Top Accounting Certifications


Accounting is a complex profession with many areas of expertise.  

It can also be a highly competitive area of the job market, in which those looking to become an accountant try to stand out from the crowd as much as possible. 

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For these reasons, accounting certifications can be enormously helpful to those looking to become an accountant or a certified accounting professional.

Accounting certifications allow those looking to become an accountant to:

  • Gain expertise, both generally and in specific areas
  • Boost credibility in the job market
  • Add prestige to any organization that hires them
  • Improve job security

When exploring ways on how to become an accountant, choosing the accounting certification that best suits your goals is not always an easy task. 

There are a wide range of certifications available, each with its own advantages. 

This article breaks down the various accounting certifications and gives insight into how each one might further your career if you are interested in how to become an accountant



Two Top Accounting Certifications

What are the two top accounting certifications?

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

CPA is widely considered to be the gold-standard of accounting certifications.

CPAs must pass a rigorous, four-part exam in order to obtain the CPA certification.

They are tested on many critical areas of accounting, including audits, legal compliance, tax codes, risk management, and many other areas.

The CPA designation is required for most high-level accounting jobs. 

Academic requirements vary by state, but all candidates must pass the CPA examination, which is administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Most candidates enroll in a guided prep course before taking the exam.

Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

In your pursuit of how to become an accountant, the CMA is another high-level accounting certification that you should consider.

It is geared more specifically towards managing and optimizing a company's financial performance.

Specialties include tax compliance, budget analysis, financial strategies, and investment decisions.

Candidates for the CMA certification must meet the following requirements:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree
  • Have two years of professional accounting experience
  • Pass the CMA exam, administered by the Institute of Management Accountants
  • Complete 30 hours of continuing education annually

What are the specialty accounting certifications for becoming an accountant?

  • Certified Internal Auditor
  • Certified Fraud Examiner
  • Certified Information Systems Auditor
  • Certified Government Auditing Professional
  • Enrolled Agent
  • Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) and Fundamental Payroll Certificate (FPC)
  • Accredited Business Accountant
  • Accredited Financial Examiner (AFE)
  • Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA)
  • Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP)
  • Certified Bookkeeper (CB)
  • Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA)
  • Certified Forensic Accountant (Cr.FA)
  • Certified Professional Environmental Auditor (CPEA)
  • Certified Quality Auditor (CQA)
  • Forensic Certified Public Accountant (FCPA)

Importance of Specialized Accounting Certifications

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On their own, the above specialty accounting certifications carry much less weight than the CPA and CMA certifications.

As their names imply, each deals with a specific area inside the accounting profession. 

However, these specialty certifications can be highly valuable as auxiliary certifications for CPAs and CMAs. 

Holding one or more specialty certifications in addition to one of the top-level accounting certifications can add credibility and prestige to an accountant who is working in a specific field. 

For example, let's say that two CPAs apply for a job in the fraud department of a major corporation, and one of them has also earned the Certified Fraud Examiner certification.

The CPA that has earned the Certified Fraud Examiner certification will be more likely to come away with the job. 

On the other hand, if one of the candidates is a CPA and the other candidate has only obtained the Certified Fraud Examiner certification, the corporation is likely to consider the CPA as a more qualified candidate.



Which Certification is Right for You?

As an accountant professional, you can’t go wrong with either the CPA or CMA certification.

Both certifications are not only highly respected, but in many cases expected or even required from serious job candidates.

Accountants who do not hold either of these accounting certifications are also more likely to lose their jobs to more qualified candidates over time.

Most working accounting professionals agree that the best advice on obtaining accounting certifications is to first obtain the CPA or CMA.

This requires a great deal of focus and dedication, resulting in a broad knowledge of best-practices in the accounting field. 


After Earning the CPA / CMA

Once the CPA or CMA has been earned, additional certifications can help accounting professionals to accumulate special expertise and stand out in specialized job markets within the accounting profession.

These specialty certifications are also attractive to accounting professionals because they require much less time and effort to obtain in comparison to the CPA and CMA certifications.

There are always exceptions to the rule.

One way to determine what certification or combination of certifications is best for you is to monitor various web sites where accounting jobs are posted.

This allows you to develop a first-hand, comprehensive view of what certifications are required for candidates in certain job markets. 

Academic programs for obtaining any of the accounting certifications discussed here can easily be found with a basic web search.



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