Accounting Certifications Overview

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Businesses and individuals prefer to entrust their finances to qualified professionals with high ethical standards. Many accountants choose to demonstrate their abilities and enhance their career opportunities by pursuing industry certifications. Professional accounting organizations offer a variety of certifications, including credentials for bookkeepers, auditors, public accountants, and fraud examiners. Some accounting certifications feature additional specialization options, which can help candidates land advanced roles and stand out in the workforce.

Professional organizations strictly regulate certification programs, so employers and clients know they can trust certified accountants. As a result, certified professionals often earn more than their uncertified peers. Furthermore, the certification process requires credential seekers to complete additional education. Continuing education requirements ensure that certified accountants stay up to date on the field. Typically, candidates must take courses, pass exams, and swear to uphold high ethical standards before earning their credentials.

What Benefits Do Certifications Give Accountants?

While most professionals seek credentials to increase their earning power, there are many other benefits to earning accounting certifications. Some positions require candidates to hold certain credentials, and certified accountants enjoy excellent career growth potential. In addition, continuing education programs help accountants acquire new skills and enhance their workplace performance. Certified accountants also benefit from membership in a community of like-minded professionals. Accounting organizations encourage collaboration and help members build strong industry-wide networks.

  • Increased Pay: Many employers offer higher salaries for candidates with accounting certifications. However, pay rates depend largely on the individual position and certification in question. For example, PayScale reports that accountants earn an average annual salary of $50,646, while certified public accountants (CPAs) draw an average salary of $77,000 each year.
  • More Career Mobility: Many high-level and managerial positions require applicants to hold relevant certifications such as certified management accountant credentials. Certifications also allow accountants to pursue specialized roles in fields like fraud examination, financial forensics, or auditing without earning additional degrees.
  • Better Work Performance: Certification programs typically require candidates to complete courses and exams. Building on applicants’ prior knowledge, these courses present new financial strategies, professional techniques, and concepts. Continuing education coursework also sharpens existing skills, helping candidates perform better in their current roles.
  • Become a Lifelong Learner: Professionals are usually expected to keep their certifications current by earning continuing education credits. Many individuals take courses to renew their accounting certifications online, hone their professional skills, stay up to date on regulations, and gain personal fulfillment from lifelong learning.
  • Enter a Professional Community: Some professional organizations require accountants to become members before pursuing credentials. These groups offer a host of career-boosting opportunities, including networking events, educational resources, and subscriptions to industry publications. Many professional organizations also provide members with access to exclusive job boards, employment opportunities, and scholarships.

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General Accounting Certifications

Professional certifications can benefit every type of accountant. Read on to explore some versatile general accounting certifications that can help propel your career forward.

Certified Public Bookkeeper

The National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB) oversees certification and licensing for certified public bookkeepers (CPBs). Bookkeepers manage companies’ financial records, including payroll, expenses, and income. Both credentials require candidates to complete NACPB courses and pass the CPB exam. However, only licensed CPBs are permitted to use the CPB designation after their names.

Click the link below to learn more about becoming a CPB.

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

Internal auditors analyze clients’ financial records to ensure compliance, monitor financial risks, and increase efficiency. Candidates with an associate-level accounting degree or higher may pursue the certified internal auditor (CIA) credential through the Institute of Internal Auditors. According to the Institute, CIAs earn an average of $38,000 more each year than their uncertified peers.

The following resource provides more information about internal auditing certifications.

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

The versatile CPA designation is highly sought after and often the first credential new graduates seek before pursuing more specialized certifications. The test includes sections on auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation.

The link below includes information on how to become a CPA.

Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) oversees CMA certification. Accountants with this credential qualify to work as chief financial officers and hold other managerial roles. CMAs analyze their organization’s financial data and make recommendations to improve company finances. IMA reports that CMAs earn 55% more than their uncertified colleagues.

The following page explores the CMA certification process in detail.

Specialized Certifications

Some accounting positions demand specialized skills and knowledge. For example, fraud examiners and forensic accountants must understand financial investigation strategies. Career-specific accounting certifications demonstrate that the holder has mastered niche concepts and competencies.

Certified Financial Analyst (CFA)

This accounting certification from the CFA Institute designates the highest level of achievement for investment portfolio managers. This credential qualifies experienced professionals to oversee investments at financial firms and manage teams of investors.

Click the link below to learn more about this certification.

Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF)

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants administers the CFF certification. Forensic accountants analyze financial data for evidence of illegal activities like fraud or tax evasion. Some CFFs help companies detect credit card fraud in their payment systems, while others work as part of investigative teams in law enforcement agencies.

Prospective CFFs can explore this accounting certification further by clicking on the following link.

Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, CFEs excel in four areas of knowledge: financial transactions and fraud schemes, investigation, law, and fraud prevention.

Working as external auditors, special agents, risk managers, and compliance officers, CFEs analyze financial documents for evidence of fraud.

The page below explains how you can enter this exciting area of accounting.

Additional Certifications and Credentials

Many professionals expand their employment opportunities by pursuing tax credentials in addition to accounting certifications. The following designations allow accountants to take on a variety of tax-related roles.

Enrolled Agent

Enrolled agents represent individuals and organizations before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). A federal enrolled agent license is the only tax certification that qualifies tax professionals to represent taxpayers in an unlimited, official capacity.

The following page explains how you can become an enrolled agent.

Certified Tax Preparer

Once certified tax preparers receive a tax identification number from the IRS, they are legally permitted to prepare tax documents for individuals and companies. Several tax certifications, including the accredited tax preparer (ATP) credential, qualify professionals to apply for an identification number. The Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation offers the ATP exam twice a year.

Click the link below to learn more about certified tax preparer credentials.

Not Ready for Certification Yet? Explore Degree Options in Accounting

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