Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services topped the list of most profitable industries over the past 12 months, according to the financial information company Sageworks.

The ranking was based on pre-tax profit margins for privately held companies. This past year, accounting-related services (including accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll service companies) held the highest ranking, with net profits amounting to 18.4 percent of sales, on average for the 12 months ended June 30, 2017.

In second place was real-estate leasing companies, with a 17.9 percent net profit margin, followed closely by legal services, in third place with profitability of 17.4 percent. All three industries placed well above the average for U.S. private companies, which had an average net profit margin of 8.9 percent.

Pre-tax net profit margins aren’t necessarily the most pertinent measures for many businesses, Sageworks pointed out. “Not all private companies are necessarily shooting for high profitability; maybe their industry is price sensitive and rely on volume for growth (like grocery stores) or maybe they are sinking profits back into the business for R&D (growth companies),” said Sageworks analyst Libby Bierman in a statement. “But in most instances, higher profitability is better, and the industries atop this list are getting more from their business investment than others.”

Sageworks most profitable industries
Net Profit Margin
Industry Code
5412 - Accounting, Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping, and Payroll Services
5311 - Lessors of Real Estate
5411 - Legal Services
5511 - Management of Companies and Enterprises
5313 - Activities Related to Real Estate
6212 - Offices of Dentists
5312 - Offices of Real Estate Agents and Brokers
2123 - Nonmetallic Mineral Mining and Quarrying
6213 - Offices of Other Health Practitioners
8131 - Religious Organizations
6215 - Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories
2372 - Land Subdivision
5321 - Automotive Equipment Rental and Leasing
4931 - Warehousing and Storage
8122 - Death Care Services
5419 - Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services
5416 - Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
5414 - Specialized Design Services
6116 - Other Schools and Instruction
4884 - Support Activities for Road Transportation

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Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.