Steps to Becoming an Accountant in West Virginia
The West Virginia Board of Accountancy licenses CPAs in the state. Minimum standards of education (150 semester hours of college credit and a bachelor’s degree at minimum), experience (one year), and examination (passing the Uniform CPA Exam) must be met before licensure is granted. Because a bachelor’s degree results in around 120 semester hours of college credit, a master’s in accounting is the most widely accepted method for earning the 30 additional credit hours required for a CPA license in West Virginia.
“Big Four” international CPA firm Ernst & Young has a regional office in Charleston, and PricewaterhouseCoopers has a location in Assurance. Other national public accounting firms with a presence in West Virginia include SKM with a location in Wheeling and Dixon Hughes Goodman, LLP will offices in Charleston.
West Virginia Accountants: Job Trends and Salary Expectations
Workforce West Virginia, a division of the West Virginia Department of Commerce, reports job growth projections showing the number of accounting and auditing positions in the state will increase at a rate of about 6.3 percent between 2016 and 2026. This rock solid growth combined with normal turnover will result in around 460 openings annually in the field.
Government accountants specializing in fund allocation are found in state and municipal government offices throughout West Virginia, and in the many federal agencies located here. The state’s Economic Development Authority in Charleston is among the biggest local employers of government accountants, while the Internal Revenue Service office in Martinsburg is a major federal employer of auditors in the state.
West Virginia’s diverse economy is also supported by manufacturing, health care, and gambling, which are among the state’s leading private industry employers.
West Virginia’s gambling industry creates unique opportunities for accountants familiar with the American Institute of Public Accountancy Gaming Audit and Accounting Guide. They work for places like Mountaineer Casino Race Track in Chester, Charles Town Races & Slots in Ranson and Hollywood Casino in Charles Town. The industry offers interesting work for accountants with the right kind of skills, and a unique opportunity that doesn’t exist in many places outside of West Virginia.
Some of the leading manufacturing industry employers of managerial accountants, controllers and internal auditors in West Virginia include Constellium in Ravenswood, which fabricates aluminum sheets used in everything from aerospace technology to truck trailers.
In addition to offering a lot of jobs, accounting is also a path to a pretty solid salary in a state that has often had a hard time competing on that front nationally. Accountants in West Virginia make $68,160 on average, with the top ten percent even breaking into six figures according to 2018 US Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers. In a state that runs an overall median household income of only $43,469 (according to the 2017 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau), that qualifies as good money.
But accountants of all people know that data that reflects an average should be taken with a grain of salt. The enormous breadth of the industry can result in salaries for accountants in different roles, specialties and with different credentials earning well above and below those numbers.
Salaries for Accountants in Different Specialized Roles
The 2019 Robert Half Accounting and Finance Salary Guide offers a more in-depth breakdown of accounting salaries across West Virginia, one that accounts for the differences in experience, industry, and specialization within the field as well as geographic variations.
Although it doesn’t account for bonuses or other incentives routinely built into compensation packages, the Robert Half Guide does give extra clarity by breaking out starting salaries for different roles into 25th, 50th, and 95th percentile figures in major population centers.
The variance within those ranges are accounted for by differences in such things as:
- Firm size
- Credentials, such as a CPA license
- Other specialized training or experience
In Charleston, the largest market in the state for accounting talent, Robert Half provides these numbers for a variety of accounting and auditing roles:
Corporate Staff Accountants in Financial Services
Financial services has become a hot sector in accounting that has even made its way into West Virginia in recent years, taking in some of the cream of the local accounting crop. Compensation is often padded out with stock options or other types of incentive pay, which Robert Half doesn’t account for. Even so, entry-level staff accountants in this field with as little as a year of experience can earn between $42,951 and $80,481, with a midpoint of $51,708.
Experience pays big dividends in financial accounting, with the 25th to 95th percentile ranges in Charleston increasing markedly with experience in the industry:
- 3 to 5 years experience: $49,832 – $94,451
- 5+ years experience: $56,712 – $107,795
Controllers are among the ranks of managerial talent that help keep corporate America functioning smoothly and staying solvent. That makes them a valuable part of any company, one that is rewarded at between $76,728 and $173,264 in Charleston, with a midpoint starting salary of $98,621.
Forensic accountants can almost always command above-average salaries by dint of their highly specialized training and in-depth experience at tracking down evidence and making all the numbers add up. In Charleston, they can make anywhere between $63,384 and $120,722, with those at the 50th percentile pulling in $76,728 a year.
Tax Specialists and Auditors in Public Accounting Firms
Public accounting covers a vast swath of industries and levels of expertise, and has a correspondingly wide range of possible starting salaries. At the highest level of the profession, senior managers or directors working in tax services in Charleston can make anywhere from $92,991 to $177,017, with a $111,756 midpoint.
It usually takes advanced credentials such as a CPA license along with years of experience to ascend to such ranks, but there are also plenty of well-paying positions in both tax services and audit and assurance work around Charleston (numbers range from the 25th to 95th percentile):
- Management – $62,133 – $118,845
- Senior – $44,411 – $84,651
- 1-3 years experience – $36,279 – $69,014
- Management – $71,932 – $136,984
- Senior – $50,457 – $94,242
- 1-3 years experience – $39,824 – $76,311
Accountants in Executive Roles
Corporate CFOs get to the top ranks of the C-suite with a lot of experience and hard work, usually including putting in the time to earn their CPA license. They typically have specialized experience within the industries where they practice, which leads to some of the highest rates of compensation in the industry. Before bonuses and other incentives, in Charleston we’re talking between $101,123 and $414,707 with a $164,090 midpoint.
Salaries for Accountants and Auditors in West Virginia’s Cities and Rural Areas
Charleston may have the most accounting jobs on offer in the state, but the city comes in dead last on average salary. The best place in the state for compensation is the Parkersburg-Vienna area, where the average salary is $78,720. For the cream of the crop, though, Beckley is the place to be, with those in the top ten percent make a princely $113,440 a year.
(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 West Virginia
Salaries for tax preparers are fairly level across the state, but among the surprises revealed by the BLS 2018 data is that rural tax prep experts in the Southern West Virginia nonmetropolitan area bring home the highest average pay, at $38,310 per year, beating out even the Wheeling area, which came in number two at $34,490.
Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2018. Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of specialty within the field of accounting and auditing https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_wv.htm#13-2011. BLS salary data represents state and MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
Salary data for specific job titles sourced from the 2019 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting & Finance Professionals – https://www.roberthalf.com/salary-guide/accounting-and-finance. All ranges represent starting salaries at the 25th and 95th percentiles unless otherwise noted, with midpoint figures representing the 50th percentile. Experience, specialty area, credentials, and role all influence where salaries might fall within this range. These base salaries do not include bonuses or other incentives.
Job growth projections sourced from the West Virginia Department of Commerce and reported in the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Long Term Occupational Projections (2016-2026) database – https://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm.
All salary and job growth data accessed in May 2019.