Getting a degree in accounting is a great accomplishment. But, to get ahead in accounting, a bachelor’s degree is rarely the last step. There are many valuable certifications in the finance field that build credibility and client trust. Because there are so many options, it is helpful to know which certifications are the most highly respected, what they mean, and how to obtain them.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
A CPA is considered the most elite certification available for accountants. It is the oldest, most well-known, and most highly respected license. An accountant with a CPA certification may work in a variety of fields, from risk management and appraisals to forensic accounting and fraud examinations.
The CPA is highly regarded, but it also has high requirements. In addition to a degree and additional education and work requirements, a candidate must pass a four-part exam. This exam is offered four times per year and includes financial accounting, auditing, regulation, and business concepts. The exam is not easy, but CPA Review Courses can help.
Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
A CMA is another highly regarded certification. It is more specific than a CPA certification and is useful for anyone interested in financial analysis, budgeting, and strategy development. A CMA certification does not cover tax work or audit procedures but is helpful for management and executive-level jobs.
Becoming a CMA requires a bachelor’s degree, two years of experience, and passing the two-part CMA exam. A CMA must also follow ethical professional practice standards.
Chartered Finacial Analyst (CFA)
A CFA certification is a good fit for someone interested in the finance and investment realm. It is as well respected as the CPA in many countries. The focus of a CFA is business analysis and investing. After receiving a CFA certification, an accountant could work on Wall Street or in hedge funds.
Receiving a CFA charter means passing three levels of examination. The level one exam is administered in June and December, while levels two and three are only administered in June. Progressing through all level three is rare and requires dedication and study.
Enrolled Agent (EA)
The EA certification was created by the IRS to test a person’s tax code knowledge and ability to apply those concepts. It is specific to the United States and does not cover financing, auditing, or management. However, an EA certification is useful for a job in tax preparation.
While a CPA is more comprehensive, obtaining an EA designation includes fewer requirements. Aside from passing an IRS background check, there is a three-part examination that lasts 12 hours. These exams take place year-round with the exceptions of March and April.
Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
The CIA certification is intended for compliance officers and auditors. Someone with a CIA certification is well educated in the International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing.
The CIA exam is a three-part exam lasting 6.5 hours. It is issued year-round at Pearson VUE testing centers. The CIA certification is the most limited certification on this list but has the fewest requirements to attain
The Bottom Line
All of these certifications are helpful in different areas, and all require dedication and study. The CPA covers the largest number of topics and is seen as the most elite certification available in the United States for an accountant. Knowing what realm of accounting a person is interested in can help decide which of these certifications to pursue. Regardless of which certification is chosen, there are prep courses available to help attain the certification of choice and maximize an accounting career.