The modern definition of accountancy from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is the action or process of keeping financial accounts. That is straightforward enough. They say that the core mission of a CPA, on the other hand, is to simply, “make sense of a changing and complex world”. With this as the guiding mission for the entire profession, there is nothing an accounting professional is not ready for. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts a 10% growth in jobs in accounting and auditing by the year 2026. These jobs for accountants include accounting in a firm, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services, government work finance and insurance, the management of companies and enterprises and CPAs who are self-employed workers.
State by State: Job Outlook for Accountants
For Certified Public Accounting professionals who are looking for a place where they can either stretch their dollars or make more of them, look no further than this list of Best Cities for Accountants. Accounting salaries vary greatly for several factors including the location, the type of accounting practiced, the number of accountant qualifications the person has received, and their experience using the generally accepted principles of accounting. Looking into all of these factors one by one can be tedious, and what if you have never considered relocating to Phoenix, Arizona, for example? You would miss out on the fact that not only is it one of the best paying places to practice accounting, but also that the cost of living in this lively desert town is lower than the national average in all categories, making that salary feel even bigger overnight. The ADR research team has compiled all the data to find the best places for accountants to work.
Cost of Living: The Best Choices Based on Real CPA Salaries
Speaking of cost of living, we used data from Payscale.com, which is user contributed, to analyze which city pays the best, but also won’t break the bank to live there. Payscale was launched to help people gather accurate information on job market compensation.
They also feature user-submitted feelings about their job, which helps others who are looking into that field or that location. They display data for cost of living in the categories of groceries or food costs, housing, utilities, transportation, healthcare, and overall costs. It paints a pretty good picture of what life is like financially in that city, based on information from people who live there.
*All images are sourced from the creative commons folder at PhotosForClass
1. Washington, D.C.
One of the greatest things about living in Washington, D.C. is all of the tourism. Not really, but sort of. For accountants, anything that drives up the economy and brings in money to the industries of the town they live in, the better. From museums to monuments, to government buildings, the Nation’s Capital brings in over 20 million domestic tourists (and all of their money) every single year. The District boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, which is somewhat shocking given the wage disparity between the highest earners in the region, and the lowest. They report a gross state product of nearly $130,000 per year. Per capita, the average personal income is roughly $76,986, which is much higher than the national average of $60,000. Accountants in D.C. on average earn even more than that though, at nearly $80,000 annually. For a town where the government is one of the biggest businesses, accountants are in high demand. In the wake of the great recession, accurate accounting, and even fraud detection services that forensic accountants provide, are in high demand.
According to Payscale.com, the cost of living in Washington D.C. is about 39% higher than most cities in the U.S. Of the five common cost subcategories that payscale highlights, housing is one of the largest considerations for people who live in the D.C. area. It is 147% higher than the average housing costs in cities around the country, as per the same data. This big ticket item can be a hindrance for CPAs who are just getting started, but with the large salary expected after a bit of experience in the profession, CPAs should be able to afford the cost of housing in exchange for the culture and opportunities that living in D.C. offers. On this list, the Capital City ranks 4th best for cost of living.
Payscale Median CPA Salary: $79,327
Payscale Cost of Living rank (4)
2. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Interestingly enough, Philadelphia used to be the Nation’s capital city and still has a lot in common with aspects of Washington, D.C. today. There are many museums both of historical importance, art museums, and those exploring more contemporary themes, as well as a much higher salary for accountants than the national average. A CPA living in Philadelphia City (not the suburban areas outside the city) is $75,012. The preservation of our country’s sorted beginnings is clearly of great importance in the City of Brotherly Love, from Betsy Ross’ sewing room to the original Declaration of Independence, 42 million people visited the city in 2017. The main economic industries besides tourism that keeps this bustling city moving are healthcare and education, with the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. These are both largest private employers in the city. Manufacturing and retail are also successful in Philly, where Urban Outfitters and Pep Boys are headquartered, as are energy company Sunoco, and the food services company known as Aramark. Any of these industries would do a CPA well to focus on if a move to Philadelphia is on their horizon.
The Cost of Living in this dynamic city is a mere 17% higher than national averages. While this is not bad at all, prices for housing are showing trends of increasing from the 29% higher than they already are. In the 18th century, when many of the Center City homes that modern Philadelphians live in were built, the size and height of dwellings left a lot to be desired. If someone who came before you was able to renovate one of these historic properties to accommodate our more spacious lifestyles, it was not for cheap. Outside of downtown, the houses are huge, especially in the lovely West Philly neighborhood around UPenn and beyond. Many of these were built in the 19th century in the Victorian Style that incorporated elegance and luxury, but ignored ideas of efficiency or cost-effective living, hence, expensive houses. On a CPA’s salary in Philadelphia, any of these options would be a cinch to snag up and make perfect. Especially because the other factors that determine the COL from Payscale are much closer to average prices. Philly ranks 3rd in Cost of Living for this list.
Payscale Median CPA Salary: $75,212
Payscale Cost of Living rank (3)
3. Seattle, Washington
Seattle Washington is known for its beautiful hiking and natural landscapes, its incredible art, tourist attractions, and interestingly enough, it is known for its rain. Locals say it is more of a constant drizzle than a perpetual monsoon, but for those who are not used to it, it can be… hard to get used to. What would be very easy to get used to by comparison, is the salary the average Certified Public Accountant makes in the Emerald City. Just under Philly by a hair, CPAs earn $75,178 per year, 5k over the national average. This stands to increase with more education, certifications, and experience. Seattle operates the 11th largest metropolitan economy in the U.S., with major players in this game being the “new industry” of tech and internet companies. Older retail and manufacturing giants are still in the game too, however. The many fortune 500 companies that call Seattle home illustrate this idea including Amazon.com, Starbucks Coffee, Nordstrom, T-Mobile, Microsoft, Expedia, and Boeing International (aircraft). In short, Seattle is a corporate accountant’s heaven.
The cost of living in Seattle is not as bad as it could be when you consider all of the opportunity for prosperity available there. At just about 49% higher than national averages, many people who work in the city commute from local suburbs that offer more affordable options for housing. With both buying and renting at 94% more expensive than housing across the country, housing is by far the most expensive aspect of life in Seattle. For things like food costs, utilities, transportation, and healthcare, Seattleites should expect to spend a little more than 20% more than their friends and family in the middle country. Seattle ranks 8th out of 10 in this list for Cost of Living.
Payscale Median Salary $75,178
Payscale Cost of Living rank (8)
4. San Jose, California
You may have never been to, or know much about San Jose, California, but you are likely holding something that was designed there as you read these words. I am certainly typing on one, and cannot imagine my life without it. San Jose, just south of the San Francisco Bay area, is 15 minutes away from the tiny town of Cupertino, where Apple Computers is located in what is known as the Silicon Valley. San Jose entertains and houses many of the people who are directly involved in the manufacture and design of a lot of the software and electronics that run our tech economy, and thus, it is a great place to be in the financial industry of a place that makes so much money. CPAs in San Jose make an average of $72,000 per year, creeping above the national average of $70k.
The cost of living in San Jose and surrounding area jumped exorbitantly the minute the words “world wide web” we uttered in the middle of the 90s and has not slowed down since. Luckily, it had a far way to go. Like Seattle, it is currently about 49% higher than national averages with housing pulling most of that weight at 148% higher than averages. Many people commute hours per day in the South Bay, taking advantage of the comprehensive public transit systems available to commuters including buses, high-speed trains, local trains, subway systems and more. Transportation around here won’t break the bank either, priced about 11% higher than the national average. Having a background in the tech economy as a CPA can’t hurt, as there are few other economies in the area that exist anymore. San Jose ranks 5th on this list for cost of living.
Payscale Median Salary $72,000
Payscale Cost of Living rank (5)
5. New York, New York
The Big Apple is an amazing place if you want to do pretty much anything. For Accountants, this could not be truer. Payscale sets the average salary for New York Accountants right at $74,922. With such a vast and varied economy, finding one’s niche is never the challenge in the city that never sleeps, it is handling the over stimulation of such an active place. The economy is by far the largest of any city in the country, with the most important financial center in the world represented all over town. The borough of Manhattan is the nation’s leading center of banking, finance, and communication, and is home to the New York Stock Exchange, in lower Manhattan. Just up the street in Midtown Manhattan, there is the largest central business district in the world, that is unique in its high concentrations of very successful private firms in management, law, consultancy, banking, and accountancy. If you are good at what you do $74k is a very low average.
This type of association with wealth becomes clear when you look at the price tag for living in New York City. At an astounding 129% higher to live here than the average U.S. city, New Yorkers never sleep because they cannot afford to. Housing is what drives this percentage up, at 349% higher than housing elsewhere. On the bright side, the accountants for real estate agents and brokers are likely not worried about much, as the service they offer is in higher demand than it has ever been before. Financial services account for more than 35 percent of the city’s employment income, and that is growing by the year. It ranks dead last on the list for cost of living.
Payscale Median Salary $74,922
Payscale Cost of Living rank (10)
6. Boston, Massachusetts
Boston is like an old house cat, rude and unpredictable on the outside but full of surprising sweetness when you start to love it. Like any big city, the toughness of the locals comes from an over saturation of people, sounds, bad drivers, and smells. Ranked number one in education, Massachusetts takes both K-12 as well as post-secondary education very seriously. Outside of Boston some of the best Universities in the nation unassumingly sit, waiting for the next round of scholars to better themselves and leave their mark on the place. School teachers in Boston make some of the most money of any in the country and account for 17% of the workforce. Accountants and others in the financial services industry make up 7% of the employed public but do well for themselves, nonetheless. CPAs average $70,999, more for those who are in a union job.
The cost of living in Boston is a reasonable 48% higher than the national average. Accountants can expect to spend most of that on housing, as the other expenses are closer to averages seen in other parts of the country. Housing in Boston will set you back, ranging from 100 to 106% higher than average. The quintessential New England experience may bring savvy home buyers to the smaller towns outside of the city, where commuting in on the T train is a breeze. Getting in on the financial services end of the growing tech industry should lighten that housing burden a bit, as well as finding your foot in the door of the tried and true manufacturing industry there. Boston ranks 7th on this list for cost of living.
Payscale Median Salary $70,999
Payscale Cost of Living rank (7)
7. Los Angeles, California
In Los Angeles, it seems like everything is beautiful. The trees and the sunshine is beautiful, the people are beautiful. The ocean is beautiful, even the dry desert aspects of the city are beautiful. With very busy ports, international trade is a big business in Southern California, and Los Angeles is no exception. As the entertainment capital of the world, LA is still growing in the film and television industry, just as it has since the mid-1920s. A few more big grossing and employment sectors in La La Land include the manufacture of technology, petroleum, fashion, apparel, and the tourism industry. Accountants here do pretty well indeed, with an average salary of $70,945, nearly $11k over the national average.
The benefits of such a wealth of resources and professional options for accountants sure shows in the cost of living. The city of Angels ranks 6th on this list for costs, at 43% higher than average. With a very long growing season, and more food manufacturing than exists in most places, LA food costs are relatively low. Ditto for health care and utilities, all of these hovering around 10% higher than average. Housing, however, not so lucky. Finding a place to live among the movie stars and palm trees costs Angelenos 148% more than other Americans. If all goes according to plan, CPAs can do just fine in this economic climate, and even find themselves relaxing by the beach (after tax season ends).
Payscale Median Salary $70,945
Payscale Cost of Living rank (6)
8. San Francisco, California
In and around the San Francisco Bay Area, to distinguish other parts of the area from the 7-mile by 7-mile peninsula on the edge of the world, many people call San Francisco simply The City. If that is no indication of its regional significance, think about it this way, in 2016 the area in and around the Golden Gate City had a gross domestic product value of $470.5 billion (with a b). The biggest industries there include tourism, increasingly high-tech technology and financial services. A little more than 8% of workers in the Bay Area are employed in financial activities, and CPAs make a conservative average of $70,721. In the financial district of the downtown area of Market Street, the corporate head of Wells Fargo, and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Bank of America calls this city home, as well as many tech startups, some that were the new thing, some that are soon to be. Either way, they are bringing in the money, and smart CPAs are capitalizing on this economical wonderland.
While an average of $70,721 may not seem like much in a town where studio apartments can sell for over a million dollars, San Francisco and the surrounding towns are full of creative people who know how to stretch a buck. Besides that, the weather is perfect everyday of the year, and you can walk or bike anywhere you would ever want to go. Payscale’s Cost of Living for San Francisco has taken housing costs deeply into account when they came up with the figure of 80% higher than average. With the figure for housing at 230% higher than the national average, you have to think, at least everything else is pretty cheap. CPAs in the San Francisco Bay Area will do fine if they get creative with housing and keep gaining the momentum and experience that will make them successful in the long run. It ranks 9th on this list.
Payscale Median Salary $70,721
Payscale Cost of Living rank (9)
9. Atlanta, Georgia
Hotlanta, ATL, “The A”, The Big Peach– The nickname that you use for this fine southern town says a lot about your relationship to it, or to the people who call it home. As an economic hub for that entire area of the world, Atlanta gives residents and wannabes a lot to talk about. It has a gross domestic product valued at $304 billion. There are just under 6 million people living in metro Atlanta, making it the 9th largest city in the country by population, but has the 17th largest economy in the world. CPA’s in The A make an A-grade average salary of about $70,157, and all four of the “Big Four” accounting firms have headquarters in Atlanta. Lately, the film and television industry has seen by far the largest growth of any other industry in what some people are now calling the Hollywood of the South. Atlanta’s long economic mainstays, however, are the corporations and organizations that have been calling it home for decades- the global headquarters of corporations like The Home Depot, Chick-fil-A, The Coca-Cola Company, Delta Air Lines, UPS and AT&T Mobile and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC.
The cost of living may come as a shock to you, because it is the first one like it that we have seen on this list. Payscale.com reports that in Atlanta, you are likely to pay 1% less than average America. With large areas to spread out housing (6% lower than average), and inexpensive utilities (15% less than average), living in Atlanta could be the best of both worlds, high income, and low costs. The only cost that stands out (and that is an overstatement compared to some of the figures represented here), is healthcare which is a mere 7% higher than national averages. For CPAs who want to get in on the hot new thing, film and TV management is a good industry to incorporate into studies. For more lasting data in the region, any work in manufacturing and retail should compliment a firm or private practice as well. Atlanta is ranked 2nd on this list for cost of living.
Payscale Median Salary $70,157
Payscale Cost of Living rank (2)
10. Detroit, Michigan
Detroit was once the most important place in the country on almost all fronts of manufacturing and industry. From automobiles to steel and everything similar, people in the 20th century flocked to the Motor City by the tens of thousands, many of them abandoning a midwestern or southern life of agriculture and poverty for a promise of hard work and riches. Although the media may not be showing it, Detroit is nearly as powerful as ever, having shifted its focus from the industrial ventures that dominated the global market, to becoming the 5th largest high tech employer in the country, and maintaining a focus on manufacturing of cars as well as other items. The city is also home to several of the world’s largest and most successful service industry companies, including accounting firms. Detroit hosts branches of KPMG, Deloitte and Touche and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, known as the “Big Four”. Accountants in America’s Comeback Capital can expect to make a $70,017 salary. If newer Detroit CPAs can gain experience with any of these firms, and many others in the area, they can expect a long career and much more money than that average eventually.
The cost of living in Detroit is the best on this list, at 3% lower than the national average. Since long before 2014 when the auto industry declared bankruptcy, downtown Detroit had seen a decline in population, as residents were moving into the suburbs, or out of the area altogether. After the bankruptcy, it was hard to sell and hard to find a place to rent. People began leaving in droves. Those who stayed, including industry, did so because there is so much to love about the place, and they have been working to make that fact truer than ever. Every cost factor is lower than the national average in Detroit, except for, ironically, transportation. With the rebounding infrastructure still on the rise, public transportation is minimal. Besides getting around without a car, the economic advantages to living in Detroit are many. They rank this town number one in the cost of living on this list.
Payscale Median Salary $70,017
Payscale Cost of Living rank (1)