The business world separates into many subfields. Two of these subfields include accounting and finance. The former deals with keeping track of money and where it goes, and the latter is all about making more of it. Both require the highest ethics because each of them is governed by an extensive catalog of laws at the federal, state, and local level. Many of these laws came about after the financial crisis of 2008 especially because unchecked finance practices led to the crisis in the first place.
Accounting and finance degrees are two of the more popular options for students who would like to work in business. Such students usually have high hopes of earning an above-average income out of school. In industries where the job market is competitive, earning a college degree is a must. Not only is this degree essential, but it is also a good idea to have a plan for paying for that degree. Tuition and other expenses have risen dramatically over the last few years.
Because the cost of living in most major cities in the United States is on the rise, students should do their due diligence regarding the income, job security, and job growth of their chosen jobs. Both accounting and finance are fine options. One may have the edge over the other in terms of job security and average salary, however. See our ranking of the Top 30 Most Affordable Master’s in Finance Degrees Online.
What is the Difference?
It is better to understand what differentiates accounting and finance degrees before selecting a major. While both majors are focused on finance, the areas of finance in which the curriculum is focused are very different. The primary difference between the two studies is that finance is generally defined as the management of money whereas accounting is the practice of collecting and tracking of financial information.
Since finance graduates are studying to manipulate money in some way and accounting graduates are studying to track all of the shifts in financial information, each major is going to take a different set of courses. While some courses overlap, here are some of the required curricula that could differentiate between the two degrees:
- Management of Finance Institutions
- Financial Markets
- Finance Modeling
- Security Valuation
- Intermediate Accounting
- Cost Accounting
- Business Law
- Income Tax
Finance includes subfields like securities trading, stock brokerage, various kinds of investing, and even commodities trading. The chief aim is making money either for oneself or for clients. Accounting includes subfields like forensic accounting, fiduciary accounting, and auditing. Fiduciary accounting regards real estate and property law. The principles of finance and accounting are the same, but each field tweaks them in some way.
Traders and brokers are two sides of the same coin. Brokers deal mostly with individual clients and businesses outside the financial world. Traders deal with large financial companies like banks and investment firms. Still, both jobs do basically the same thing: “Buy low, and sell high!”
Commodities traders buy and sell futures in various products, like soybeans, orange juice, corn, wheat, and others. Unlike brokers or securities traders, who actually buy shares or other interests in various companies. commodities traders do not really buy vast amounts of fruit, vegetables, or precious metals.
Accountants keep track of it all. It is their responsibility to make sure all the credits and debits of each of their clients add up to zero. Forensic accountants are the folks who come in when there have been crimes committed in the name of “cooking the books.” It is their job to investigate various types of fraud, mismanagement, and corporate malfeasance.
How Much Do Finance Majors Make?
For comparison’s sake, let us take the job of financial analyst as the basis for jobs in the finance industry. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for this job is $81,590 annually. The lowest salary for financial analysts was $47,230, and the highest was $156,150.
The job growth is slated to be 5% over the next 10 years, which is higher than the average growth for all other jobs. Currently, there are 487,800 jobs. With a growth rate of 5%, that means that the sector will add more than 26,000 jobs during the next 10 years.
Starting salary is only part of the equation. Salary growth is equally important. People don’t want to start with a high beginning salary only to experience no growth over the years. Salary should grow with experience.
How Much Do Accounting Majors Make?
The median salary for accountants and auditors in the United States is $71,500. The highest salaries in the sector are $124,450. The lowest are $44,480. These numbers come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There are 1,436,100 accounting jobs at this time. Over the next 10 years, the sector will add 61,700 new jobs, which comes out to 4% growth. That is average when considering the growth rates of all jobs. Even though the growth rate is slightly slower than that of finance jobs, the sheer number of jobs is greater, providing better opportunities for landing a job in the accounting field.
Forensic accountants have a median income of $79,520, making them nearly the equal to finance salaries. Certain law-enforcement agencies, however, provide forensic accountants with average salaries higher than $90,000. The top-end salaries at the FBI, for example, may be higher still than top finance salaries.
How About With a Graduate Degree?
Accountants and financiers with master’s degrees earn roughly double what their counterparts with just a bachelor’s degree earn. For example, accountants who earn an MBA from Stanford make about $158,000 annually, on average. The top end of that pay scale will be well over a quarter-million dollars annually. The numbers from Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and other top business schools are all similar.
The MBA is a powerful degree, but it’s not the only way that people in business can boost their salaries. Forensic Accountants can earn the same degree, but they can also pursue research degrees. There are many certifications, too, such as the Certified Forensic Accountant or the Certified Fraud Examiner. Each of these can give budding accountants a boost.
People who want to shape the future of business in the classroom become instructors and professors. Usually, these folks must earn a Ph.D. in business, possibly a DBA. These highly educated and trained individuals usually earn as much, or more, as their “in-the-field” counterparts. Some might early slightly less, but they are satisfied with a smaller salary because they get to shape the direction business takes through education and inspiration.
Many of these graduate students also pursue law degrees and add to their money-making capabilities that way. Corporate lawyers who also hold MBAs, DBAs, or even both are uniquely qualified to help businesses get ahead.
What about International Opportunities?
In an era of globalization, it is natural for some adventuresome people to look outside the U.S. for employment opportunities. Switzerland and the Cayman Islands are popular destinations for budding accountants and financiers. The salaries they earn in these places are comparable with what they would earn in the U.S. even if they are paid in euros, pounds sterling, or other world currencies.
Iceland, Monaco, and Bermuda are also popular destinations for U.S. accountants and financiers who want to branch out into the world. Bermuda and the Cayman Islands are tax havens, which makes them even more popular for the businesses for which their accountants work. The laws governing them are complex and need highly trained and qualified people to work within their guidelines.
Despite its small size and remoteness, Iceland is actually quite mainstream in the world. Their national football team has even had success against European powers like England and Austria. The island’s accounting firms, which include many of the biggest businesses in the United States, seek to achieve the same level of glory. One big advantage of working in Iceland is that you can get by with just a knowledge of English.
In places like Japan and Switzerland, you will likely have to learn the native language at least passably even though English is the international language of business. In Switzerland, those languages would include German, Italian, and French. When working overseas, it is also probably a good idea to have a working knowledge of currency trading. It would probably be best for you to earn a certificate in the field before moving.
When it comes to working as an accountant or financier in countries with huge coastlines and lots of ship traffic, it would probably also be prudent to have at least a working knowledge of admiralty law and maritime law. These laws are different in different countries, and they might be different than the laws of the particular country in question that govern companies without a maritime interest. This is especially true of island nations like Bermuda, Iceland, and the Caymans.
Remember, there are certain countries, too, that are considered hostile to the United States, so the laws about doing business there are necessarily harsh and complicated. Knowing those laws is essential to anyone who decides to practice as an accountant or financier overseas.
The fields of accounting and finance are set to grow well into the third decade of the 21st century. People in these fields are well-compensated for their work. The job can be rewarding in many different ways. Some people become entrepreneurs. Others becomes professors to mold young minds. Still others conquer international markets. Whatever you choose to do, accountants and financiers are integral parts of the world’s economy and deserve respect.
When it comes to which of the two jobs has an advantage over the other, it is a dead heat. Growth is better in one, but the sheer number of jobs is better in the other. The salaries are all within about 10% of each other at all places in the spectrum.
It is very difficult to pinpoint which degree will pay more than the other. With so many contributing factors that can affect salary, the data can be inaccurate without specifics. When looking at the data available, it does appear that between accounting and finance degrees, finance majors earn more on average.
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