Budget analyst career guide

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Organizations often use trained professionals to help them manage their finances. Those who do this for a living are known as budget analysts.  

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 3% growth in budget analyst jobs between 2019 and 2029. Read on to learn what budget analysts do and to discover if this is the right career path for you. This guide also covers educational goals, skill requirements, and career prospects. 

What do budget analysts do? 

Budget analysts help to organize and optimize the finances of: 

  • Non-profits 
  • Corporations 
  • Government agencies 
  • Educational institutions 

Budget analysts help organizations manage their spending through comprehensive reviews of financial budgets. From their analysis, they create reports that illustrate whether or not spending remains within budget. They may also recommend organizational methods to improve efficiency and cut down on costs. 

Budget analysts often provide cost-benefit analyses of various budget proposals. Based on how their findings align with the organization’s goals, they may recommend a proposal’s approval or rejection. They may also recommend reallocating funds or pursuing alternative funding methods. Budget analysts often make independent judgments, although they may not be the financial decision makers in an organization. 

With enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, budget analysts can compile and review more data than ever before. ERP programs help merge many pieces of an organization’s operation into a single system. This system can save time and lead to decreased human error. ERP programs can help budget analysts estimate the potential effects that budget changes may have on each respective business. 

Budget analysts often evaluate program outcomes to determine their level of success. They may even create forecasts for future programs based on their analyses. Knowledge of economic and financial developments in areas that could impact the organization is vital. Budget analysts can make it easier for tax professionals and accountants to file organized and accurate tax returns. With knowledge of laws and regulations, they can also help businesses operate legally. 

Who would enjoy this career? 

The responsibilities in most budget analyst jobs would suit those who enjoy working with numbers and detailed data. If you like following set procedures, working in an office, and managing high levels of responsibilities, you could thrive in this role. If you enjoy formulating informed opinions about an organization’s financial health and providing detailed explanations to stakeholders, this could be an ideal career option for you. 

Career prospects for budget analysts 

A bachelor’s degree can lead to many numerous employment opportunities as a budget analyst. Whether you’re already working in finance or launching a new career, job growth in this field is steady. 

According to the BLS, business analysts had a median annual wage of $76,540 in May 2019. The lowest 10% employed in this occupation earned less than $50,230, while the highest 10% earned more than $116,510. Even the lowest percentile in this discipline earned more than the median annual wage of $39,810 for all occupations. 

The BLS also notes that in 2019, budget analysts held about 55,400 professional positions. The largest employers and median wages of budget analysts in May 2019 were as follows: 

  • Federal government $83,070 22% 
  • Local, state, and private educational services $67,760 13% 
  • Professional, scientific, and technical services $82,830 11% 
  • State government, excluding education and hospitals $67,230 11% 
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals $72,880 11% 

Educational requirements to become a budget analyst 

Some entry-level budget analyst positions only require candidates to possess relevant work experience. Jobs with higher levels of responsibility generally require candidates to at least hold a college degree. An undergraduate degree can also lead to positions with higher earnings potential. Continue reading to see what educational requirements you’ll need for a robust career as a budget analyst. Note: for admission to most master’s programs, students need to have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. To gain national accreditation, schools must demonstrate high standards to an independent accrediting agency.  

Employers of budget analysts often prefer job applicants to hold, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree. Popular majors for this career are: 

Some budget analysts hold a degree in public administration, statistics, or political science. While these majors still qualify graduates for budget analyst jobs, these graduates will need demonstrable analytical and accounting skills. Bachelor’s degrees typically take 4 years of full-time study to complete. 

For senior budget analyst positions, some employers prefer applicants with a master’s degree. Graduate students often study accounting, finance, or business administration. Most graduate degrees take an additional 2 years of full-time study to complete. 

Many U.S. graduate schools require successful completion of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for admission. Candidates can check with a particular institution to see if they need this standardized test for entry. 

Budget analysts may choose to pursue additional certifications to supplement their experience and other qualifications. These designations can prove competency and knowledge of up-to-date reporting practices. They can also boost careers and earnings potential. 

Budget analysts working at local, state, or federal government levels may choose to earn the Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) designation. Candidates earn this certification through the Association of Government Accountants (AGA). The certification process demands that CGFM candidates have a bachelor’s degree and abide by the AGA’s Code of Ethics. 

Candidates must also pass exams and hold a financial management position in government for a designated period of time. CGFMs must also complete continuing education credits to maintain their certification status.  

Budget analysts may benefit from obtaining the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification. They can earn this through the American Institute of CPAs. Candidates must meet specific education and experience requirements to be eligible for the CPA exam. These requirements vary on a state-by-state basis. The CPA certificate qualifies holders to practice public accounting. 

Continuing education for budget analysts can also prove valuable. Your increased knowledge and skills can improve business performance and boost careers. Employers may subsidize continuing education for employees. 

The following types of continuing education exist for those who want to broaden their knowledge and career potential: 

  • Conference or educational presentations 
  • Independent study through online or in-person courses 
  • Research and writing of academic papers and published books 
  • Training programs through work or community organizations 

The cost of tuition and financial aid options 

Published tuition and fees for full-time students in the 2020-21 school year average: 

  • $3,770 for public 2-year in district 
  • $10,560 for public 4-year in state 
  • $27,020 for public 4-year out of state 
  • $37,650 for private non-profit 4 year 

There are multiple federal and state scholarships, loans, and grants available to students. Free application forms for federal student aid are available annually, starting on October 1st, at the Federal Student Aid website. This site provides information on types of assistance, eligibility requirements, and loan repayment options. Scholarships, loans, and grants are often offered directly from colleges. Additional information, including deadlines, is generally included on a school’s website.  

Skills and knowledge required to be a cost analyst

Budget analysts are generally highly-skilled individuals with strong proficiencies in analytics and a natural eye for the smallest details. Critical thinking skills are vital, as many of their tasks involve complex problem solving. Proficiency in the English language is also highly regarded by the vast majority of employers. 

Along with these abilities, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that prospective employers look for the following skills in budget analysts: 

Active listener
Decision making
Mathematical reasoning
Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint 
Sound and confident judgment 
Inductive and deductive reasoning 
Computer and technical proficiencies 
Written and oral communication and comprehension 

Prospective budget analysts should have expertise in these important areas: 

Budgeting
Mathematics
Financial analysis
Financial reporting
Law and government
Financial management
Management principles
Business administration
Economics and accounting

What is the difference between a budget analyst and a financial analyst? 

Budget analysts and financial analysts carry out many of the same tasks. The latter tend to work with individuals or businesses looking for financial investment guidance. More often than not, a budget analyst deals with an organization’s internal operations and management.  

According to the BLS, financial analysts had a higher median annual wage than budget analysts, at $81,590 in May 2019. Job growth is also favorable for this profession at a projected rate of 5% between 2019 and 2029. 

Deciding which path to take could depend on the field or industry in which you are most knowledgeable and interested. Neither budget nor financial analysts need a license to pursue this career.