In a nutshell: Accountants keep organizations running. The field is diverse and dynamic, and might just be an excellent career opportunity for you.

Every kind of organization in every sector of the economy has one thing in common: Somewhere within the business, there’s an accounting department.

It might be hundreds of people in a global corporation or just one person in a small business. But someone must make sure the beating heart of a business is healthy and strong — and that means keeping tabs on where the money comes from and where it goes.

If you want to make a difference in business and have the right skills, becoming an accountant might be the right career path to make.

Definition of Accounting

Accounting involves the collection of financial transaction data within an organization, and the proper recording and analysis of that information. Accountants are responsible for ensuring that a company’s books balance and there is a proper accounting of every penny made and spent.

They work for private businesses, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and individuals.

Job Growth and Salary

Accounting is a critical field, which is reflected in the sheer number of accountants working in the United States — almost 1.4 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And the federal agency projects almost 140,000 more will enter the workforce by 2026, increasing the number of accountants by about 10%.

Part of what drives the growth is the versatility of the profession. Accountants can work in budgeting, payroll, and as financial analysts, tax professionals and regulatory experts. Sometimes, all of this at once, depending on the job.

Numbers generated by accountants often are key components in information used by executives to develop business strategy.

As for salary, it’s important to keep in mind that salaries vary because of many factors. They include the exact nature of the job, geographic location and the industry. It’s important to conduct research on your own local market to get a better idea of salary ranges.

That said, the BLS reports that all accountants across the country had a median salary of $68,150 in May 2016. The top 10% in the field earned $120,910.

Accounting Careers

Becoming an accountant can mean many different things, depending on where in the field you decide to focus. The following represent some of the more popular choices.

Keep in mind that becoming a Certified Public Accountant, a designation earned by talking additional classwork and passing a national exam, opens the door to the top jobs in most of the careers listed below.

Public accountants gather and record all financial records for publicly traded companies, including tax information, cash flow and balance sheets. They also ensure the company meets all regulatory standards and adheres to tax codes at all levels of government.

Management accountants focus on internal financial documentation that typically is not publicly reported but is used by management to make decisions and helps drive business strategy.

Forensic accountants combine accounting and investigative skills, looking into transactions to find fraud, including tax fraud (if they work for the Internal Revenue Service or a law enforcement agency).

Auditors work independently or for auditing firms and analyze a business’s or individual’s financial documentation to ensure compliance with regulations and laws. Internal auditors perform the same duties but are employed directly by the companies they audit.

Government accountants handle financial paperwork either produced by the government or subject to government oversight.

Investment accountants focus on managing a company’s or individual’s investment portfolio, which may include stocks, bonds and real estate.

Loan officers review and evaluate loan applications for banks, credit unions, mortgage companies and other lenders.

Accounting clerks focus primarily on the task of recordkeeping. The job requires a lot of data entry and related calculations. Accounting clerks often specialize in certain areas, such as accounts payable, expenditures or payroll.

Education Needed to Become an Accountant

A bachelor’s degree in accounting is typically required for entry-level positions in accounting, and an MBA or master’s in accounting is required for more advanced positions.

While accounting students eventually focus on a specialty in the field, most begin by studying foundational topics such as math, quantitative analysis, tax law and the rules of financial accounting. Coursework usually includes learning about software systems used in accounting, budgeting, bookkeeping, cost accounting and tax filing.

Classes in business or information systems, marketing, auditing, statistics and business management are also the norm, while students, via elective study or formal concentration, may be able to explore specialty topics like forensic accounting or corporate tax law.

Accountants can also attain other certifications in addition to CPA. They include Certified Management Accountant (CMA), conferred by the Institute of Management Accountants, and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), overseen by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA).

Is Accounting Right for You?

Entering accounting can prove the right move for you if you have a natural ability with math, an interest in finance and are very detailed-oriented.

The job also requires that you are a self-starter, as accountants typically work with little to no supervision. Clearly, given the nature of the job, strong ethics and decision-making skills are critical.

With the number of accounting degree programs and the emergence of online learning, there has never been a more convenient time to study accounting. If your skills and interest match what is needed from an accountant, it’s a profession worth consideration.

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