What is Accounting?
An accountant is an individual that works with a business’s finances and generates reports that reflect the financial health of a business. These reports are done on daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual periods. Daily work for an accountant consists of making sure that transactions that occur on that day have been recorded properly. Accountants also oversee the payments of certain bills, such as a company's tax obligation. Some companies use an accounting department or single accountant for all of their financial needs, while others send their accounting needs to a CPA firm on a monthly or quarterly basis.
Every business uses some form of accounting services at one point or another. Whether the company has an in-house accounting department, has retained an accountant or CPA firm to do their accounting work, or simply uses a tax preparer when it's time to pay taxes accounting, this is a vital part of doing business. For anyone who enjoys working with numbers, solving puzzles, and has a knack for knowing how numbers work, a career in accounting is a viable option. There are many elements of an accounting career and many options, you don't have to become a CPA.
In some cases, you may be able to start your accounting career without a formal education. However, if you want to progress in the industry, a formal education will be required. How much education you will need depends on how far you want to go in the field. Clerks often have lower-level degrees, while CPAs and accounting managers often have higher degrees, licenses, and certifications.
Accounting Education in Iowa
In the accounting industry, there are several levels in which a person with an accounting background can work. In many cases, the positions a person can take are dictated by their experience and educational level. Below are the four most common degree levels a person working in accounting can strive to achieve.
In the state of Iowa, there are 10,000 people employed as accountants, auditors, or accounting professionals. The average salary for a person working in the accounting field is $72,000 per year. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for accountants is expected to increase by 7% between now and 2030. So, if a career in accounting is something that you think might be of interest, now is the time to get started. Below you will find information you need to get started on your career path. There's educational guidance, career guidance, and a rough guide as to how to progress in an accounting career.
Associate Degree in Accounting (AAS)
With an associate accounting degree, an individual can take on the tasks of a bookkeeper or an accounting clerk in a payroll, accounts receivable, or accounts payable position. This two-year degree provides a person with a base knowledge of accounting.
Some of the courses that a student in this program could take include the following:
- Accounting I & II
- Payroll Accounting
- Computerized Accounting
- Business Ethics
- Other general business courses and general electives needed to complete a program
Associate degrees typically take two to three years, or four to six semesters, to complete. Upon completion, an individual has the educational ability to take on a position as a bookkeeper, accounts receivable clerk, or accounts payable clerk. Most career opportunities will be with smaller businesses, but some corporations might hire a clerk with a two-year degree.
Bachelor's Degree in Accounting (BAcc)
One of the first requirements to become a certified public accountant (CPA) is a bachelor’s in accounting. These four-year programs consist of accounting courses as well as general business courses in areas such as management, marketing, and business law.
Some of the courses students will take include:
- Accounting I & II
- Computerized Accounting or Accounting Information Systems
- Corporate Accounting
- Cost Accounting
- Managerial Accounting
- And other courses required to complete a four-year program
Bachelor degree programs are designed to be completed in four years or eight semesters. Some people complete their program in less than four years while others need longer, especially those that also have family and work obligations and must attend part-time. After completing a bachelor’s degree, a person is ready to prepare themselves to take the CPA exam.
Master's Degree in Accounting (MAcc)
A Master of Accountancy, also known as a MAcc, is for individuals who want to take their education in accounting to the next level. Many who attain this degree are considering specializing in a particular area of accounting. For many, a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) is more practical. Although a person holding a MAcc is valuable in the field, a person with an MBA is often considered more versatile and, therefore, may have better success at landing jobs, including accounting positions.
Typical courses for this program include:
- Audit Theory Review and Practice
- Business Process Integration
- Data Analytics and Data Management
- Federal Taxation
- Financial Accounting Regulation
- Financial Accounting Theory Review and Practice
PhD Degree in Accounting (Ph.D.)
Most doctorate programs used for accounting are actually part of a doctorate program in business administration. These programs vary from school to school and are customized by the student to create the programs that suits their needs and career goals.
Some courses covered in the program include:
- Advanced Statistics and Analysis
- Business Law
- Business Psychology
- Organizational Leadership
Doctorate programs require a dissertation to be completed. Upon completion of the dissertation, as well as the successful defense of the dissertation, a student will be rewarded with a PhD designation. Most doctorate programs are required to be completed in seven years but can be finished in five. Accountants with doctorate degrees can set themselves up as subject matter experts or explore the possibilities of entering academia and teaching at colleges or universities.
CPA Exam Education Requirements in Iowa
Iowa’s State Board of Accountancy requires every certified public accountant to have a minimum of a Bachelor of Science and at least 150 credit hours of college credit as a student to learn everything they can about the industry before becoming a CPA. It is crucial that your degree or accounting program has the proper accreditation. United States schools must have accreditation from the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business or the Higher Learning Commission. If your degree came from a foreign school, it requires validation from the National State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) International Evaluation Services or the Foreign Academic Credential Services, Inc. (FACS). Certification from either of these will determine whether you can sit for the CPA certification Exam.
CPA candidates have several options when it comes to the required 150 credit hours of college credit. The first is obtaining a full graduate degree in accounting from an accredited program. The second option allows CPA candidates who have earned a graduate business degree from an accredited program that includes at least 24 credit hours in accounting to sign up in order to take the CPA exam.
This degree must include the following individual subjects:
- Financial accounting
- Management accounting.
Students cannot claim internships or work experience hours at a firm or office to help them meet the CPA requirements.
The third option involves receiving an undergraduate accounting or business degree from an accredited school program, including the same 24 credit hours in the same subjects as the second option.
The fourth option will require students to earn a minimum of a bachelor’s degree with the same 24 credit hours and subjects as options two and three, along with 24 credit hours of courses including:
- Business law
A degree from a community or two-year college does count for semester credits, but commercial CPA review courses do not. Online, CPA and College Level Examination Program (CLEP) courses will count, as long as the schools are accredited, so make sure to check for accreditation and request a transfer to an accredited institution if necessary.
To become a certified public accountant CPA, the national association of state boards requires that CPA candidates pass an ethics exam covering the code of ethical conduct.
Taking the Iowa CPA Exam
Four Iowa cities host the Uniform CPA Exam. They are:
- Sioux City
- West Des Moines
You will receive instructions for scheduling your test via the Notice to Schedule (NTS), which is delivered in the format you choose: Email, regular mail, or fax. The NTS allows you to schedule one testing session within six months. Iowa uses Prometric for CPA exam scheduling, so you can call them for answers to questions and to schedule your test at the site for one of the four current locations. Now it’s just a question of studying hard and showing up at the correct date and time to take the examination, as well as sending in the pertinent info with your application such as age, residency, and transcripts report. Even applying isn't free, so make sure you are prepared to pay all associated fees.
The four sections
Each section of the test takes four hours, for a total of 16 hours of examination time. The four sections consist of:
- Auditing and Attestation
- Financial Accounting and Reporting
- Business Environment and Concepts
Recent modifications to the Uniform CPA Exam have weighted scores more toward the regulation and business, environment, and concepts sections than previously. These modifications added an additional two hours to the overall exam time. The exam will be taken on a computer at the testing center and you will not be able to take anything in with you according to current testing security policies, so study and plan accordingly.
Time to pass the Uniform CPA exam
Candidates have 18 months in which to pass all four sections of the CPA certification Examination. Each section may be taken at a different time, as long as it falls within the 18-month period. You will lose credit for any part of the exam passed outside that strict time limit. The passing grade for each section of the CPA certification is a minimum of 75 percent.
You can find your results online at NASBA or have them mailed to you within the U.S.
To prepare for the CPA certification exam, you can participate in available online tutorials and sample tests hosted by cpa-exam.org. You must know how to access professional standards for various part of the exam, so visit the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) website at aicpa.org for information pertaining to their association standards. You may also find useful information for exam preparation at the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) website at fasb.org.
Continuing Professional Education Requirements
The amount of annual Continuing Professional Education (CPE) requirements you’ll need in Iowa depends on how recently you received your license. You do not need CPE for the first year in which you receive your license.
You will need 40 CPE hours by December 31 of the second year in which you have your license, and 80 CPE hours in the third year, which actually runs from December 31 to July 1 approximately 18 months later. After the third year, you must earn 120 CPE hours every three years for license maintenance.
General CPA continuing education requirements
Once you are past the third-year mark for CPE requirements, you cannot earn more than 24 CPE hours of the 120 hours in non-technical subjects.
Such subjects include:
- Memory building
- Behavior and motivation
- Public relations
- Speed reading
- Personal development
- Practice development.
Every three years, you must spend earn 4 CPE hours in rules of professional conduct and ethics.
The remaining CPE hours are spent on the following areas:
- Specialized knowledge.
It is important to enroll in various CPE programs and take advantage of distance learning, employer-offered programs, professional examination completion, webinars, educational organization meetings and meetings of state and national associations featuring technical sessions. You can receive some credit toward your total CPE hours by publishing books and articles or acting as an instructor or speaker. If you are taking accredited courses at a college or university, each semester hour is equivalent to 15 CPE hours. However, if the course at the college or university is not for credit, the value of each semester hour is just one CPE hour.
Keep all of your CPE-related records for at least three years. That includes not only your number of hours and fields of study, but the dates you attended, your completion certificate, course location, content and sponsor and how your instruction was delivered. You will also need to keep the name of your instructors on file. Make sure the program’s representative verifies all of your CPE hours.
Become an Accountant in Iowa
Becoming an accounting professional in Iowa follows a linear course, especially if you are looking to obtain specific licensure in the state, such as a CPA license. The first step is to gain the required education level for the position you seek. For example, if you want to work as a full charge bookkeeper, then an associate degree in accounting or business is often a requirement. If you want to work as a full-fledged accountant, then a business degree with a specialization in accounting is normally required. You’ll also need to take the certified public accountant examination to work as an accountant for many businesses and organizations, especially if the company is required to report to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The CPA exam consists of four sections. Most people take each part individually, and the process of taking and passing the complete CPA exam can take over a year. Prior to taking the exam, many people partake in study sessions, which can be 7-to-10-week courses or review programs that they can work on in their own time. These classes help students to review what they learned while in undergraduate school, but also add additional education specifically tailored for the CPA exam.
For those who want to work in the accounting field but are not sure they want to become accountants, with a bachelor’s degree, positions such as accounts receivable clerk and accounts payable clerk are options. A person can also work as a full charge bookkeeper, tax preparers, or in another accounting capacity that does not require the position to hold a CPA.
In the state of Iowa, to work as an accountant with high-level duties such as signing off on reports to the SEC or representing their clients to the IRS (in other words, as a CPA), a person must hold a CPA license as well as a license from the Iowa Board of Accountancy. There is an entire application process, and the information needed includes transcripts from all schools attended, proof of a CPA license, an application fee, and a background check. Once a person has been granted a license to work as a CPA in Iowa, a person can pursue accounting positions in the state.
Anyone who is planning to progress into management in accounting will need to attain either a Master’s in Business Administration or a Master of Accountancy. Companies like to ensure that their managers and supervisors are not only proficient in accounting, but also have a solid general business base to go with it.
Careers for Accounting Graduates
There are many different roles that an accounting professional can fill. Below are some of the more common positions found in the accounting industry. This is by far not an exhaustive list but does provide an idea of the types of jobs available in Iowa as well as in other parts of the United States and beyond.
- Senior Accountant
Senior accountants are often referred to as accounting managers. They usually hold a CPA and have several years’ experience working as a full accountant. They often have several accountants that report to them, and the financial work is often divided between the accountants, either by departments if working on internal numbers, or by clients if it's an actual CPA firm. Senior accountants report to the chief financial officer, also known as a CFO.
- Staff Accountant
A staff accountant is part of an accounting team. In an accounting firm, these workers will have their own list of clients, usually small to midsize businesses. A senior staff accountant will be in charge of larger businesses and some corporations, depending on their education and experience. If it’s an internal accounting department for a business, a staff accountant could be tasked with completing a particular part of the accounting process. They could be the lead for the accounts receivable department, the accounts payable department, or payroll. Depending on the organization, a staff accountant may or may not be required to hold a CPA license but, if they want to move into more senior roles, a CPA license will be required.
- Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
The chief financial officer (CFO) is the head of the financial department for a business, normally a corporation. All financial matters go through the CFO and, usually, the entire accounting department reports to this person. Some organization CFOs hold a vice presidential position, while others consider it a senior management level position. Regardless of where it's placed in the organizational chain, CFOs are required to have at least a CPA license and generally have a graduate level degree. They also have a minimum of five years’ work experience as a CPA. Management experience is also desired.
- Accounts Payable/Accounts Receivable Specialist
These workers deal with either paying the bills or collecting debts to the company. An accounts payable specialist oversees ensuring that a business is paying their financial obligations to other businesses on time. This may include overhead costs for rent or utilities or it may mean paying vendors and other third parties, which may change every month. An accounts receivable specialist ensures that those that owe the company money are paying in a timely fashion. Both specialists report to a senior accountant so that the financial reports for the business can be accurately completed. Specialists generally hold a minimum of an associate degree, but many have four-year degrees.