Balance sheets, annual reports, and financial forecasts are the accountant’s stock and trade. But what happens when you run the numbers on the profession itself and specifically the CPA designation? Take a look.

The $1 million dollar advantage

It’s true. Over the course of a 40-year career, a CPA can earn as much as $1 million more than a non-certified accountant. Here’s an example:

  • Two non-Certified Public Accountants with Bachelor’s degrees begin working at the same time at the same large public accounting firm in Audit/Assurance Services at the same annual salary of $68,000.
  • One earns the CPA credential, creating a 10% salary differential of about $7,000 more than the other (CPA's can earn between 5% and 15% more than their non-credentialed counterparts1).
  • Over time, more frequent and higher-level promotions can widen the salary gap to as much as $50,000.
  • Over a full career that can mean an additional $1 million or more in lifetime earnings!2
Level/Title Non-CPA Salary CPA Salary Salary Differential
Year 1 $68,000 $68,000 $0
Year 2
(1-3 year Associate)
$82,000 $90,200* $8,200
Year 4
(Senior Auditor)
$101,250 $111,375 $10,125
Year 11
(Manager**)
$124,525 $133,500 $8,975
Year 20
(Senior Manager**)
$162,477 $191,750 $29,273
Year 40 $293,451 $346,322 $52,871
       
Lifetime Earnings
(Pre-Tax)
$6,934,600 $7,959,470  
       
CPA Incremental Lifetime Earnings   $1,024,870  

*Begin earning +10% over non-CPA salary
** Non-CPA cannot advance to this postion

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Assumptions:

  • 40 year career span
  • CPA earns an average of 10% more than non-CPA
  • Non-CPA does not further his/her education
  • Employees receive annual merit increases of 3% between promotions
  • CPA is eventually promoted to Manager/Senior Manager while the non-CPA continues to receive merit increases only
  • Salary estimates based on Public Accounting, Large Firm, Audit/Assurances per 2015 Robert Half Salary Guide

1Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide - http://www.roberthalf.com/accountemps/finance-and-accountant-salary-center.
2Example only. Individual salaries vary depending on geography, experience, education, and employer.