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

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development projects an average increase of 2.3% per year in the number of accounting jobs expected to become available between 2012 and 2022. According to the Department’s 2012 report, there were 21,500 accountants working in Tennessee. By 2022, that number is expected to grow to 26,440. Accounting and auditing are listed among the state’s “Hot Jobs”, with approximately 1,130 openings expected each year.

Candidates interested in becoming certified public accountants in Tennessee earn bachelor’s degrees at minimum, complete a total of at least 150 semester hours of college credit, and then pass the Uniform CPA Exam before fulfilling the Tennessee State Board of Accountancy’s requirement of one year of paid, supervised experience. Because a bachelor’s degree usually results in about 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 Tennessee.  The CPA credential lends itself to diverse, specialized tasks that include completing internal audits, assisting in the design of accounting information systems, preparing Securities and Exchange Commission reports for publicly traded companies, and providing consultation services specific to business management strategies and tax matters. CPAs often establish independent firms, join local or regional firms, or go on to work for one of the “Big Four” international CPA firms like Deloitte, which has offices in Hermitage or KPMG, which has a Nashville location.

Industries for Accountants in Tennessee

According to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, most of Tennessee’s accountants work as staff accountants and bookkeepers. Other major areas of employment for accountants in the state include by order of number of jobs: private companies, hospitals, insurance providers, and architectural and engineering firms. The state’s Department of Labor cites in excess of 1,600 potential employers of accountants from every industry across the state. 

Managerial accountants, controllers, and internal auditors work for organizations as diverse as Warner Music Group Corporation in Nashville and security services provider, Walden Security, with corporate headquarters in Chattanooga. These specialized roles require accountants to develop acumen in everything from financial analysis, to risk control, to federal regulatory compliance statutes like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. 

Architectural, manufacturing, and engineering may not be the first industries that comes to mind when thinking about accounting, but architectural firms and engineering companies are among the state’s biggest employers of cost accountants, project managers with accounting backgrounds, and construction cost estimators. These highly specialized accounting professionals work for outfits like metal manufacturing plant, Shiloh Industries in Dixon, and the federal government owned, Tennessee Valley Authority in Knoxville.

Tennessee Accountants: Salary and Employment Facts

The Tennessee Department of Labor reported that an average of 1,130 new accounting jobs are expected to open up in the state each year between 2012 and 2022. The state economy is doing very well, and was named as one of the top 20 in the nation according to Business Insider’s 2015 report. The accounting profession virtually always experiences growth proportionate to overall economic growth.

In shipping centers like Memphis, large businesses are facing higher levels of regulatory scrutiny. Businesses, accounting firms and regulatory organizations alike need skilled accountants and auditors to ensure compliance. This means specialized positions, such as those in forensic accounting, are expected to be in highest demand.

Accountants in the state earn a wide array of salaries, depending on their location, specialty, and whether or not they are licensed CPAs. The Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance indicated that forensic accountants in Chattanooga earned salaries within the range of $63,635 and $99,235.

Internal auditors at midsized Knoxville-based corporations earned an average of $74,030. Controllers at small firms in Memphis earned $100,700 on average.  In contrast, CFOs in Memphis, which most often held CPA licenses, earned an average of $359,575 a year, according to the Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance.

Accounting Salaries in Tennessee’s Cities and Non-Metro Areas

Tennessee-based accountants can make great salaries, especially in metropolitan areas. The table below contains 2014 employment and salary data for accountants and auditors in Tennessee as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Area name
Annual mean wage
Chattanooga TN-GA
Clarksville TN-KY
Cleveland TN
Jackson TN
Johnson City TN
Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol TN-VA
Knoxville TN
Memphis TN-MS-AR
Morristown TN
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin TN
Western Tennessee nonmetropolitan area
South Central Tennessee nonmetropolitan area
North Central Tennessee nonmetropolitan area
Eastern Tennessee nonmetropolitan area

Tax Preparer Salaries in Tennessee’s Cities and Non-Metro Areas

Tax preparers in Tennessee earned an average of $45,550 annually in 2014, while those in the top ten percent reported an average salary of $84,290. Tax preparers can make as much as accountants, depending mostly on their experience and location.

The table below shows employment and salary data for tax preparers in Tennessee’s metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014):

Area name
Annual mean wage
Chattanooga TN-GA
Clarksville TN-KY
Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol TN-VA
Estimate not released
Knoxville TN
Memphis TN-MS-AR
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin TN
Western Tennessee nonmetropolitan area
South Central Tennessee nonmetropolitan area
North Central Tennessee nonmetropolitan area
Eastern Tennessee nonmetropolitan area

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.

Tennessee Tax Laws in the News

In July 2015, Governor Bill Haslam proposed a gasoline tax increase in order for more road repair to take place. The current fuel tax in Tennessee is 21.4 cents per gallon – the same as it has been since 1989.  If passed, Haslam’s proposal would be the first gasoline tax increase in over 25 years. His plan has, so far, been heavily criticized. Those against it say that Governor Haslam has spent millions on things like bike trails, museums, and greenways, and should prioritize the budget more carefully before proposing tax hikes. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Department of Transit has over fifty projects on hold until they are budgeted more money to finish them.

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker wishes to take the fuel tax one step further, proposing to issue a 12 cent per gallon tax increase nationwide in order to provide better roadwork budgets for state transportation departments.