Added credentials can bolt your resume to the top of the pile. But in the accounting field, you want to make sure that you are spending time and money getting the one that will most fit your career ambitions and set you in the right direction. There are two biggie credentials accountants can earn -- the certified public accountant (CPA) and certified management account (CMA). Deciding which to go for means mapping out your long-term career goals.
If the work you envision yourself doing day-to-day (or season-to-season) is tax- and audit-related, and you'd like to gain experience in and knowledge of multiple industries, the CPA credential is for you. CPAs have the upper hand in corporate-level financial reporting positions. If you like to travel and are open to it as part of your job, opt for the CPA over the CMA.
If you see yourself doing financial analysis and planning, cost accounting and preparing reports on management, this is the path for you. With the CMA credential you will have the upper hand in management accounting roles and manufacturing roles such as plant control. It's a better fit for professionals that plan to stay with one company for the long-haul and like the familiarity of showing up at at the same office through the years. Both credentials make you an eligible fit for such positions, but the CMA gives you an edge.
To take the CPA, you must meet the licensing rules for the state in which you are testing, which typically means having completed 150 hours of post-college coursework. The CPA exam is uniform in all 50 states, but is administered by individual State Boards of Accountancy. Additional requirements vary by state and may include having worked as a public accountant. This may require a greater time commitment than is needed to obtain a CMA. For a CMA, you must have a bachelor's degree in any area along with two years of full-time work experience in the field -- or four years of part-time -- under your belt. This means having held positions in financial management and/or management accounting. Earning the credential requires passing a four-part exam.
An annual salary survey published in June 2011 by the Institute of Management Accountants found that of all the accounting and finance professionals, public accounting ranked highest in terms of average salary at $125,488 a year. It ranked second in average total compensation in 2010 and 2009. In the 2011 survey, CMAs earned slightly more than CPAs. For pros with both certifications, the difference can range between $27,000, and $35,000 in annual compensation.
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