Best Accounting Certifications

Whether you are currently an accounting professional or an accounting student, you should consider the impact that a professional certification can have on your career.  A professional certification can help you to advance in your current position, increase your earning potential, and expand your job prospects.  Obtaining a certification can separate you from competing professionals.  They communicate to employers and clients that you are highly-skilled and hold specialized expertise in areas such as accounting, internal audit, technology, and finance.  Certifications bring respect and credibility. 

Below are some of the best accounting certifications to boost your career and expand your skillset.

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

A Certified Public Accountant designation is the most popular and respected credential in the accounting profession.  Known as a CPA, this license is well-regarded with employers, colleagues, and clients.  It is versatile and can be used by professionals employed in public or private accounting.  All CPA candidates must pass an exam and meet the specific requirements of the state or US territory that they wish to become licensed in.  In all, there are 55 US states and territories that offer the CPA credential.

What education is required for a CPA?  A CPA is required to have a Bachelor’s Degree, along with an additional 30 hours in upper-level courses. 

Anything else required to become a CPA?  All CPA candidates must meet the specific education and work experience requirements in the state that they wish to become licensed in. 

What’s the CPA Exam like?  The Uniform CPA exam is made up of four sections.  You will have four hours to take each section.  All four exams must be passed within 18 months to avoid retaking any sections.

Who is a CPA license good for?  The CPA license is a good credential for any industry.  CPAs are often employed as tax accountants, auditors, Chief Financial Officers, company controllers, and financial analysts.

Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

A Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification is designed for those pursuing excellence in financial accounting and strategic management.  The CMA certification is recognized worldwide and is offered by the Institute of Management Accountants. CMAs are highly-skilled professionals that leverage their accounting expertise to make strategic business decisions involving risk, finance, investments, and professional ethics. 

What education is required for a CMA?  Bachelor’s Degree or professional accounting certification 

What’s the CMA Exam like?  The exam consists of two parts that cover 12 core competencies.  Exams are offered three times each year.    

Anything else required to become a CMA?  You must have two years of continuous experience in management or financial accounting.  Membership with the Institute of Management Accountants is also required. 

Who is a CMA credential good for?  A CMA certification is a good fit for cost accountants, management accountants, financial analysts, internal auditors, and tax accountants.

Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)

A Chartered Global Management Accountant, or a CGMA, is a good credential for accountants who currently work in private industry, or plan to.  It is a highly-regarding designation that is recognized globally.  Offered by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, or the CIMA, as well as the American Institute of Public Accountants, this certification equips professionals with the expertise to make effective operational, financial, risk, and strategic decisions.  Its focus is on assessing the changing business landscape and developing the skillset to make decisions to support responsible and sustainable decisions. 

What education is required for a CGMA?  There is no specific education required 

What’s the CGMA Exam like?  There are 12 exam sections and 3 case studies. 

Anything else required to become a CGMA?  In addition to passing the exam, you must have three years of relevant work experience.   

Who is a CGMA credential good for?  Pursue a CGMA designation if you have set your sights on becoming a Chief Financial Officer, controller, or a finance director.

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

A Certified Internal Auditor certification is good for those who perform internal audits for companies and government agencies.  Awarded by the Institute of Internal Auditors, it is the only certification of its kind that is globally-recognized.  They are skilled professionals who specialize in governance, internal audits, control assessment, and fraud detection.   

What education is required for a CIA?  You must have a minimum of an Associates Degree or a comparable level of education. 

What’s the CIA Exam like?  The exam consists of three parts. Since it is computer-based, it can be scheduled and taken at any time during the year at an approved testing center. 

Anything else required to become a CIA?  Work experience is required to become a CIA.  The amount of experience depends upon your highest level of education.  Those who obtain an Associates Degree will need to complete 60 months of work experience related to internal audit.  If you have a Bachelors Degree, you are required to complete 24 months of relevant work experience.  Those who have a Masters Degree must have at least 12 months of professional experience.  Depending upon where you are located, you may be required to become a member of your local branch of the Institute of Internal Auditors

Who is a CIA credential good for?  If you currently work as an internal auditor, the CIA certificate can boost your career prospects.  The CIA credential is good for audit managers, compliance auditors, and technology auditors.  It can also be a springboard to move into an executive or director-level position.

Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)

Issued by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, professionals that obtain a CFE credential become part of the community dedicated to reducing fraud throughout the world.  They are known for their experience and skill in detecting and preventing fraud. 

What education is required to become a CFE?  A Bachelors Degree or a similar college degree

What’s the CFE Exam like?  There are four sections of the CFE exam.  You have a time limit of 2 hours to complete each section.  The exam can be taken online at your home or local testing center. 

Anything else required to become a CFE?  Becoming a CFE requires that you have a  combination of education and relevant professional work experience.  Points are assigned based on the type and amount that you have.  To meet the CFE requirements, you must have a total of 50 points, which can typically be met if you have a Bachelors Degree and two years of work experience.       

Who should become a CFE?  Positions such as fraud examiners, forensic accountants, auditors, and compliance officers typically hold a CFE credential.  CFEs also hold executive-level positions such as chief risk officers and inspector generals. 

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

Professionals with the Chartered Financial Analyst credential are well-respected leaders in their field.  The CFA designation is recognized globally and is offered by the CFA Institute.  Professionals with this credential have a strong foundation in investment, analysis, and portfolio management.  They are recognized leaders in their industry that have expertise in dealing with advanced financial matters ethically and responsibly.    

What education is required to become a CFA?  A Bachelors Degree or an equivalent university degree. 

What’s the CFA Exam like?  You must pass three exams in sequential order.  The Level I exam is offered in June and December, whereas the Level 2 and Level 3 exams are only available in June.   

Anything else required to become a CFA?  Four years of relevant work experience is required to become a CFA Charterholder.  You may be able to satisfy this requirement through a combination of education and work experience. 

Who should become a CFA Charterholder?  You will typically find CFAs in positions such as portfolio managers, investment analysts, and financial planners.  A CFA credential can also position you for positions that require leadership and strategic analysis.

Certified Information System Auditor (CISA)

If your career is taking you down the track of information technology, a Certified Information System Auditor credential is useful.  Awarded by the ISACA, the CISA is a valuable designation for professionals whose focus is security, controls, and auditing information systems.  They have a high-level of expertise in such areas as protecting information assets, governance, auditing, and information system development. 

What education is required to become a CISA?  This is an experience-based credential, so there are no education requirements. 

What’s the CISA Exam like?  The CISA exam consists of 150 questions that must be completed within a 4-hour time limit.  Starting in April 2020, the exam will be offered online.  

Anything else required to become a CISA?  You must have a minimum of 5 years of work experience in such areas as information system auditing, security, or controls.  Education and closely-related work experience may be considered as a substitution for a maximum of 3 years.    

Who should get a CISA certification?  Professionals who hold such positions as information system auditors, security analysts, technology auditors, and audit managers should consider a CISA designation.  If you aspire to elevate your role to an executive position, such as a Chief Technology Officer or Chief Information Officer, a CISA is a helpful credential to have.

Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP)

Offered by the American Institute of Public Accountants, the CITP certification expands the role of public accounting concerning information technology.  A CITP designation expands the role of a CPA by focusing on the impact of information security, IT governance, data management and analysis, and cyber risks to a company’s operations and financial reporting. 

What education is required to become a CITP?  Since this credential is an extension of a CPA certification, there are no additional educational requirements. 

What’s the CITP Exam like?  The CITP exam is multiple choice and has a limit of 4 hours to complete.  The exam is offered at testing locations around the country.  It is also available online with remote-proctoring.    

Anything else required to become a CITP?  You must have a valid CPA license or equivalent certificate issued by a state authority.      

Who should get a CITP certification?  CPAs who currently hold positions as auditors or managers in an information technology environment are good candidates for certification.  A CITP certification can advance your career to hold management and leadership positions.  It is also useful to have if you are consulting on information technology, financial, or operational matters.

Enrolled Agent (EA)

An Enrolled Agent has technical expertise in taxation.  They are authorized by the US Department of Treasury to represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service collection matters, tax return examinations, and appeals.  They can prepare federal and state tax returns and provide consulting services. 

What education is required to become an EA?  There is no formal education required to become an Enrolled Agent.   

What’s the EA Exam like?  To become an EA, you must pass the 3-part Special Enrollment Exam (SEE).  The exams cover taxation matters that relate to individuals and corporations, as well as practices and procedures.      

Anything else required to become an EA?  To become an EA, you must pass the SEE exam and complete a background check.  IRS employees may be exempt from taking the exam if they have held a position where they interpret tax code for at least 5 years. 

Who should get an EA?  If you are interested in preparing tax returns but do not have the time or education to pursue a CPA license, an EA is a good option.  Enrolled Agents often work as tax preparers for accounting, bookkeeping, or legal firms.  They can also hold positions that specialize in tax matters and representation before the IRS.

Conclusion

While there are a wide variety of certifications available, you should consider which one(s) will be best for your career path.  A CPA is a well-rounded certification that is versatile enough for both public and private industries.  If you have aspirations to work as an auditor for a financial institution, government agency, or a company, the CIA may be a good fit.  Professionals looking to expand into finance and investments may be best served with a CFA designation. 

The bottom line is that accounting certifications expand opportunities and increase your earning potential.  Regardless of which designation you choose to pursue, you can’t go wrong by investing in your career.