How Much Does an Accountant Cost?

How much an accountant costs depends entirely on the nature of their work, its complexity, and their level of expertise.

Understandably, small business owners may hesitate before hiring an accountant. Will the accountant’s skills justify the salary? Do they charge hidden fees? Will they help the business, or will the cost outweigh the benefits?

However, by determining what services you require and learning about the payment structures and rates charged by accountants, you can decide once and for all if hiring one makes sense for your business.

In this guide, we’ll define the three main types of accountants, their associated functions, and how much you should expect to pay them.

Key Takeaways

  • Accounting fees vary broadly and depend heavily on the accountant’s experience and the services they offer.
  • A full-time accountant costs around $75,500 per year, or $38 per hour. A bookkeeper costs an average of $24 per hour. A tax preparer charges around $272 per client.
  • You should hire an accountant if a lack of time or experience reduces the quality of your business’s financial processes.
  • Accounting software can save valuable time and improve financial accuracy for companies not ready to hire an accountant.

How Much Does an Accountant Cost?

Before jumping right into the numbers, let’s figure out the kind of accountant you need and how you want to pay them.

Factors To Consider Before Hiring an Accountant

Accounting is a broad field with many different branches. Each subset commands a different wage depending on qualifications and the nature of the work. Therefore, it’s critical to hire the right kind of accountant if you want to see positive results and stay compliant.

  • General accountants: These perform a wide range of accounting functions. They’re qualified with bachelor’s degrees or CPA (Certified Public Accountant) certifications and are familiar with all general accounting tasks, such as bookkeeping, preparing financial statements, creating budgets, and more. If you need one accountant to do everything, you’ll want to hire a general accountant.
  • Bookkeepers: These accountants focus only on the immediate. They record transactions as they come in, perform basic reconciliations, and manage day-to-day finances. If you need someone to handle routine operations without worrying about the big picture, you should look for a bookkeeper.
  • Independent tax preparers: These accountants calculate and file taxes for businesses or individuals. If you want someone to take care of your taxes during tax season, hire a tax preparer.

In addition to having different specialities, accountants have different ways of charging for their services.

  • In-house accountants: These are formally employed accountants. They usually work full-time for specific companies with no other work interests. General accountants and bookkeepers are usually in-house and paid on a salary basis.
  • Fractional accountants: These are formally employed accountants, but only on a part-time basis. They often work for multiple companies while staying involved in big-picture discussions. Bookkeepers and tax preparers are often fractional and paid on an hourly or salary basis.
  • Freelance accountants: These accountants are contractors who work either full-time or part-time. They generally work with a wide range of clients and focus on specific, one-time tasks. Most freelance accountants are bookkeepers and tax preparers. They’re usually paid hourly, per project, or on a commission basis.

Average Cost of an Accountant in the United States

Now that you have some parameters in place to guide your search, it’s time to get into some hard numbers.

General Accountants

  • Average yearly salary: $67,000 + $8,500 in bonuses, according to Glassdoor
  • Average salary range: $61,000 to $94,000
  • Average hourly wage: $38, since most general accountants work full-time

Bookkeepers

  • Average hourly wage: $24, according to ZipRecruiter
  • Average wage range: $20 to $28
  • Average yearly salary: $24,000 part-time, $48,000 full-time

Independent Tax Preparers

  • Average pay per client: $272 per individual client, $903 per corporate client, according to the National Society of Accountants
  • Average individual client pay range: $220 to $323
  • Average yearly salary: $47,500, given that taxes can only be prepared from January 1st to April 15th, per Glassdoor

Many of the ranges given above are huge. Exactly how much an accountant costs depends on the type and complexity of work and their experience and qualifications.

For example, an undergraduate who just landed their first job as a bookkeeper should expect to make $20 per hour or even less if they have no experience. On the other hand, an experienced certified public accountant (CPA) working at an accounting firm will probably be making well over $100,000 per year, according to Glassdoor.

Though it’s not always the case, more experience and higher pay often result in higher-quality work. Don’t always just go with the cheapest option.

Does My Business Need an Accountant?

Accountants are in charge of maintaining the financial accounts of a company. This encompasses everything from initial bookkeeping and preparing financial statements to making important financial decisions for the future.

Here’s how to decide what type of accountant you need:

  • If you’re compromising the quality of your business’ finances because you lack time or experience, hire a general accountant or bookkeeper.
  • If you need to file taxes or navigate complicated corporate laws, hire a tax preparer or a qualified general accountant like a CPA.
  • If you want to conduct a basic audit to measure your business’s financial health, hire a general accountant.

Hiring an accountant means delegating the technical, financial work to a specialist, allowing you to focus on the areas where you can be most productive, such as running operations, networking with clients, or managing specific projects.

Moreover, a good accountant will be responsible for finding new areas where your business can save money and time. Examples include:

  • Discovering industry-specific tax benefits, like tax credits for companies using green energy sources
  • Calculating the estimated return on investment for a new store branch
  • Creating accurate monthly budgets and forecasts for seasonal tourism businesses with volatile demand

However, if you’re overwhelmed by doubling as your business’ accountant, but you’re not financially ready to take the plunge and hire one, then consider using accounting software.

Many of these applications are specifically geared toward people who don’t have accounting backgrounds. They offer a huge number of time-saving features, such as automated payroll processing, smart invoice tracking, and even AI-based predictive analytics.

For the best of both worlds, you could use accounting software for most of the year and hire tax preparers or general accountants on a per-project basis.

Conclusion

The cost of an accountant varies greatly depending on the type of accountant you need, their experience level, and the nature of services required.

General accountants cost the most because of their expertise and scope of work, while bookkeepers cost substantially less because of the routine nature of their work and its focus on the immediate. Tax preparers charge high per-client fees but are usually only needed for short tax projects during the tax season.

However, if you’re a small business owner and not ready to hire an accountant, then consider using the best accounting software.

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Robbie Mizzone
Editor

Robbie holds a BSc in Accounting and Finance from Centenary University, New Jersey. He's worked for banks and private companies alike, including Kering (Gucci, Balenciaga), focusing on financial reporting, account reconciliation, and complex accrual analysis. An avid explorer and jack of all trades, Robbie's garnered experience in luxury hospitality, carpentry and construction, and is now backpacking solo around the world.