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There are many different accounting certifications that finance professionals can use to advance their career, be promoted, and increase their salary.
Each of these accounting titles is slightly different and has a different career focus. So, depending on how you want your career to look, some may be the best accounting certifications for you and others may not be. You may also find it helpful to have more than one of these credentials after your name.
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First, let’s look at an overview of all the key certifications and some of the differences between them. Here is a table with the requirements and exam qualifications for each.
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The Certified Public Accountant credentials is the oldest and most respected accounting designation in the profession. CPAs are known and respected in all industries because the CPA license is the most popular and useful certification in the field of accounting. Basically, you can think of that as the gold standard. Everyone knows what it is and everyone respects it. This is the mother of all certifications. In addition, it also has very unique capabilities.
Unlike other certifications, CPAs are the only accountants licensed by state governments and are allowed to write audit reports and express opinions on the finances of publicly traded companies. CPAs can also sign tax returns as paid preparers and represent clients before the IRS.
CPAs can also do the same tasks and jobs that other certifications can do. This CPA as a general certification and others are more specialized certifications. CPAs can do all this.
To become a CPA, you must take and pass all four parts of the AICPA Uniform CPA Exam and meet the requirements of your state’s education and work experience.
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The purpose of appointing a Chartered Financial Analyst is to motivate and prepare you for a career in the world of finance and investment. Although it has many applications, such as corporate management, most CFAs® are financial professionals working on Wall Street or for hedge funds / investment funds.
CFA® Charterholder is not as popular in the industry as CPA in the United States, but it is much more popular in Europe and China. In addition, it helps train people to think analytically about finance, investing, and how businesses work. This is what makes CFAs® controllers and financial managers excellent.
The CFA® exam is administered by the CFA® Institute. The exam process is much longer than the CPA exam because it is tested only once or twice a year, depending on the level you choose. In addition, the total exam time is also longer and more expensive than the CPA exam.
This is a good certification for you if you want to enter the world of finance and investing. If you want to do a tax preparation or audit, this certification is not for you. You will be better off with CPA.
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The Certified Management Accountant appointment specializes in corporate accounting management. This is a topic that the CPA exam doesn’t even really cover. Therefore, this makes these candidates excellent for internal management and leadership roles. For example, a CMA makes a large COO or CFO.
However, this certification is not so good for public accounting. It does not train or certify you to perform audit procedures, write reports, or do any tax work. It focuses strictly on management. Therefore, if you want to become an executive officer of a Fortune 500 company, it would be good to get this certification.
The CMA exam is about half the size of the CPA exam and is administered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). It has very specific and strict requirements to pass the exam, such as: Bachelor’s degree with the correct subject credits in specific subjects. You also need to have at least two years of work experience before you can get the certificate.
The Registered Agent Certification is a credential created by the IRS that demonstrates knowledge of the U.S. tax code and the ability to apply its concepts. Ultimately, this denomination focuses specifically on the taxation of all entities in the United States: individuals and corporations. Therefore, this designation does not provide you with education in finance, auditing, management, or other business subjects. This is strictly a tax certificate. If you have, you know the tax.
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So, if you want to get into corporate tax preparation or internal tax work, this would be good credentials. Remember that all public accounting firms want you to be a CPA instead of an EA anyway. If you want to work in public accounting, your CPA is almost mandatory. However, registered agents have several privileges that CPAs have long enjoyed. For example, EAs can sign tax returns as paid preparers and represent clients before the IRS. This therefore makes the proxy somewhat useful in public accounting. However, most states have additional laws for public corporations that limit the ownership and authority of CPAs.
This credential is ideal for a tax professional who does not meet the education or experience requirements to stand for the CPA exam. This allows them to get many of the same rights as CPAs without certification.
If you want to become an EA, you must pass the Registered Agent Exam, which is administered by the IRS. The exam consists of three parts and lasts 12 hours.
The appointment of a Certified Internal Auditor is strictly for compliance officers and auditors. CIAs usually work for large companies that perform audit procedures and help independent auditors do their job.
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This certification requires the completion of three parts of the CIA exam, amounting to 6.5 hours of testing. If you do not want to pursue a career in auditing, this certification is not for you.
All of these certifications are difficult to obtain. They all have lengthy exams and qualifications that must be met in order to be certified.
However, the CIA nomination has the shortest examination and the lowest requirements. It is also the most limited accounting mandate.
There is a lot of speculation as to which accounting certification is the most difficult. I think it’s a link between CPA and CFA®. Both have strict requirements to pass the exam and both have extremely difficult exams.
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This is a common question for many accounting professionals. Guess what? It depends. 🙂 It depends on your career and your major. For example, if you have a CPA license and want to get more involved in finance and investment, the CFA® designation is a logical choice. Although you don’t need it, it will help in your career.
Unless you intend to specialize in a specific field, I recommend that you take out your CPA license. It is the most recognized and useful accounting certification. Learn more about the following combinations:
Again, getting an MBA depends on your career and where you want to be in the future. An MBA can help you reach senior leadership positions in the United States. It will also cost you a lot of money.
Since most states require at least 150 credit hours to obtain a CPA license, it makes sense to get an MBA to complete those extra hours. Some employers will also help pay your graduate tuition fees. If that’s the case, you should definitely get an MBA. If not, you can do without it.
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Remember, the CPA-MBA combo is a fairly relentless combo. Learn more about the combination of the two here: CPA vs MBA
At the end of the day, there is no absolute better accounting certification. They are all good for different things. However, CPA credentials is arguably the most respected and widely used certification. So if you want to get just one, I recommend CPA.
Now that you’ve decided if you want to become a CPA, it’s time to start studying. 🙂 Here is a list of the best revision courses you can use to break the exam.
Kenneth W. Boyd is a former Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and author of several popular John Wiley & Sons books for dummies, including the CPA Exam for dummies and Cost Accounting for dummies.
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