8 Types of Accounting: Careers, Degrees, and Salaries

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Discover types of accounting, skills, salaries in different jobs, qualifications, and certifications. Uncover what accounting is and how you can get started.

[Featured image] A finance accountant is working in the office with their coworker.

Accountants are in demand in various industries, from government and nonprofit organizations to manufacturing and service firms. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of accountants and auditors will increase by 6 percent between 2021 and 2031. This equates to 81,800 new jobs in accounting and auditing over this period [1]. 

As an accountant, you can specialize in different areas of accounting, each with its unique accounting career path, certification requirements, and average salary. If you enjoy working with numbers, you might find that one of the accounting fields below is right for you.

What is accounting?

Accounting is the process of recording, classifying, and summarizing financial transactions to provide useful information when making business decisions and complying with laws and regulations.

Different types of accounting exist because businesses have different financial needs. For example, public companies are required by law to use Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), while private companies may use any accounting method that suits their needs. 

Most accounting jobs will generally require at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field. Many employers also require accounting candidates to have professional certifications, such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation.

Read more: What Is a Staff Accountant? And How to Become One

What are the types of accounting?

Several different types of accounting exist to meet the needs of various organizations. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • Financial

  • Management

  • Tax, government

  • Forensic

  • Public accounting

  • Accounting information systems

  • Auditing

You can specialize in niche areas of accounting too. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • Project accounting

  • Cost accounting

  • Corporate accounting

  • Tax accounting

  • Fiduciary accounting

  • International accounting

  • Fund accounting

  • Political campaign accounting

  • Social accounting

As the accounting field continues to evolve, new types of accounting are likely to emerge to meet the ever-changing business and organization’s needs.

Financial accounting

Financial accounting focuses on the financial statements prepared for external users, such as shareholders and creditors. The goal is to provide accurate and timely information that will help these individuals make informed decisions about the company.

Careers and salaries

One of the reasons you might choose to work in financial accounting is that it is a stable and secure career path with many opportunities for advancement. 

Financial accounting is a critical function within any organization, and it can be satisfying to know that you are helping managers to make sound financial decisions. Working in financial accounting can also be personally fulfilling, as it allows you to use your analytical and problem-solving skills to improve the financial health of businesses.

Examples of financial accounting job titles and US base salaries:

  • Chief financial officer: $178,285 [2]

  • Financial accountant: $68,824 [3]

  • Accounting officer: $52,504 [4]

Placeholder

course

Introduction to Financial Accounting

Master the technical skills needed to analyze financial statements and disclosures for use in financial analysis, and learn how accounting standards and ...

4.7

(7,687 ratings)

279,931 already enrolled

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Financial Accounting, Accounting, Financial Statement, Balance Sheet

Management accounting

This type of accounting provides information to internal users, such as managers and executives. The goal is to help these individuals make decisions about how to run the company in a way that will maximize profitability.

Management accountants produce financial reports that help managers decide how to run their business. They use their accounting, finance, and economics skills to provide insights into capital, margin and constraint analysis, inventory levels, and costs. In addition, management accountants may also be involved in planning and budgeting, risk management, decision analysis, and performance measurement.

Careers, specializations, and salaries

Management accounting is a challenging and rewarding career that can offer opportunities for advancement and high earning potential. With education, certification, and experience, management accountants can become financial controllers or even chief financial officers (CFOs) of companies. As a management accountant, you may also choose to open your own accounting practice or become a consultant.

Examples of management accounting job titles and US base salaries:

Certification requirements

Management accountants often pursue the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation. To gain CMA certification, you must pass an Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) exam. The CMA exam covers topics that include:

  • Technology and analytics

  • Financial reporting

  • Planning and forecasting

  • Cost management

  • Decision analysis

  • Risk management

  • Professional ethics

Typically, management accountants have at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field. Many management accountants also have a master's degree in accounting, business, finance, or a related field. 

Placeholder

course

Fundamentals of financial and management accounting

This is an introductory course on financial and management accounting. The first part of this course will introduce the basic accounting principles and ...

4.7

(705 ratings)

32,206 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Financial Accounting, Decision-Making, Management Accounting, Financial Statement

Tax accounting

This type of accounting focuses on the preparation of tax returns and tax payments. The goal is to ensure that the company pays the correct amount of taxes; does not overpay or underpay.

Tax accountants use their knowledge of tax laws and regulations to ensure that their clients comply with the law and minimize their tax liability. Tax accountants may also be involved in tax planning and advising clients on how to structure their affairs.

Read more: How to Become a Tax Accountant: Your Guide

Careers, specializations, and salaries

Among the reasons you may choose to work in tax accounting are the various tax laws. Every year, the IRS updates the tax code, which provides new challenges for tax accountants. You must stay up-to-date on the latest changes to prepare your clients' taxes properly. Additionally, tax accountants must be able to navigate the complex web of tax laws to find the best way to minimize their clients' taxes and provide tax advice. Seeing your clients save money on their taxes can also be gratifying.

Examples of tax accounting job titles and US base salaries:

  • Tax accountant: $66,269 [8]

  • Forensic accountant: $62,942[9]

  • Tax specialist: $54,023 [10]

Certification requirements

The most common certification for tax accountants is the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation. Other popular certifications include the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and Certified Management Accountant (CMA). Each of these certifications requires the completion of specific education and experience requirements, as well as passing an examination.

Placeholder

course

Federal Taxation I: Individuals, Employees, and Sole Proprietors

This course is the first course in a five-course US Federal Tax Specialization. It covers and focuses on the U.S. federal tax system as it relates to ...

4.9

(560 ratings)

25,079 already enrolled

INTERMEDIATE level

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Government accounting

Government accounting focuses on the financial reporting requirements of governmental entities such as cities, states, and federal agencies. The goal is to ensure that these entities are transparent in their financial dealings and use taxpayer money wisely. Government accountants provide financial services to government agencies and organizations. Some duties may include:

  • Producing financial reports and audits

  • Developing budgets

  • Forecasting future revenue streams

  • Preparing tax schedules

  • Managing payroll accounts

  • Analyzing expenditures to ensure compliance with legal requirements

Government accountants keep track of the money that the government spends. They ensure all spending is within the budget and that there is no fraud or waste. Government accountants may work for federal, state, or local governments.

Keep in mind

Government accounting is different from private-sector accounting. It can be more complicated and detailed than private-sector accounting because of the increased amount of regulations and requirements for how money is spent and accounted for in a public setting.

Placeholder

Careers, specializations, and salaries

Government accountants have the opportunity to help ensure public funds are used efficiently and effectively. You'll also help ensure compliance with laws and regulations and contribute to policy-making decisions. Government accounting may have various challenging and interesting work assignments. This type of accounting tends to offer excellent job security and benefits that are often very competitive.

Examples of government accounting job titles and US base salaries:

  • Government accountant: $70,477 [11]

  • Government auditor: $69,886 [12]

  • Government financial manager: $110,358 [13]

  • Government financial analyst: $82,500 [14]

Certification requirements

The specific certifications required for government accounting positions vary depending on the position level and the jurisdiction in which it is located. However, government accountants often complete the Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) from the Association of Government Accountants or certifications from the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) board.

Placeholder

specialization

Fundamentals of Accounting

Accounting Basics for Managers and Entrepreneurs. Apply principles that underlie financial statements and facilitate business decisions and goals.

4.6

(948 ratings)

23,870 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 6 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Income Statement, Cost, Financial Statement, Balance Sheet, Accounting, Accounting Terminology, Financial Ratio

Accounting information systems 

Accountants use accounting information systems to collect, store, and analyze financial data. In this role, you will use these systems to track a company's financial transactions, generate reports, and help decide where to allocate resources.

Accounting information systems specialists design and maintain the computer systems used to store financial data. You will use your knowledge of accounting principles and information technology to help organizations automate their financial processes. Accounting information systems specialists may also be involved in the following:

  • Capturing financial records

  • Compiling financial documents

  • Processing financial data

  • Ensuring accountability and compliance

Demand for technical expertise

The demand for accountants with technical expertise is expected to rise because many companies are using more complex software programs, such as SAP ERP and Oracle Financials, instead of spreadsheets and manual processes.

Placeholder

Careers, specializations, and salaries

Accounting information systems roles are typically well-compensated, in high demand, and have a high degree of job security. These roles are often critical for a business to operate, and as such, companies are often unwilling to outsource or eliminate them. 

Accounting information systems specialists must have a strong understanding of accounting principles and computer science concepts. You may find employment with a variety of businesses or agencies. Professionals work in various industries, including:

  • Manufacturing

  • Retail trade

  • Wholesale trade

  • Financial activities

  • Education services

  • Health care and social assistance

  • Government

Here are some accounting information systems jobs and US base salaries: 

  • Accounting information systems analyst: $73,505 [15]

  • Accounting data analyst: $63,379 [16]

  • Accounting systems manager: $95,998 [17]

Degree and certification requirements

The first step to becoming an accounting information systems professional is to earn a bachelor's degree. While no specific majors will qualify you for this position, you should look for a program that includes courses in accounting, business, computer science, and information systems.

While a specific certification in accounting information systems does not yet exist, you can pursue various certifications that focus on different aspects of accounting and information systems. For example, the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certification focuses on auditing and controlling information systems, while the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification focuses on overall accounting principles and practices. Software vendors, such as Microsoft and Oracle, also offer various certifications focusing on their respective accounting software products.

Placeholder

course

Accounting Analysis I: The Role of Accounting as an Information System

This course is the first course in a five-course Financial Reporting Specialization that covers the collection, processing, and communication of accounting ...

4.8

(595 ratings)

32,140 already enrolled

INTERMEDIATE level

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Forensic accounting

Forensic accountants investigate fraud and embezzlement cases. They use their skills in accounting and investigation to gather evidence and build cases against individuals or organizations accused of wrongdoing. Forensic accountants may also be involved in testifying in court as expert witnesses. 

Careers, specializations, job outlook, and salaries

The work of a forensic accountant is interesting and challenging, and it can make a difference in the world. Forensic accounting is a growing and high-demand field because of the rise in fraud and increasing financial regulations. 

Examples of forensic accounting job titles and US base salaries:

  • Fraud examiner: $75,580 [18]

  • Forensic accountant: $62,942 [19]

  • Forensic auditor: $61,492 [20]

Certification requirements

You have a choice of several certifications in forensic auditing. One of the most respected is the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) certification offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners ACFE). To earn the CFE designation, you must:

  • Be a member of ACFE

  • Meet minimum educational requirements based on a point system

  • Have two years of professional fraud experience

  • Pass an examination

  • Agree to follow an ethics code

The CFE credential is recognized and respected by businesses, governments, and law enforcement agencies worldwide.

Placeholder

course

Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination

Everyday across the world, thousands of businesses are victimized by fraud. Who commits these bad acts? Why? And, how? In this course we are going to help ...

4.7

(4,980 ratings)

113,029 already enrolled

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Fraud Detection, Internal Control, Fraud Investigation, Forensic Accounting

Public accounting

Public accounting is the field of accounting that deals with the financial statements and records of public, government, and non-profit organizations. Public accountants ensure that these organizations' financial statements comply with generally accepted accounting principles. They may also provide tax, advisory, and consulting services to their clients.

Careers, specializations, and salaries

A public accountant has the opportunity to work with a variety of clients and different types of businesses, which can be interesting and challenging.

You may also have various work tasks and responsibilities, including auditing, tax, or consulting projects. Public accounting firms typically offer opportunities for promotion and pay increases. With hard work and dedication, you can move up quickly in your career and increase your earnings. The demand for public accountants is set to increase as more companies seek assistance in complying with new accounting standards and regulations. 

Examples of public accounting job titles and US base salaries:

  • Certified public accountant (CPA): $87,340 [21]

  • Auditor: $54,198 [22]

  • Tax advisor: $62,446 [23]

Degree and certification requirements

To become a public accountant, you'll typically need to become a CPA and have a four-year degree in accounting from an accredited college or university. In addition to passing the CPA exam, public accountants must also meet continuing education requirements set by state boards of accountancy.

Placeholder

specialization

Fundamentals of Accounting

Accounting Basics for Managers and Entrepreneurs. Apply principles that underlie financial statements and facilitate business decisions and goals.

4.6

(948 ratings)

23,870 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 6 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Income Statement, Cost, Financial Statement, Balance Sheet, Accounting, Accounting Terminology, Financial Ratio

Auditing

This type of accounting involves an independent review of a company's financial statements to ensure that they are accurate and in compliance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Auditors may also perform operational audits to assess an organization's internal controls or compliance with standards such as Sarbanes-Oxley. 

Careers, specializations, and salaries

Auditing is a stable and secure profession. It is also a well-paid profession, with the potential to earn a very good salary. This type of accounting career path can be challenging and interesting, which can provide you with a great deal of intellectual stimulation. 

Examples of auditing job titles and US base salaries:

  • Internal auditor: $65,248 [24]

  • External auditor: $61,122 [25]

Certification requirements

Some of the most popular auditing certifications include the Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), and Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) designation. Each of these certifications requires different levels of education and experience, so it’s important to research each one thoroughly before making a decision.

Placeholder

course

Auditing I: Conceptual Foundations of Auditing

This course provides an intensive conceptual and applied introduction to auditing in society. It focuses on concepts and applications related to ...

4.7

(476 ratings)

37,261 already enrolled

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Placeholder

course

Auditing II: The Practice of Auditing

This course provides a continuation of the intensive conceptual and applied introduction to auditing in society begun in Auditing I: Conceptual Foundations ...

4.8

(178 ratings)

14,842 already enrolled

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Next steps

If you’re looking to start your accounting career path, consider gaining relevant experience, skills, and other qualifications to enhance your resume. Consider a Professional Certificate in accounting, auditing, or business to gain job-ready skills. 

Article sources

1

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “ Accountants and Auditors, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-6.” Accessed November 28, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

Big savings for your big goals! Save $200 on Coursera Plus.

  • For a limited time, save like never before on a new Coursera Plus annual subscription (original price: $399 | after discount: $199 for one year).
  • Get unlimited access to 7,000+ courses from world-class universities and companies—for less than $20/month!
  • Gain the skills you need to succeed, anytime you need them—whether you’re starting your first job, switching to a new career, or advancing in your current role.