accounting certifications

How important are financial and accounting certifications? It all depends on your potential employer. Some companies require these certifications while others are open to offering a higher salary to those who’ve earned their certifications. There’s no question that the right certifications not only improve your job prospects but can expand your skill set and help you become a more well-rounded employee.

CPA license

The CPA, granted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, has long been the top credential for accounting and finance industry professionals. It covers a wide range of accounting principles including forensic accounting, risk management, tax, and compliance.

Cost: Costs vary but you should expect to spend at least $2,000.

Requirements: Before taking the test, you must have five years of higher education with at least 150 credits in business and/or accounting. You must also have verified relevant experience. The exam itself is four levels, which can be taken in any order you choose. Generally speaking, it takes about a year to pass the entire exam and most states require at least a year of accounting experience before you’ll get your CPA license.

Who’s it best for? This is the most versatile of all accounting certifications. It’s a great choice for people who want to work in a wide range of industries including taxation, compliance, public accounting, governmental accounting, financial advisory, and others. Many companies require it for managerial positions.

Chartered Financial Analyst

The CFA certification, granted by the CFA Institute, is designed to prove competence on portfolio management, economics, investment analysis, and both ethical and professional standards.

Cost: $2,500

Requirements: Before you take the exam you must have a bachelor’s degree and at least four years of experience. The exam itself is three levels and the total exam takes 18 hours. You must pass one level before moving on to the next level. Theoretically, it can be completed in a year and a half but generally people take at least two years.

Who’s it best for? The CFA certification is considered a must-have for certain positions within the investment community, including security analysts and asset managers.

Chartered Global Management Accounting

Issued by the AICPA and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, the CGMA is essentially a global CPA certification for those working in government and business.

Cost: $325 plus membership in the AICPA

Requirements: Anyone who’s a member of the AICPA is eligible to take the exam, as long as they have three years of experience. The test involves a computerized case study that requires long-form answers that prove competency in management accounting. The exam is only offered four times a year and you’ll have your results within four weeks of taking the test.

Who’s it best for? Accounting professionals who want to work internationally.

Certified Management Accountant

Sponsored by the Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business, the CMA is one of the top accounting certifications for those who want to showcase their proficiency in budgeting, strategic assessment, and financial analysis.

Cost: An average of $1,500

Requirements: The test is two levels and takes a total of eight hours. Before you can sit for this exam, you must have a bachelor’s degree and have been working for two consecutive years in either management accounting or financial management. The test usually takes one to two years.

Who’s it best for? It’s common for accountants to choose both the CPA and CMA accounting certifications because there’s significant overlap in the topics on both exams. However, the CMA exam itself is sometimes considered more practical than the CPA exam and is often the choice of accounting professionals working in the corporate sector.