Pursing the best accounting certification for your career isn’t that straight forward. There are many accounting certifications that you can obtain to grow your professional financial career, increase your salary, and gain multiple promotions.
Each accounting credential focuses on different financial knowledge and real world skill sets, so the best accounting certifications for you depends largely on your career path. It might also be beneficial for your accounting career to have multiple certifications.
Which designation you pursue depends on what you career you choose, so we will try to help you figure out which one will help your career path the most.
Top 9 Accounting Certifications Compared
Here are the best accounting certifications to grow your career:
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
- Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
- Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
- Enrolled Agent (EA)
- Certified Internal Auditors (CIA)
- Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
- Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
- Financial Services Audit Certificate (FSAC)
Certified Public Accountant (CPA) License
The Certified Public Accountant certificate is the most versatile accounting designation and covers to most amount of topics and skill sets from financial accounting to auditing and taxation. It’s also the most sought after credential by fresh graduates before seeking specialized certifications. For an accounting career, CPA is a must-have accreditation. This is because most employers list it as part of the requirements for accounting roles.
The program covers attestation and audit, financial accounting and reporting, regulation, and business environment and concepts. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) offers the CPA designation.
Completing the CPA program requires around $1,000-$3,000, depending on the study program or jurisdiction. Those who should get this certification are those working in management accounting, government accounting, public accounting, taxation, and financial advisory roles.
Sometimes companies may require CPA for managerial roles, and thus if you want to grow your career, then this certification is worth considering. The salary ranges from $49,000 to $114,000.
Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA) Designation
The Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA) certification specializes in financial management, investing, and company financial analysis. This is a common certification for people looking to work on Wall Street, investment banking, or other financial industry careers.
The CFA Institute is the governing body that approves all chartered analyst candidates as well as overseeing the examination process. The certification shows one’s competence and knowledge regarding investment analysis, portfolio management principles, professional and ethical standards, and economics. The certification qualifies professionals to oversee financial investments and manage investment teams.
Those who must get this designation include asset managers and security analysts. Similarly, anyone who wants to be an equity analyst, hedge fund, or fund manager and those who hope to be CFOs someday can find the designation useful. On average, CFA salaries range from $50,000 up to $153,000 per year, depending on experience.
Certified Management Accountant (CMA) Certificate
The Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification specializes in internal management accounting for companies. This area of accounting is not specifically tested on the CPA exam, so it makes CMAs especially qualified to work as a Chief Financial Officer or hold any other managerial position in a public company over a CPA.
The Institute of Management Accountants oversees the CMA certification issuance, and individuals with CMA certification tend to earn 55% more than uncertified peers. Professionals with the certification demonstrate critical financial and accounting management skills from a managerial, generalized, and internal perspective.
The designation is important to accountants who can decide to get both CMA and CPA since there is an overlap in topics. The certification is a practical application of concepts examined in CPA exams, and those who should get the certification are corporate sector accountants, especially those working in large, multinational organizations. Average salary ranges from $48,000 to $86,000.
Certified Internal Auditors (CIA) Credential
The Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification specializes in auditing procedures and company compliance issues. If you consider a career as an internal auditor, you should consider the Certified Internal Auditor designation. The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) issues the certification, which costs $1,500 to complete the program.
Those holding the CIA certification show competence in information technology, risk/control areas, and external clients and internal staff. This certification is necessary for internal auditors, especially those who want to grow to be managers or chief auditors.
The salary range for a certified internal auditor is between $45,000 and $80,000, depending on experience.
Enrolled Agent (EA) Certification
The Enrolled Agent (EA) designation specializes in federal tax law knowledge and compliance skills. The IRS created the EA certification for accounting professional who didn’t have a CPA license but still wanted to represent organizations and individuals before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax matters.
The IRS oversees the EA examination and certification process and grants the enrolled agent status to those individuals meeting requirements. The enrolled agents act as intermediaries between private businesses and individuals when interacting with IRS on disputes, questions, and tax matters.
Most importantly, enrolled agents should have skills in bookkeeping, tax preparation, and tax compliance. Individuals who should get the enrolled agent accreditation consider careers as staff accountants, office managers, tax managers, CPAs, tax directors, and senior tax managers. Salaries range from $31,000 to $80,000.
Why get an accounting certification?
Most individuals seeking professional certification want to boost their earning power, but they can also enjoy other benefits. Certification can also help accountants benefit from a professional membership community since accounting organizations encourage collaboration and help their members create robust networks.
With accounting certification, you will get a higher salary compared to peers who don’t have a certificate. The pay depends on the position and one’s certification. On average, the accountant will earn around $59,646, but a certified public accountant will draw an average annual salary of $77,000.
Equally, it is vital to have certification since most high-level managerial positions require one to hold certification such as a CPA. It helps one in pursuing specialized roles in financial forensics, fraud examination, and auditing without having to earn another degree.
Since certifications require one to complete some courses, they help build their knowledge base because the courses present new professional techniques, financial strategies, and concepts.
Interestingly, continuing education enhances existing skills. It helps one to do better in their job, and the courses to renew certifications hone professional skills and make one stay up to date on accounting regulations.
Accounting Certification Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about professional accounting certifications.
Which is the best accounting certification?
The CPA license is often thought to be the best accounting certification because it’s broader than most other accounting credentials and provides you with more career opportunities.
This doesn’t mean that it is the best accounting designation for your career however. You should pick the designation that focuses on your career goals and the specific areas of practice that you want to work in.
Are accounting certifications worth it?
Yes, accounting credentials are worth the time and effect to obtain them because you will be able to increase your salary and advance your career much faster than if you didn’t have an accounting certification.
What is higher than a CPA?
There is no certification higher than the CPA, but there are credentials with emphasis on different topics. For example, the CIA certification specializes in management accounting for company, something that the CPA exam doesn’t include. That means a CIA would be better at internal management roles in larger companies than a typical CPA.
What is the highest accounting certificate?
Traditionally, the CPA certification is considered the highest accounting designation because its broad knowledge base and skill set can be used in many areas of business, accounting, and finance. Other accounting credentials are more focused on topics like management, investing, and taxation; whereas, the CPA focuses on all topics relating to public and private accounting.
Which is harder CPA or CMA?
According to the AICPA, the CPA exam pass rate is less than 50% percent making the CPA harder than the CMA exam. More candidates struggle with the CPA exam as compared with the CMA exam because it covers more topics and involves much more experience to successfully complete.
Which accounting certification should I get?
Accountants are vital to businesses and companies, and getting certification makes one stand out. Therefore when choosing a certification, you should consider one within your area of focus or career path.
Consider the qualifications/requirements to see if you meet them and the cost of completing the program. Aligning your accounting certification with your career path will be beneficial in helping you grow professionally.
Should I get two accounting certifications?
Yes, you should get multiple accounting certifications if it will help your career path. Most accounting and financial careers would benefit from having the diverse skill set and knowledge from two or more accounting credentials.
Companies and businesses usually like entrusting their finance management to qualified and certified individuals with high standards. For accounting, professionals have to demonstrate their capabilities and improve their careers by pursuing accounting certification.
Several professional accounting organizations offer various certifications for auditors, bookkeepers, fraud examiners, and public accountants. Some of the accounting certifications that you can have include additional specialization options vital in helping candidates get advanced roles.
Professional bodies regulate accounting certifications, making it easier for clients and employers to trust these certified professionals. For one to be certified, the professional bodies require those seeking accreditation to complete additional education.
Further continuing education helps professionals to acquire new skills that will help improve their workplace performance. Certified accountants should take courses to stay up to date to requirements, and they have to pass exams before being certified.