Accounting Certifications Overview

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Updated May 30, 2024 · 5 Min Read

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Accounting certifications can provide knowledge, networking, and job advancement opportunities. Learn about the differences among accounting certifications.

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Corporations may prefer or require candidates who possess certification for advanced roles. Companies with stringent hiring requirements, including mandatory certifications, may pay higher salaries to attract qualified employees.

Accounting certifications may require applicants to meet education and work experience prerequisites. Some credentials require them to pass an exam, which can take significant preparation time. Successful examinees demonstrate their knowledge by passing the exam and completing continuing education courses. Many certification exams also require an ethics section.

Professionals can pursue several accounting credentials, including general, specialized, and tax certifications. The following page discusses certification differences, requirements, and benefits.

What Benefits Do Certifications Give Accountants?

  • Knowledge: Individuals who pursue certifications must often pass an examination. Candidates can prepare by reading books, enrolling in courses, and completing practice tests. They may also need to complete prerequisite work experience or class credits.
  • Job Security: Accounting professionals can find employment in most industries. The demand for certified professionals will continue to grow in an increasingly global and regulated environment. Certified professionals may have additional job security due to their expertise and ability to handle changes through continuing professional education (CPE) courses.
  • Advancement Opportunities: Entry-level accounting careers may require an associate or bachelor's degree in accounting. Advanced accounting opportunities may have increased education and certification requirements. Employers may seek the most knowledgeable professionals for managerial positions, which can be demonstrated through certifications.
  • Specialization: Professionals can pursue certifications in many accounting subjects, including financial planning, management, and bookkeeping. Individuals can choose the certification that best aligns with their future career goals and interests.
  • Networking: Certified professionals can join exclusive groups and network with like-minded individuals. Professional organizations may offer CPE courses, conferences, and relevant news updates. Conference topics may include accounting, auditing, and forensics. Organizations may require members to pay annual dues.

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General Accounting Certifications

Professional certifications can benefit every type of accountant. Explore some versatile general accounting certifications that can help propel your career forward.

Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

Financial planners work with clients to set and achieve long-term financial goals. While these advisors focus on investments, they can assist with investment, estate, and retirement planning. Financial planners do not require certification to work in this field. The Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Board of Standards manages the CFP certification process. Individuals pursuing a CFP designation must complete a bachelor's degree, pass the CFP exam, possess relevant experience, and submit to a background check.

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

Internal auditors analyze clients' financial records to ensure compliance, monitor financial risks, and increase efficiency. Candidates with associate-level accounting degrees or higher may pursue the certified internal auditor (CIA) credential through the Institute of Internal Auditors. According to Payscale data from May 2024, CIAs earn an average of more than $31,000 more each year than their uncertified peers.

Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) oversees CMA certification. Accountants with this credential qualify for chief financial officer roles and other managerial positions. CMAs analyze organizations' financial data and make recommendations to improve company finances. IMA reports that CMAs earn 21% more than their uncertified colleagues.

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

The versatile, sought-after CPA designation is often the first credential new graduates seek before pursuing more specialized certifications. The required exam includes sections on auditing and attestation, financial accounting and reporting, and taxation and regulation. The fourth section allows test-takers to choose from three disciplines: business analysis and reporting, information systems and control, and tax compliance and planning.

Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB and CB)

Certified bookkeepers demonstrate knowledge and credibility compared to non-certified bookkeepers. An aspiring certified public bookkeeper (CPB) must complete a four-part exam, have one year of experience, and complete CPE courses. The National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers accredits CPB licensures. Bookkeepers can also pursue a certified bookkeeper license, which requires a four-part exam, two years of experience, and a signed code of ethics.

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.

Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) Certification

An ABV certification is a professional credential. People with ABVs specialize in evaluating a business's fair value, also known as business valuation.

ABV candidates must be CPAs or business valuation professionals with bachelor's degrees. They also need membership in the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and complete continuing education, business education, and exam requirements.

Certification in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA)

The CRMA certification from the Institute of Internal Auditors acknowledges professionals with advanced risk management assurance skills and expertise. CRMAs can provide education, advice, and governance strategies regarding financial and operational risks.

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.

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.

Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM)

The Association of Government Accountants created the CGFM designation in 1950. Candidates with bachelor's degrees from accredited U.S. schools can sit for the CGFM exams. Each candidate must pass three multiple-choice exams and have two years of relevant professional work experience in U.S. government financial management.

Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF)

The AICPA 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 in investigative teams for law enforcement agencies.

Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)

The American Institute of CPAs and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants established the CGMA certification. Candidates with bachelor's degrees in business, finance, or accounting can pursue this designation. To earn the CGMA certification, they must pass a test with sections on operations, management, and strategy.

Tax Certifications and Credentials

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

Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA)

The ATA credential recognizes tax professionals who demonstrate a high level of tax knowledge and expertise. The Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation (ACAT) grants this certification after a candidate passes an exam and meets education and experience requirements.

ATAs are recognized as experts in tax planning and preparation and must remain committed to upholding high ethical standards in the industry.

Certified Tax Preparer

Once certified tax preparers receive a tax identification number from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), they can legally prepare tax documents for individuals and companies. Several tax certifications, including the accredited tax preparer (ATP) credential, qualify professionals to apply for identification numbers. The ACAT offers the ATP exam twice a year.

Enrolled Agent (EA)

EAs represent individuals and organizations in communication with the IRS. A federal EA license is the only tax certification that qualifies tax professionals to represent taxpayers in an unlimited, official capacity.

Common Questions About Accounting Certifications

What are two types of certifications in accounting?

The certified financial planner and certified internal auditor are two types of accounting certifications. Accounting certifications usually require an exam, work experience, and CPE credits.

What's higher than CPA?

Accountants can pursue many certifications, but these certifications do not have an inherent hierarchy. Professionals who work with public accounting firms may consider a CPA optimal, while people seeking financial managers, auditors, and tax preparers may prefer other designations.

What is the best certification for accounting?

An individual's career determines the best certification in accounting. Certified professionals demonstrate expertise by completing rigorous tests. Individuals should identify their career path and required skills to pursue a certification that meets their needs.

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