CMA vs. CPA vs. CFA: Which Accounting Credential is Right for You?

CMA vs. CPA vs. CFA: Which Accounting Credential is Right for You?

Are you looking for a stable career, higher-than-average salary and a healthy financial portfolio? Do you enjoy working in business, and even more so, with numbers? If so, the responsibility and professionalism that comes with a career in accounting may excite you.

Accounting jobs offer a median salary of $67,190* and are projected to grow by 11 percent through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The greater need for these professionals is largely due to the health of the economy.  As the economy grows, the need for financial records to be prepared and examined increases as well. In addition, as more private companies go public the need for public accountants will increase as they are essential for handling legally required financial documentation.  

But after you earn a degree, which accounting credential should you pursue? To help you make a decision, we’ve highlighted the three most popular credentials for accounting professionals and broke down the details so you can choose whether a CMA, CPA or CFA is right for you.

CMA: Certified Management Accountant

What is it?

This certification is designed to help you further develop your ability to make strategic business decisions based on an organization’s financial situation. Becoming a certified management accountant helps you develop a level of expertise in both financial accounting and strategic management.

The requirements:

A bachelor’s degree is the only component needed to be eligible to pursue a CMA, as 97 percent of accounting positions require it.

Why get the certification?

The CMA is a great fit for both accounting and finance majors, says Kari Grittner, accounting program coordinator at Rasmussen College. After all, she says, 75 percent of accountants work in a private company. Expertise in numbers and strategic planning makes CMA holders a valuable commodity for private businesses.

And if your own bottom line is a concern, CMA holders report on average 61 percent higher earnings than their non-certified colleagues, according to the March 2016 IMA Global Salary Survey. Last, while all certifications require commitments of both time and finances — the CMA costs roughly $600 — the earning potential once you’ve passed the examination could make it well worth the effort in the end.

CPA: Certified Public Accountant

What is it?

The CPA credential is perhaps the most widely known credential for accounting professionals. You will often find CPAs working in the public sector versus a corporate setting because CPAs can be paid by individuals or businesses for their accounting and tax services.

The requirements:

A bachelor’s degree combined with a few years of experience is the most common path to earning your CPA credential, but requirements vary by state. In Minnesota, for example, you can sit for the exams only after completing a bachelor’s degree. In Florida, one needs just 120 semester hours under his or her belt before applying to sit for the exam. CPAs are also required to complete varying levels of continuing professional education in order to keep their state licensure.

Why get the certification?  

“The CPA has always been the gold standard,” Grittner says. Earning your CPA puts you into an elite group of accounting professionals who are trusted for their skills, dedication and quality. The certification also shows a commitment to the profession, and highlights candidates that may be interested in leadership and management positions.

CFA: Chartered Financial Analyst

What is it?

The CFA is a credential that certifies the competence and integrity of financial analysts. The CFA Institute grants individuals the credential only after they pass three levels of exams covering subjects including accounting, economics, ethics, money management and security analysis.

The requirements:

Individuals considering a CFA credential need four years of experience working with investments, must be members of the CFA Institute, and they must pledge an oath of ethical conduct — all in addition to passing those exams! Completing the entire program takes most candidates between two and five years, according to the CFA Institute.

Why get the certification?

Earning a CFA is a great way to distinguish your resume from that of other job applicants. Employers know the time and dedication it took to earn the CFA, and it will prove you have the ability, dedication, ethical reasoning and analytical skills necessary to do the job in question. Not only that, in the past year there were over 8,000** job postings requiring or preferring a CFA credential.

The takeaway

Don’t forget — to pursue one of these credentials, you must first have a bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance. Once you’ve earned a degree, it’s clear an additional credential — whether it’s a CMA, CPA or CFA — is important to your career. Take in consideration what type of career you’re headed toward and how you want your credential to complement your career.

*Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.

** Source: (Analysis of positions requiring CFA certification, Jun. 29, 2015 - Jun. 25, 2016)



External links provided on are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Jennifer is a Content Marketing Specialist at Collegis Education who researches and writes articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about learning and higher education and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

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