Deciding on a specific area of finance or accounting to pursue can be a difficult decision with a number of choices to consider, and the difference between a CMA and a CPA certification is crucial when building the qualifications needed to enter into specific career positions. Each certification provides specific focus on either financial strategy or accounting practices, and professionals in these areas benefit in many ways from completion of the right designation.

CPA Fundamentals

The Certified Public Accountant, or CPA, designation, is one of the most widely recognized professional certifications. This designation is focused more on preparing professionals for various tasks and roles in accounting for businesses and individuals. CPAs are recognized as the go-to professionals for tax preparation, translating into easy identification by practically everyone. The CPA covers more than the preparation of taxes as well.

CPA certification is issued by individual state licensing boards. In order to qualify, individuals must have an undergraduate degree in a relevant area of study, a state-determined number of post-undergraduate education hours, and a typical minimum of two years working under a CPA professional. When these qualifications have been met, prospective CPA candidates are able to take the four-part examination to earn the designation. In addition to taxes, CPA professionals are also versed in regulation, auditing, financial reporting, and concepts in the business environment. Successfully completing the examination requires knowledge in each of these areas as well as compliance.

CMA Fundamentals

The Certified Management Accountant, or CMA, designation is often the top choice for individuals who are interested in pursuing positions in management of large firms or other types of corporations or organizations. CMA professionals are prepared to handle a number of tasks that are associated with financial decision-making, planning, performance, and control.

The CMA certification requires similar qualifications to that of the CPA certification; however, the CMA  issues the Institute of Management Accountants, a national professional association rather than being issued by individual state licensing boards like the CPA certification. In addition to education requirements, prospective CMA candidates will also have to accumulate a minimum of two full-time years working in the accounting field or the equivalent part-time hours. Once these requirements are fulfilled, future CMAs are able to complete the examination to earn the designation.

Careers for CMA and CPA Professionals

For the majority of CMA professionals, career positions will be found in corporate business environments. Additional information on the CMA examination and career possibilities can be found at the Institute of Management Accountants website. CPA professionals often have more diverse options in what types of industries to find employment, including for government agencies and working with private clients. Additional information on CPA career options can be found at the American Institute of CPAs website.

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Whether deciding to pursue a career in finance or accounting, the right credentials can be the difference between finding a position, earning a promotion, or gaining the confidence of clients. To best prepare, deciding on the best option in the difference between a CMA and a CPA certification is often the first step to making choices in education, experience, and career path for a future accounting professional.