If you work for a Big 4 firm, you may have heard what is referred to as the “Big 4 bonus.” However, while the Big 4 CPA bonus is significant in dollar value, your overall Big 4 salary is also important to consider. Therefore, we are going to cover not only the bonuses but also Big 4 salaries and other perks.
In the U.S., as of 2020 the average Certified Public Accountant (CPA) earns a yearly salary of $67,909. For comparison’s sake, the average accountant without a CPA license earns a yearly salary of $51,577. Clearly, having those three letters on your resume gives you a financial advantage.
PayScale further breaks down CPA salary data. According to their findings, entry-level CPAs earn an average salary of $54,429 a year, while mid-career CPAs draw an average salary of $70,661 a year. The most experienced professionals make an average salary of $95,866 a year.
Big 4 salaries are typically higher than mid-tier and regional accounting firm salaries. Therefore, many accounting majors strive to become employed by the Big 4 due to the higher earning potential (among other things).
However, CPAs also have earnings potential beyond their base salaries. For example, many CPAs are eligible to receive bonuses based on their performance. In fact, some companies even provide accountants with a public accounting bonus when they receive their CPA designation. Among these companies are the “Big 4,” or the largest accounting firms. They include Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC.
The Standard Big 4 CPA Bonus
Typically, you will receive $5,000 upon passing the CPA Exam within the first year of joining your firm. The amount is lower if you take longer to complete it. Most Big 4 will give you $3,000 if you pass within the second year and $1,000 if you pass within the third year. If you pass the exam before your first day of work, you will receive the CPA bonus one to two months after the start date.
Here are the exact wordings from each of the Big 4 on their CPA bonuses:
PwC offers significant incentives to those who obtain their CPA and other primary credentials (CFA, CISA, CIA) early, as well as reimbursement and educational programs to help you achieve this goal.”
PwC no longer publishes specifics on its CPA bonus. A year ago, it had reportedly been raised from $5,000 to $6,000. However, with pay cuts due to the pandemic, we’re unsure whether this is still the case.
KPMG awards $5,000 when you join KPMG with your CPA exam passed, or if you pass all parts of the CPA exam within your first year of employment or CPA exam eligibility, whichever is later.
KPMG awards $3,000 when you complete and pass your CPA exam during your second year of employment or CPA exam eligibility, whichever is later.”
We provide upfront reimbursement for one certification review course and associated exam registration fees for first-time exam takers for required certifications. We also offer a professional certification bonus to reward you for attainment of required professional certifications early in your career.”
Deloitte recognizes that the key to success goes beyond learning and coaching support. As they work to achieve their professional designation, our students receive ample study time (through both paid and unpaid days) and financial support for annual fees and CPA tuition. Candidates also receive a professional designation cash bonus upon successful completion of the CFE.”
Like PwC, Deloitte does not offer specifics, but according to accounting forums, this firm offers the standard $5,000 within one year and $3,000 within two years.
Other CPA Related Perks, Sponsorships, and Reimbursement
Exam Fee Reimbursement
In addition to the bonus, firms will cover the application and exam registration fees as well. Most Big 4 firms will pay whether you pass or not, but they will only reimburse your first attempt at each part of the exam.
Review Course Payment
The Big 4 has direct billing with Becker, which will send you the self-study course. One of the Big 4 gives you the choice of Wiley CPAexcel as well. If you have already paid for the review courses, you should be able to negotiate a higher signing bonus equivalent to this amount.
The understanding is that Big 4 auditors can only be promoted to manager after they pass the CPA exam. Normally, they expect you to have passed by the time you become a senior.
According to the standard rule, you are entitled to the above bonuses and perks if you work for the firm for at least a year. Be sure to check the disclaimer in your offer letter or contract. If you leave the company after less than a year, you may have to pay back your bonus.
Additionally, PwC used to offer a $20,000 bonus to winners of the Elijah Watt Sells Award for the highest scores on the CPA Exam. However, as of 2020, this is no longer the case.
What You WON’T Get Immediately After Passing
At the Big 4, you don’t get a salary raise right after passing the exam, but you will likely receive a bigger salary bump at the next annual review.
Automatic money transfer into your account
You must take the initiative to contact HR, fill out the necessary paperwork, and provide proof of your passing. Processing time can range from a few weeks to a few months — please expect two to three pay cycles before you get it. Also, be aware that the clock on your year at the firm may begin when you receive the bonus, not when you file the paperwork.
Tax exemption of any sort
This bonus is taxable. Period.
CPA Bonus in Local and Regional CPA Firms
For mid-size to large regional CPA firms, you can expect a bonus of $1,000 to $2,000. Additionally, some firms may offer a salary raise or even a promotion. The amount largely depends on the size and location of the firm. You may be able to negotiate the reimbursement of exam fees and review courses as well. These benefits are repayable if you leave the firm within a certain period, typically within one to two years.
You will get a pat on the back for small and local CPA firms. I’m not too sure about the bonus, though. Fortunately, a salary increase is always negotiable…
Anyway, the Biggest Bonus is…
You don’t need to study for this gruesome exam ever again!
When considering CPA Exam bonuses, remember that this is a one-time payout. It’s nice, but it’s a short-term financial perk.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Big 4 accounting firms pay bonuses? Do you get a signing bonus at a Big 4?
Traditionally, yes, Big 4 firms have offered a number of bonuses to employees. The CPA Exam bonus is just one of many. If you’re specifically asking, “do Big 4 firms offer signing bonuses?” the answer is also usually yes. However, the presence of a signing bonus may vary from year to year or even location to location. Additionally, with the economic effects of the pandemic, bonuses may be smaller or put on hold entirely.
How much is the Big 4 signing bonus?
I get this question a lot, phrased in many different ways, including:
What is the typical Big 4 bonus?
What are bonuses like at Big 4 accounting firms?
How much bonus can an associate earn at a Big 4 firm?
While situations may differ by candidate and region, the typical signing bonus at a Big 4 firm is $2,500 to $5,000. Because each member of the Big 4 tends to follow the lead of the others, this is standard across all four companies.
As for other bonuses, the median is around 8% of your Big 4 salary. However, if you perform well, you will likely receive a higher percentage as a bonus.
When do Big 4 accounting firms issue a bonus?
If you’re asking “when do you get a signing bonus at a Big 4 firm?” the answer is, usually, along with your first paycheck. Other bonuses may be issued based on important work milestones, the length of time you’ve been with the firm, or the holiday season. However, the important thing to remember about bonuses is that they are, in fact, a bonus – that is, they’re not guaranteed income.
Does Big 4 let you keep your promotion bonus if you leave?
For most signing and CPA bonuses, there will be wording in the contract that says you must repay the bonus if you leave the firm within a set time. This is to prevent candidates from signing on for huge bonuses and then leaving for another employer. Typically, you must stay with the firm at least a year or pay back the bonus. The answer is the same for most promotion bonuses, as well.
Does your mentor get a bonus if you accept an offer at a Big 4 firm?
When you begin a job at a Big 4 firm like PwC, you’ll usually be paired with a partner or director to help mentor and guide you. However, whether this mentor receives a bonus for this role is unclear.
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try.
Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight.
Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!