Everything you need to know about accounting certification

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Accounting certifications explained

If you already have a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in accounting and you still seek to advance your career, then the logical next step is to earn accounting certifications. This is both a way to deepen your knowledge and move forward towards becoming a more valuable employee.

Your employer may acknowledge that continuous education is an investment and show willingness to support you in earning new credentials. Certifications will broaden your know-how and help your organization meet additional goals, stay compliant, and be more productive.

As an established accountant, you should point out all the advantages of becoming certified to your employer and seek support from your colleagues and managers. Earning an accounting certification can be beneficial in 3 ways:

  1. It opens new career opportunities and grants you access to jobs where it’s mandatory to be certified.
  2. You get the chance to advance your studies and become more knowledgeable in several accounting fields.
  3. It boosts the credibility and reputation of both you and the organization you work for.

Top accounting certifications for top accounting careers

There are clear advantages to becoming a certified accountant, and exploring your various options is the first step. It’s vital to make sure you know what certifications you qualify to earn, what are their prerequisites and admission requirements, and why you should pursue these opportunities. Here’s what you must know about the accounting certifications that are currently available and why you should choose one instead of another.

Certified Public Accountant

You can become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) after successfully passing an exam organized by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The test includes four sections, each with a 4-hour duration:

  • Business environment and concepts
  • Auditing and attestation
  • Regulation
  • Financial accounting and reporting

Each candidate must pass all units in less than 18 months, with a minimum score of 75.

Certified Management Accountant

The most important professional certification you could earn in the financial management field and in management accounting is the Certified Management Accountant (CMA). This credential certifies that you have in-depth knowledge of financial planning, control, analysis, strategic financial management, and decision support. You can obtain the CMA certification once you pass the exams organized by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).

Certified Internal Auditor

The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) can grant you a prestigious international qualification – Certified Internal Auditor (CIA). This certifies that you can conduct internal audits in various organizations, from governmental departments or agencies to financial companies, monetary institutions, or multinational corporations.

Certified Information Systems Auditor

If you plan to run IT audits, manage IT-related risks, and control information systems, then it may be a good idea to become a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). This credential certifies that you are able to conduct external or internal audits in numerous IT operating environments.

Certified Fraud Examiner

Earning a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential will help forensic accounting professionals join various organizations – from law companies to federal agencies or even law-enforcing institutions. To become a certified fraud examiner, you have to be a member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). Located in Austin, Texas, ACFE ranks high among the most prominent organizations of forensic accounting experts in the world.

Certification requirements, costs, and eligibility information

Before you choose any of these above-mentioned certifications, make sure you know all their entry requirements and associated costs, so that you are fully aware of what to expect. Choose to enroll in a program that fits your skills and passions so that you end up earning a certification that matches your aspirations.

Prerequisites for the CPA certification

Before you choose any of these above-mentioned certifications, make sure you know all their entry requirements and associated costs, so that you are fully aware of what to expect. Choose to enroll in a program that fits your skills and passions so that you end up earning a certification that matches your aspirations.

CPA licensing costs

If you plan to become a CPA, there are many costs and fees you should consider. The first step would be to pay for prep courses, ranging between $1,000 – $3,000. Then, there is the application fee, which costs between $50 – $200, depending on the state. Next, you should take into consideration the exam fees – $193.45 in most states.

When you decide to sign up for a particular section, know that you have to pay a registration fee. The more sections you choose to enroll in, the less you will have to pay in total – from $63 for one unit to $177 for all 4 sections.

In numerous states, you should also pass an ethics test after completing the exam successfully to get your CPA license. The cost associated to this ethics test ranges between $150 – $200, but it includes a study book. After completing all CPA exam sections and the AICPA ethics test, you should pay your CPA licensing fees on a yearly basis, with costs ranging from $50 to $500 per year.

Admission information and costs for the CMA exam

Any CMA candidate should have substantial business and accounting knowledge. Before taking the exam, the IMA requires you to hold at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or in any other relevant field from accredited institutions.

IMA will evaluate candidates with unaccredited degrees and decide on a case-by-case basis if they can take the exam. Moreover, to earn this certification, you should have at least 2 years of professional experience in management accounting or finance.

The cost of the CMA exam varies. You will have to pay less if you are a member of IMA, a student, or a professor. The regular entry fee is $250, and the reduced one is $188. For the 2 parts of the exam you should pay $830 or $622 for students, professors, and IMA members.

Eligibility requirements and fees for the CIA certification

According to IIA, there are precise requirements to enter the CIA exam. The candidates should have graduated with at least a 3-year post-secondary degree, or they should have earned an associate’s degree before meeting the educational eligibility requirements mentioned by IIA. Your degree doesn’t need to be in accounting or directly-related fields.

Depending on the level of your education, you may also need to complete a work experience requirement before the exam. It’s a plus if you have internal audit experience or if you have already worked in fields such as internal control and compliance, external audit, or quality assurance.

If you plan to enter the CIA exam and become a certified internal auditor, you’ll have to pay first an application fee – $115 for IIA members and $230 for non-members. If you are a student or a professor, you only pay $65. The exam is comprised of 3 parts, and you must pay an entry fee for each of them – $740 in total for members, $1,085 for non-members, and $590 for professors and students.

Prerequisites for CISA certification

To earn a CISA certification, you should have at least 5 years of professional experience in the security, control, and audit of information systems, according to the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA).

As a candidate or a CISA certification holder, you should follow a strict code of professional ethics and continuously update your skills and know-how according to the latest news, trends, and evolutions in the field.

The CISA exam fees depend on whether you are a member of ISACA or not – $575 for members and $760 for non-members. Besides that, there is a $50 application processing fee and an annual maintenance fee of $45 for members and $85 for non-members.

CFE certification requirements

As an applicant for CFE certification, you must hold at least a B.A. in accounting. It’s good to have minimum 2 years of professional experience in financial crimes, fraud investigations, auditing, or sociology. Additionally, you must adhere to the AFCE Code of Ethics and prove that you have solid integrity standards, and you are a committed professional.

The exam includes 500 questions grouped in 4 different sections:

  • Investigation
  • Fraud prevention and deterrence
  • Law and
  • Financial transactions and fraud schemes

There are 125 questions per section, and a candidate should provide the correct answer in less than 75 seconds per question. All 4 sections should be successfully completed within a month.

To enter the CFE exam, you’ll have to pay a $350 entry fee. Alternatively, you can purchase a prep course, thus earning a $100 credit on the cost, reducing the overall expense to $250.

New career paths, higher salary expectations

In 2019, the average wage for accountants and auditors was $71,550 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This figure can vary dramatically based on your education, work experience, employer, and the state you decide to work in.

As a certified accountant, you can also work as a personal financial advisor and earn up to $87,850 per year. Finally, you could guide investment decisions as a financial analyst and earn an average yearly wage of $81,590.

American Accounting Association (AAA)

The AAA gathers under one roof an extensive community of accountants from all walks of life, including the academic field.

National Society of Accountants (NSA)

NSA is a society with a core mission of helping tax and accounting professionals further their knowledge.

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)

AICPA is the official body that represents CPAs, developing and grading the CPA certification examination at state and national level.

American Association of Finance and Accounting (AAFA)

The AAFA connects accounting organizations, firms, and professionals throughout the United States.

International Federation of Accountants (IFA)

This organization represents accounting professionals in more than 130 countries around the world, acting as a global common ground for networking and best practices in the accounting industry.

The Institute of Internal Auditors of North America (IIA)

The IIA is an organization with 200,000 members globally that represents internal auditors’ interests at national and international levels.

Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)

ISACA now has more than 150,000 members in over 180 countries and is a global organization for information governance, control, security, and audit professionals.

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)

NASBA acts like a forum for the 55 State Boards of Accountancy in the US, which administer the Uniform CPA Examination. In partnership with AICPA, NASBA facilitates CPA examination for professionals oversees.

Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE)

Home to over 85,000 members, CFE is an anti-fraud organization that offers anti-fraud training, certification, and education.

European Accounting Association (EAA)

EEA is an academic organization that supports Europe’s accounting community through research, education opportunities and knowledge sharing.

Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)

Also known as the Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business, IMA is the body in charge of organizing, grading CMA and CSCA examination certifications.

Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB)

FASB is an independent organization that sets the standards for public and private organizations following Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) in the field of financial accounting.