Accountants can earn a lucrative salary, especially if they work in the sub-sectors or cities, or areas listed below. It is a job that is needed in most industries and for the most part, all businesses. Most individuals only need a bachelor's degree to get started in an accounting career.

On average, accountants and auditors earned a median annual wage of $73,560 as of May 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report. Actual wages might be higher or lower, depending on industry and location, but they are well above the national median average for occupations.

Key Takeaways

  • Accounting is a necessity around the globe in a variety of fields, and as such, accountants are always in demand.
  • Depending on the location and job type, accountants can earn a good salary; the median annual wage as of May 2020 for an accountant was $73,560.
  • The median annual wage for an accountant is well above the national median average for occupations.
  • The top-paying industries for accountants include finance and insurance, management of companies and enterprises, tax preparation, and the government.
  • The top-paying states/districts for accountants include Washington D.C., New York, New Jersey, California, and Massachusetts.

Why Are Accountants Always in High Demand?

The lucrative salary is based on demand and makes accounting one of the best business jobs. "Few fields are as fertile as the domain of accounting," said Robert Valli, former Dean of the LIU Post College of Management in Old Westbury, N.Y., who added that accounting is, in his opinion, recession-proof.

"Companies need an audit if the economy is growing, and companies need an audit in a recession," Valli said. "Everyone needs to do their taxes. Accounting offers great all-weather positions, and regulatory events in Washington have made this even more pronounced. The Dodd-Frank Act, for example, is still being parsed and understood, and accountants will be doing work on that for years."

In addition, accounting firms are excellent employers. "The 'Big Four' accounting firms are always listed among the top 100 companies to work for in America, which speaks to the salary and benefits that they’re able to offer, along with opportunities for growth," Valli said.

Stuart Mease, former executive director of student advancement and career services at Virginia Tech's undergraduate business program, also feels that accounting is a promising field. "Federal regulation has secured the demand for individuals with mathematical and analytical skills," he said. "They are billable, and therefore firms need these people because their clients need people with these skill sets. This is why public accounting firms are so active on college campuses. There is a race to acquire talent because of the huge financial upside."

But where do accountants earn the most money? According to data from the BLS, these are the highest-paying industries and locations:

Top-Paying Industries

Accountants earn the highest median annual wage in the following four industries and sub-sectors:

Industry Annual Mean Wage
Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing $112,680
Federal Executive Branch $105,980
School and Employee Bus Transportation $105,060
Securities, Commodity Contracts, and Other Financial Investment and Related Activities $102,020

Top-Paying States

The states that pay the highest salaries for accountants are mostly concentrated on the East Coast:

State Annual Mean Wage
District of Columbia $110,140
New York $101, 440
New Jersey $96,260
Massachusetts $88,830
California $88,130

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas

The top-paying metropolitan areas for accountants are as follows:

Metropolitan Areas Annual Mean Wage
Salinas, CA $111,680
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA   $105,720
Midland, TX $103,120
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $102,920
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $101,190
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD $98,030
Midland, MI $94,170
Bridgeport-Stamford-Morwalk, CT $93,780
Lima, OH $93,410
Santa Rosa, CA $92,220

Top-Paying Non-Metropolitan Areas

The top-paying rural areas for accountants are as follows:

Area Annual Mean Wage
Northwest Colorado $93,330
Eastern Sierra-Mother Lode Region of California $84,340
Alaska $81,460
North Georgia $78,460
West Montana $77,490

Accountants are in high demand, as reflected by their high salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 7% job increase for accountants and auditors in the next ten years. For accountants who want to make the most money, knowing the top-paying industries or sub-sectors and locations can help them plan their career paths accordingly.

The Bottom Line

Accounting jobs pay a median annual wage above the national median average for occupations. The job is a necessity in most fields and, therefore, is almost always in demand. Entering the field is not difficult and usually only requires a bachelor's degree. From there, accounting can be a lucrative career, with salaries for jobs higher in specific industries and locations.