There is no one way to measure ‘the best’ American city for accountants to work and live. There are a number of factors that come into play, including: the competitiveness of the local market, the health of the economy, the social community of accounting professionals, average commuting time, cost of living, and, of course, the average salary. Accounting salaries are usually substantial, with the annual national average sitting at $71,550. However, certain cities do offer better pay than others.
If you are wondering where to look for work after your CPA exam is complete, this article offers a useful guide to the best American cities for accountants. The data we’ve used comes from the Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS), who offer data maps for employment and wages by state and area.
The latest statistics available come from May of 2019. We’ve also used Payscale’s Cost of Living Calculator to give you an idea of what it means to live in the city. The figures are based on the ‘cost of living index’, where the average city is equal to 100. This means that more expensive cities will fall above 100, and less expensive cities will fall below 100.
Considering that a higher wage does not necessarily mean a better quality of life (especially if you take the cost of living into account), this list is in no particular order.
1. New York City, New York
New York City is the finance capital of the world, so it may not be surprising that there are so many opportunities for accountants. In NYC there is a vast and varied economy, with plenty of big firms, smaller startups, and independent accounting opportunities. Lower Manhattan is also home to the New York Stock Exchange, just down the street from the largest central business district in the world.
If you’re good at what you do, you can earn much more than $74,000. But don’t take this for granted. You’re going to need a high income to live comfortably in New York City. The cost of living in NYC is a significant 129% higher than the average city in America. The high cost of living is mostly because of exorbitant housing prices, which sit at 349% higher than average. Fortunately, this means that accountants who work for real estate agents and brokers are in high demand. If you want to live and work as a CPA in New York City, you might want to look into working with property.
Average salary per annum: $98,650
Cost of living = 216.7%
2. Atlanta, Georgia
All of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms have headquarters in Atlanta, which makes it an obvious choice for a CPA looking to work in one of the world’s largest firms. On top of this, there is a strong local economy. In recent years the film and television industry has boomed while corporations like The Coca-Cola Company, The Home Depot, and Chick-fil-A still have their global headquarters in the city.
The cost of living in Atlanta is another huge benefit, sitting at 1% less than the national average. This is not easy to come by! For these reasons, Atlanta offers accountants the best of both worlds – a high income and low costs.
Average salary per annum = $83,380
Cost of living = 99.5%
3. Los Angeles, California
LA is a beautiful place to live, with stunning beaches and lots of sunshine. As the entertainment capital of the world, LA has a famous film and television industry. Other healthy sectors of the economy include technology, fashion, and tourism. In LA, accountants can expect to make at least $11k over the national average and have plenty of options for where to work.
Unfortunately, living in LA doesn’t come cheaply. The cost of living sits at 43% above the national average, with housing costing a whopping 148% above average. Fortunately, the cost of food is relatively low. This is due to the great weather, long growing season, and established food manufacturing sector.
Average salary per annum = $81,310
Cost of living = 173.4%
4. Boston, Massachusetts
The financial industry has a strong presence in Boston. As a large metropolitan city, there is a range of industries and companies in need of CPAs. Boston has a lot of great education institutions and a growing tech industry, both of which offer great job benefits. While housing in Boston is higher than the national average, most savvy buyers look to the smaller towns just outside the city. The commute into the city center is a breeze on the T train. And, fortunately, the cost of living is reasonable, sitting at just 32,5% above average.
Average salary per annum = $83,310
Cost of living = 132.5%
5. Chicago, Illinois
Chicago has the second highest number of accounting jobs out of all American cities (with New York scoring first place). The city is also home to the headquarters of the 6th and 7th largest accounting firms, alongside plenty of start-ups and private practices. Due to the size of the metropolitan market, there are also plenty of independent accounting opportunities in Chicago.
Average salary per annum = $79,370
Cost of living = 106.7%
6. Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, which is good news for accountants. Plenty of businesses are hiring and the tourism industry is strong, bringing more money to local industries. Thanks to the healthy economy, the average salary for CPAs is also higher in Boston than any other American city.
Aside from the tourism industry, some locals suggest that there is another reason for accountants’ high earnings: media pressure on fraud and government regulation. For this reason, forensic accountants are in especially high demand.
The cost of living in Washington is 39% higher than the national average, with housing sitting at 147% higher. For CPAs who are just starting their career, this can be a serious disadvantage. However, it might be worthwhile to make this compromise. With a bit of experience you could be making one of the highest CPA salaries in the country.
Average salary per annum = $95,570
Cost of living = 140.1%
7. Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. The increasing number of businesses naturally means a higher demand for accountants, which is good news if you like the city! A high demand also means higher salaries, and since Phoenix is still ‘up and coming’ the cost of living remains relatively low.
Average salary per annum = $71,627
Cost of living = 103.5%
8. Seattle, Washington
Seattle is known for its beautiful landscape, tourist attractions, and for its rain. So, if you don’t like the sound of a constant drizzle, you might prefer a different location. In general, Seattle is a great city for accountants. The salaries are good and the cost of living is relatively low. While housing prices are 49% higher than average, most people who work in the city commute from nearby suburbs
The city is especially attractive for young professionals, as it has a large population of college graduates and young people. The economy is healthy, with Seattle being home to a number of major players in tech and internet companies. You’ll also find the headquarters of many fortune 500 companies, including Amazon, Microsoft, and Starbucks. This makes Seattle a great place for corporate accountants.
Average Salary per annum: $75,000
Cost of living = 172.3%
9. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia has the 8th highest GDP of all American cities, mostly because of the prolific healthcare and education industries. There are also successful manufacturing and retail sectors, with Pennsylvania being home to Urban Outfitters, Sunoco, and Aramark. A CPA interested in going into any of these industries is guaranteed to do well in Pennsylvania.
When you venture away from downtown you will find huge victorian style properties, which are easily affordable on a CPA’s salary. The ample suburban space makes Philadelphia perfect for families, just a short commute from the city center.
Average salary per annum = $84,590
Cost of living = 126.5%
10. Denver, Colorado
Denver is another American city with a booming economy, especially in the technology sector. Not only are there plenty of job opportunities for accountants, but the unemployment rate is low. This means less local competition for jobs. Outside of work, you can expect to have a good time in Denver. With famous park systems and outdoor activities, living in Denver could make you happier and healthier.
Average salary per annum = $85,980
Cost of living = 128.7%
It is pretty common for our parents and grandparents to have lived in the same place all their lives. Nowadays, young professionals are mobile. As a prospective CPA, it’s a great idea to research where your skills will be most valued. But don’t get too hung up on it. Millennials are more likely to change careers and move cities than any other generation. Lucky for you, there are plenty of great options for future CPA’s.