One of the main reasons I switched from being a math major to being an accountant was the money. To be honest I do like money. When I did the research of the most profitable careers that required just a college education, accounting was among the top. Actually the starting salaries are not great. Engineers, database managers, software programmers, and consultants usually start off better than accountants. But I like to look at the best return for my time and stress; also job availability. With all these things in mind (and considering I was already in the math field) I chose to be an accountant.
Current starting salaries have a very large range. Small firms in small cities can start you out at 30 to 35k per month. Generally there will be some king of bonus included so you can add 3 to 4 percent on top of that. For a college grade with little debt and a small apartment this may be good. But if you have more than one mouth to feed, you may be doing the paycheck to paycheck thing. At these small firms you can expect a 3 to 4 percent raise annually and perhaps a promotion and 8 to 10 percent bump up in pay every 3 to 5 years. So it’s a long path but depending on the movement and transitions it may be faster than that. Hours of work here will also be not that bad. I have a few friends who work a solid 40 hours per week during the off season and 50 to 70 per week during the tax season. Benefits will vary but are usually minimal.
Larger firms will be about the same as the smaller firms but they will start you off a bit higher. You can expect salaries in the range of 45 to 50k for the first year and a steady increase as you move up. The benefits in larger firms are usually much better and may include gym memberships, discount shopping, and more. But these firms are usually located in larger cities where the cost of living is higher. So there may be an even trade off here.
Big 4 firms are usually the best in terms of salary and benefits. You can expect 50 to 55k per year as a new hire in a big 4 firm. The benefits will usually be excellent and the team will usually be the best of the best. But you will definitely make up for it in the time you spend at work. Go ahead and plan on making work your life for at least 2 to 3 years. Then you can chose to either stick it out and go the partnership path or go to work for one of your clients and have a nice salary bump up. The partnership path can be long and difficult but the partnership salary is probably close to 250k starting out and goes up very quickly. If you are an excellent employee, learn quickly, and can communicate effectively, expect to wait at least 10 to 15 years before becoming a partner.
There is another path
If none of these sound appealing to you then you can get a job as an accountant outside of an accounting firm and in a regular company. Most, if not all companies have accountants. Sometimes they will be called the finance team or bookkeepers. But these are generally accountants. I was under the impression that if I got a job at a regular company instead of a CPA firm then I would sacrifice tremendously on salary. This is not true. Many companies will start an accountant in the 45 to 55 range. This is comparable to big 4 firms. Make sure to do your homework before making a decision. Some companies offer great benefits, great salary, and a consistent 40 to 50 hour work weeks. My recommendation would be if you are single to go for the big 4 and then make your decision to stay or not. If you are already married then you may want to look for a good company and stay out of the CPA firm industry.