Are you interested in or currently pursuing a career in accounting? Maybe you are already a working professional? If you enjoy working with financial information and records, this is likely an ideal profession for you. Because most industries require some level of financial oversight, accountants are usually able to find work easily.

While a degree in accounting can often help you secure an entry-level position in the field, completing one or more certifications can provide significant opportunities for future career advancement. In fact, there are numerous benefits to earning certifications as an accounting professional. Not only will you be able to specialize your skills and offer more sought-after services, but you can also move into positions that offer higher pay. This is also a good option for individuals interested in moving into an accounting career from a different field.

Introduction or Add-On Accounting Certifications

It is important to realize there are many different certifications available for accountants. Depending on your career goals, you will be able to find a certification appropriate for every level of employment within this field. Those just beginning their careers will find earning one or more certifications is a great way to stand out among other applicants. This can particularly helpful for recent graduates trying to get their foot in the door. Employers for entry-level positions often give preference to candidates with the following intro and add-on accounting certifications:

1

Certified Bookkeeper (CB)

  • Degree Necessary:
    No degree is necessary but, depending on the certifying body, applicants may need to complete a course or have two years of full-time bookkeeping experience.
  • Number of Tests:
    A single test, but some exams may include multiple parts.
  • Exam Dates:
    Applicants have one year to pass the exam after registering.
  • Exam Length:
    The length of exam varies depending on the certifying body, ranging from 50 multiple choice questions and simulations to a four-part examination with timed and untimed segments.
  • Cost:
    Depending on the certifying body, the cost of this certification ranges between $225 and $650. Study materials and test retakes will incur additional fees. Discounts are available for organization members.
  • Expected Salary:
    $50,000

Certified bookkeepers have demonstrated their knowledge, skills, and ability to perform important financial tasks. There are two primary nationally recognized programs offering certification: National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB) and the American Institute of Professional Bookkeeping (AIPB). These certifications can be helpful when applying for a new job or securing freelance clients. Continuing education is required to maintain certification.

2

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

  • Degree Necessary:
    You’ll need either a master’s degree with 12 months of relevant work experience, a bachelor’s degree with 24 months of relevant work experience, or an associate degree with 60 months of relevant work experience.
  • Number of Tests:
    There is one test with three parts – Essential of Internal Auditing, Practice of Internal Auditing, and Business Knowledge for Internal Auditing.
  • Exam Dates:
    The exam is available through computer-based testing, allowing for year-round testing at hundreds of locations worldwide.
  • Exam Length:
    Test takers have around two hours to complete 100 questions and two and a half hours to complete 125 questions.
  • Cost:
    Non-members pay $1,315, including the application fee for all three parts of the exam. Members pay $855, while students pay $655.
  • Expected Salary:
    $85,000

The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) administers the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) examination and grants the CIA designation. Certified Internal Auditors objectively analyze and evaluate company financials and business operations, identifying problems and ensuring compliance with company, industry, and government regulations. There are many benefits to earning this international credential including increased earning potential, more job security, opportunities for professional advancement, and focused skills improvement.

3

Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV)

  • Degree Necessary:
    You’ll need a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and to complete the Code of Professional Conduct and Standards Education for Finance Professionals course provided by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA).
  • Number of Tests:
    There is one test with two modules – Foundation of Valuation Theory and Implementation of Valuation Methods.
  • Exam Dates:
    The instructions on how to schedule the exam are sent via email approximately two weeks after registration. The test can be taken in-person at one of 300 locations nationwide or online in a remotely-proctored environment.
  • Exam Length:
    Both modules last three hours and must be passed within 12 months.
  • Cost:
    $380, plus yearly dues. Multiple credential discounts are available.
  • Expected Salary:
    $86,000

Only members of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) can apply for and maintain the Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) credential. Accredited in Business Valuation professionals have the competencies to provide premier valuation services in areas such as tax, litigation, financial reporting, transactions, and ESOPs. There are many benefits to earning this credential including access to other valuation professionals with similar interests and practices, as well as relevant practice aids, webcasts, newsletters, and discounts on continuing professional development.

High-Level Accounting Certifications to Consider

In addition to the certifications mentioned above, there are numerous high-level credentials that may be worth considering. While entry-level options tend to be broader, these certifications focus on specialized skills within the industry. The unique knowledge gained may mean few positions are available, but the employment opportunities that are available do usually lead to higher salaries. It is also worth noting that many high-level certifications are more difficult to attain. Seasoned professionals may benefit from exploring one or more of the following credentials:

1

Enrolled Agent (EA)

  • Degree Necessary:
    No degree necessary.
  • Number of Tests:
    One test with three parts – Individuals, Businesses, and Representation, Practices, and Procedures.
  • Exam Dates:
    The test is offered from May 1 to the end of February of the following year, but is not offered during the annual blackout period in March and April. Examinations can be scheduled at any time online.
  • Exam Length:
    Each part of the exam contains 100 questions and must be completed within a three and a half hour time period.
  • Cost:
    $546 covers the cost to take all three parts of the exam.
  • Expected Salary:
    $49,000

The Enrolled Agent (EA) credential is provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Only Enrolled Agents have the privilege of representing taxpayers before the IRS. It is the highest credential the IRS awards and recipients must adhere to ethical standards and complete 72 hours of continuing education courses every three years. There are many benefits to earning this credential, including unlimited practice rights. Enrolled Agents are unrestricted as to which taxpayers they can represent, what types of matters they can handle, and which IRS offices they can address.

2

Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA)

  • Degree Necessary:
    To earn this certification, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree with one year of full-time professional experience or four years of full-time professional experience.
  • Number of Tests:
    There are two tests – Level I and Level II.
  • Exam Dates:
    Exams are offered twice each year, in September and late February/March. The Level I and Level II exams cannot be taken within the same exam window.
  • Exam Length:
    Exams are composed of 100 to 200 multiple choice questions.
  • Cost:
    $1,250 for each test, plus annual membership dues. Early registration is $100 less. Retaking tests costs $450.
  • Expected Salary:
    $98,000

Sponsored by the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (ACIA) Association the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) is the only globally-recognized educational standard for individuals specializing in alternative investments. Professionals manage, analyze, distribute, and/or regulate investments. A major benefit is learning what is needed to be successful and credible in alternatives.

3

Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

  • Degree Necessary:
    For this certification, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree or higher in any discipline from an accredited college or university.
  • Number of Tests:
    There is only one test.
  • Exam Dates:
    Candidates schedule their exam date, test site location, and start time after submitting the exam application online.
  • Exam Length:
    The exam consists of 170 multiple-choice questions that must be completed within two three-hour sessions over one day.
  • Cost:
    The exam costs $825 to take, but an early bird rate of $725 is available until six weeks before the registration deadline.
  • Expected Salary:
    $67,000

The Certified Financial Planner (CFP) credential is overseen by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. Certified Financial Planners are rigorously trained in 72 areas of financial expertise and know how to assist with financial planning, taxes, insurance, estate planning, and retirement. Benefits of earning this certification include earning a mark of excellence in the financial industry and becoming highly valued by financial firms and consumers alike.

4

Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)

  • Degree Necessary:
    There is no degree necessary to earn this certificate, but candidates must complete the Chartered Global Management Accountant Finance Leadership Program.
  • Number of Tests:
    There are two tests to take, one after the Management level and the second after the Strategic level of the program.
  • Exam Dates:
    Both exams have testing windows in February, May, August, and November and are administered by Pearson VUE at one of their over 2,000 facilities in the United States.
  • Exam Length:
    Each exam is three hours long and includes three to five tasks related to a business case study.
  • Cost:
    The cost is $4,395 for all three levels of the program, although it is possible to sign up for one or two of the levels individually.
  • Expected Salary:
    $125,000

The Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation is overseen by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) Chartered Global Management Accountants are trusted, expert strategists connecting all aspects of business and are proficient in finance, operations, strategy, and management. Benefits of earning this certification include developing an understanding of how different aspects of business come together, demonstrating an ability to look to the future of finance, and illustrating an ability to provide objective views.

5

Financial Modeling and Valuation Analyst (FMVA)

  • Degree Necessary:
    You’ll need a bachelor’s degree to earn this certification.
  • Number of Tests:
    Tests will likely be included in each of the nine required courses or three elective courses.
  • Exam Dates:
    Your exam date will depend on your enrollment date and coursework pacing.
  • Exam Length:
    The length of exams will vary by class.
  • Cost:
    For all courses, costs will run around $497 for self-study and up to $847 for full-immersion enrollment.
  • Expected Salary:
    $121,000

The Financial Modeling & Valuation Analyst (FMVA) designation is overseen by the Corporate Finance Institute (CFI) Financial Modeling & Valuation Analysts often work in investment banking research, equity research, and corporate development. They are proficient with financial modeling, sensitivity analysis, and strategy. Benefits of this program include boosting knowledge and skills, studying online at any pace, and becoming certified in only a few months.

6

Financial Risk Manager (FRM)

  • Degree Necessary:
    Anyone with two years of professional full-time financial risk management work experience can register to take the exam.
  • Number of Tests:
    There are two tests – Exam Part I and Exam Part II.
  • Exam Dates:
    Both tests are typically offered twice a year on the third Saturday of May and the third Saturday of November.
  • Exam Length:
    Candidates have four hours to complete between 80 and 100 multiple-choice questions. Both exams must be completed within four years of each other.
  • Cost:
    The standard cost of Exam Part I is $550 and Exam Part II is $475. Early registration costs $125 less, but late registration cots $175 more.
  • Expected Salary:
    $99,000

The Financial Risk Manager (FRM) designation is overseen by the Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP) Financial Risk Managers identify and analyze potential threats to assets, earning capacity, and/or the overall success of a business. Benefits of earning this credential include standing out among financial professionals, proving knowledge and skills meet the latest international standards, and connecting to an elite network of expert risk professionals employed by some of the world’s leading institutions.

7

Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)

  • Degree Necessary:
    You’ll need a bachelor’s degree or equivalent from an institution of higher learning to earn this certification. Two years of fraud-related professional experience can be substituted for each year of academic study.
  • Number of Tests:
    There is only one test to take, with four sections.
  • Exam Dates:
    The exam can be taken at any time convenient to the test-taker.
  • Exam Length:
    Each of the four exam sections must be completed within 24 hours of unlocking it and must be done in a single sitting.
  • Cost:
    The cost for the exam is $400, or $300 for those who purchase the CFE Exam Prep Course.
  • Expected Salary:
    $82,000

The Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) designation is overseen by Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, Inc. (ACFE) All candidates must be an ACFE member. Certified Fraud Examiners uncover, prevent, and deter fraud. This often entails studying employer financial records for discrepancies and collaborating with law enforcement when necessary. Benefits of earning this credential include receiving a higher salary, increased job security, and distinction among other job candidates.

Top Sought After Accounting Certifications

Many of the entry-level and high-level credentials mentioned above can be extremely helpful in propelling a career forward. There are, however, a few certifications that are more sought after than all others in the field. Without one or more of the following credentials, it is impossible to secure many of the top jobs in accounting.

1

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

  • Degree Necessary:
    In most cases, you’ll need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field from an accredited college or university in order to earn this certification.
  • Number of Tests:
    there is one test for this certification, with four sections – Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG).
  • Exam Dates:
    The exam can be taken during any one of four testing windows throughout the year.
  • Exam Length:
    All exam sections are four hours in length and must be completed within 18 months of each other.
  • Cost:
    Exam fees depend on the jurisdiction where licensure is desired.
  • Expected Salary:
    $66,000

The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation is managed by each state’s board of accountancy independently. Most states have similar application requirements, including the passing of the Uniform CPA Examination. Certified Public Accountants perform financial statement audits and other attestation services to keep investors informed. Benefits of earning this credential include increased employment opportunities, higher salaries, better benefits, job stability, and industry respect.

2

Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

  • Degree Necessary:
    For this certification, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree or professional accounting certification, plus two years of work experience.
  • Number of Tests:
    There is only one test with two parts for this certification – Financial Planning, Performance and Analytics and Strategic Financial Management.
  • Exam Dates:
    Testing windows are offered in January and February, May and June, and September and October.
  • Exam Length:
    Each part consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and two essay questions that must be completed within four hours.
  • Cost:
    Each part of the test is $415 each.
  • Expected Salary:
    $88,000

The Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation is overseen by Institute of Management Accountants, Inc. (IMA) Certified Management Accountants possess significant knowledge in financial planning, analysis, control, decision support, and professional ethics. Benefits of earning this credential include more opportunities within the business world, career advancement, increased earning potential, and more credibility in the field.

3

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

  • Degree Necessary:
    You’ll need a bachelor’s degree or four years of full-time work experience and/or formal education to earn this certification. Students in their final year can also apply.
  • Number of Tests:
    There are three exams, each offered after a level of program curriculum.
  • Exam Dates:
    The Level I Exam is available in December, but computer-based versions are also available in February. Level II and III exams can be taken in June.
  • Exam Length:
    The exams last between two and three hours and include multiple-choice questions, vignettes, or both.
  • Cost:
    Early registration is $700, standard registration is $1,000, and late registration is $1,450.
  • Expected Salary:
    $93,000

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation is overseen by Chartered Financial Analyst Institute, Inc. Chartered Financial Analysts monitor and help improve financial performance for their clients. This includes tracking status’, analyzing plans, and reconciling transactions. Benefits of earning this credential are better job prospects, higher pay potential, more credibility, networking opportunities, and less time in an academic setting.

4

Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM)

  • Degree Necessary:
    For this certificate, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in any subject area from an accredited United States college or university and at least two years of professional experience in government financial management.
  • Number of Tests:
    There are three comprehensive exams you must pass.
  • Exam Dates:
    Exams are administered year-round in a computerized format. Candidates can schedule appointments online or by phone.
  • Exam Length:
    Exams are approximately two hours long and consist of 115 questions.
  • Cost:
    The cost is currently $125 per exam.
  • Expected Salary:
    $89,000

The Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) designation is overseen by the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) Certified Government Financial Managers demonstrate competency in government accounting, auditing, financial reporting, internal controls, and budgeting at the federal, state, and local levels. Benefits of earning this credential include recognition of specialized knowledge and experience, as well as expanded career opportunities.

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