours of college credit within a bachelor’s degree or higher and pass the Uniform CPA Exam, they are granted a certificate but do not have full practice rights. Becoming a fully licensed CPA with a permit to practice, which legally grants practice rights independent of oversight, comes once candidates have completed at least one year of experience in public, governmental, or academic accounting that has been approved by the Montana Board of Public Accountant.
Because a bachelor’s degree will only result in about 120 semester hours of college credit, aspiring CPAs often enroll in a master’s degree program in accounting to earn the additional 30 semester hours required for a CPA license at the same time they are satisfying the experience requirement.
CPAs in Montana are found working for CPA firms and in private industry in many different areas of specialty that include audit and attestation, financial control, and risk management. Big Four international CPA firm KPMG has offices in Billings and Helena, and nationally recognized public accounting firm, Moss Adams, has a regional office located in Billings.
The corporate headquarters of payroll outsourcing company, Avitus Group, which is a leading employer of tax specialists, is located in Billings. Fortune 200 diversified energy company, Cenex Harvest State Cooperatives (CHS), with has its corporate offices in Laurel, is one of the single biggest private employers of accountants in the state. CHS retains financial controllers and cost and capital accountants as part of its corporate staff, as well as accountants trained in sustainability management practices responsible for helping maintain compliance with EPA regulations. The headquarters of First Interstate Bank is located in Billings and is a major employer of managerial accountants in the state. The State of Montana’s government offices in Helena employ fund accounting specialists in all state and municipal agencies, including Health and Human Services, Labor and Industry, and Military Affairs.
Find out more about CPA requirements in our step-by-step guide on how to become a CPA in Montana.
Montana Accountants: Salary and Job Trends
The Montana Department of Labor and Industry projects outstanding job growth among the state’s accountants between 2018 and 2028. During this ten-year period ending in 2028, jobs in this profession will increase by more than 11.5%. The Department expects about 380 job openings annually, which will occur through a blend of new job growth, retirements, and natural job turnover.
Home to Glacier and Yellowstone, two of the country’s most visited national parks, Montana enjoys a robust hospitality and tourism industry, which is among the top employers of accountants in the state. What might be surprising, however, is that the physical engineering/biological research industry is also counted among the top areas of employment, with agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Missoula and the Montana State University Department of Animal and Range Sciences in Bozeman requiring the lion’s share of accounting services. Insurance agencies and brokerage firms get a notable mention, too, with G.E. Capital in Billings, claims company Gallagher Bassett in Missoula, and CUSO Financial Services, LP in Bozeman all counted among the major employers of accountants in the state.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for accountants and auditors in Montana was $63,240 as of May 2020. During this time, the nonmetropolitan area of West Montana ranked fifth among the top-paying nonmetro areas in the nation for accountants and auditors, reporting an average salary of $77,490 during this time.
Salaries for Accountants in Different Specialized Roles
The BLS also provides a deeper diver into what Montana’s accountants and auditors are earning based on factors such as industry, accounting role, experience, and more.
Note that the following May 2020 BLS numbers only highlight base pay for accountants and do not include salary incentives such as bonuses and stock options, both of which can add considerably to an accountant’s total compensation package.
Corporate Staff Accountants, Bookkeepers, and Accounting Clerks
Corporate accounting is competitive and often comes with equally competitive salaries for accountants in Montana. Those fairly new to the profession earn a salary of about $29,500 as of May 2020, which represents the 25thpercentile. With a few more years of experience, accountants here earn about $36,900, which represents the median level, while those with considerable experience and/or senior roles earn closer to $44,960 – $52,510, which represents the 75th – 90th percentile.
After earning a master’s in accounting, forensic accountants spend years honing a unique skillset that includes the role of part-accountant and part-investigator, and their salary range reflects this. The BLS reports a salary of about $81,050 for these accounting pros, which represents the 75th percentile among all accountants and auditors in the state.
Controllers and Other Financial Managers
Corporate controls call for professionals with a meticulous mind for regulatory compliance and internal processes, so it comes as no surprise that the salary range reaches well beyond six figures for controllers and other financial managers.
In Montana, the median salary for controllers and other financial managers was $100,530 as of May 2020. Those with considerable experience and top industry credentials usually earn salaries that reflect the 75th – 90thpercentile: $135,370 – $183,360.
In larger cities, salaries for these accounting pros tend to be much higher. For example, in Billings, their median salary is $122,190, while those in the 75th percentile earn about $164,930 and those in the 90th percentile earn salaries that exceed $208,000.
CPAs and Auditors
CPAs, the star players of public accounting, can command huge paychecks at the senior manager/director level. The BLS reports that CPAs and auditors in Montana earn about $106,830, which represents the top-earning (90thpercentile) accountants and auditors in the state. In Billings, this number is even higher, at about $113,070.
Accountants in Executive Roles
No surprise here—CFOs are among the most generously paid executives in the field of accounting. At the median level, these top-level accounting professionals earn about $121,250 in Montana. At the 75th percentile, they earn about $193,900, and the top earners here (90th percentile) earn salaries that exceed $208,000.
The median salary for accounting executives in Billings is even higher, at $144,810, and those in the 75th percentile and up here earn more than $208,000 annually.
Salaries for Accountants and Auditors in Montana’s Metro and Non-Metro Areas
The West Montana nonmetro area shines for its pay of accountants and auditors, reporting a median salary that’s just shy of $70,000 and a top pay that exceeds $130,000.
(This broad classification includes accounting professionals in different areas of specialty, with different credentials, and with varying levels of experience.)
Salaries for Tax Preparers in Billings and the Nonmetropolitan Area of Southwestern Montana
Salaries tend to vary widely among Montana’s tax preparers at the median level, while earners in the 90thpercentile range from nearly $60,000 to over $70,000.
May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job growth data for Accountants and Auditors, Financial Managers, Bookkeeping, 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 Montana Department of Labor and Industry and reported in the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Long Term Occupational Projections (2018-2028) database – https://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm.