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A person who gets a CPA license typically begins work as a public accountant (generally tax and auditing), while a person who gets a CMA certification often works as a management accountant but may work in a wide range of other fields.

Let’s take a look at the key differences in accounting certifications and requirements.

What is the Difference between a CPA and a CMA?

Let’s explore some of the differences between the CMA vs CPA distinctions.

Both the CPA and CMA provide their unique benefits, and it’s not a matter of one credential being better than the other, but a matter of which one is better for your career and interests.

The CPA is a U.S. license, while the CMA is a globally recognized certification.

The CPA is most appropriate for professionals seeking to work in public accounting.

Public accounting typically includes:

  • Accounting and tax services
  • Auditing and other attestation services
  • Consulting services

CMA certification is more appropriate for professionals seeking work in corporations, NFPs, government, education, and also partnerships and other business entity forms.

Common service areas in industry include:

  • Performance management
  • Cost management
  • Risk management
  • Financial analysis
  • Decision-making support

What is a CPA?

Certified Public Accountants, or CPAs, are licensed by their individual state’s board of accountancy after passing the Uniform CPA Exam, administered by the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants).

These accounting professionals are authorized to conduct audit levels and can also sign tax and regulatory filings.

Passing the CPA exam requires demonstrating mastery across four sections.

The four sections of the CPA Exam are:

Demonstrating mastery of these topics will help you establish yourself as a respected and accomplished accounting professional.

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What is a CMA?

Certified Management Accountants, or CMAs, have significant expertise in not only basic financial accounting methodologies but also strategic management and business decision-making.

CMA certification is granted by IMA (Institute of Management Accountants) after passing the CMA exam.

The CMA exam incudes two parts:

  • Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics
  • Strategic Financial Management

Mastering these areas will help you stand out as a professional that is ready to lead.

Ready to start studying for the CMA exam?

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Key Differences between CPA vs CMA at a Glance

IMA’s 2020 U.S. Salary Survey
Payscale Average Certified Public Accountant Salary
The Exam4-part exam totaling 16 hours of testing2-part exam totaling 8 hours of testing
Pass Rate50%45%
Annual Continuing Education40 hours30 hours
Experience Requirements1-2 years under licensed CPA2 years of Financial Management or Cost Accounting
Average Salary$68,724$75,000

CPA vs CMA Careers

Job opportunities for both CMAs and CPAs are varied and lucrative.

Licensed CPAs, for example, may work in business and industry or specialty firms, e.g., litigation support, or international, national, regional or local CPA firms providing attest, tax, or consulting services.

Common job opportunities for a CPA are:

  • Public accountant
  • Internal auditor
  • Financial manager
  • Controller

Want a closer look at what a career as a CPA could look like? Learn about 5 of the most popular career paths for CPAs.

The CMA certification has a more operational and financial focus and prepares you to work in large organizations with complex operations. Companies like 3M, Alcoa, AT&T, Bank of America, Boeing, and Cargill regularly hire CMAs, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Common jobs opportunities for a CMA are:

  • Cost accountant
  • Financial risk manager
  • CFO
  • Other C-suite executive positions

Different opportunities are available to you throughout your career as you gain more experience.

Learn about different CMA jobs you can hold throughout your career.

CPA vs CMA Salaries

According to industry data, a CPA earns 15% more in average salary than a non-CPA accountant. However, CMA certification translates to a 63% premium in compensation over professionals without a CMA.

Many factors can contribute to your salary as a CPA, including firm size, whether you work in public or private accounting, and your experience. And your salary as a CMA can be affected by your age, education level, experience, and industry.

Typically, a late-career CMA-holder does earn more than a CPA.

You should also take into consideration work/life balance and job satisfaction when mapping out your finance or accounting career.

CPA vs CMA Exam Difficulty

To earn your CPA, you will need to sit for 16 hours of examinations across the four sections of the exam. The CMA exam, by comparison, has two parts, with a total time of eight hours of testing.

Even so, the CMA exam has a slightly lower pass rate, at roughly 45% passing the two parts, collectively, while half (~50%) or better pass each section of the CPA exam.

All CMA candidates have three years to pass both parts of the exam. The time period will begin with the date of your entry into the CMA program.

For CPA, you have 18 months to pass all four parts of the CPA exam. The clock starts for the CPA exam on the date you sit for and pass your first exam part.

The CPA and CMA Exams Overlap

Prepare for your exams more efficiently and benefit from the content overlap between the CPA and CMA exams. Here’s how you can strategically schedule and sequence your study plan to align with the topics tested on both exams.

The table below illustrates the alignment in content areas between the CPA and CMA exams.

CMA Part 1 TopicsWhere it appears in the CPA Exam
External Financial Reporting Decisions (15%)FAR and REG (Tax Implications)
Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting (30%)BEC
Performance Management (20%)BEC
Cost Management (20%)BEC
Internal Controls (15%)AUD


CMA Part 2 TopicsWhere it appears in the CPA Exam
Financial Statement Analysis (25%)FAR and AUD (Analytical Review)
Corporate Finance (20%)BEC
Decision Analysis (20%)BEC
Risk Management (10%)BEC and possibly AUD (Audit Risk)
Investment Decisions (15%)BEC
Professional Ethics (10%)AUD

CPA vs CMA Cost

The cost of earning a CPA license differs by state, but in general you can expect the total cost—not including a review course—to approach $1,500 with all the application fees, exam fees, and licensing fees.

For a professional pursuing CMA certification, the cost of the CMA exam is approximately $1,300 with all the fees included. Again, this does not include the cost of a review course for studying.

Both the CPA certification and CMA certification bring additional fees when a candidate fails and needs to retake an exam section or part.

CPA vs CMA Requirements

When it comes to the requirements for eligibility, again both the CPA and CMA are similar in scope.

CPA Requirements Include:

1. Education

  • Earn at least a 4-year bachelor’s degree with a minimum number of accounting and business credit hours and a total of 150 higher education credit hours.

2. Exam

  • Pass all 4 parts of the Uniform CPA Examination.

3. Experience

  • Complete 1-2 years of relevant and verified accounting experience.

And you may also be required to pass an ethics exam depending on which state you are getting certified in. Also, after licensure, a CPA is required to complete 40 hours of Continuing Education each year.

CMA Requirements Include:

1. Education

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college/university or a related professional certification.

2. Exam

  • Complete and pass Parts 1 and 2 of the CMA exam.

3. Experience

  • Have at least two continuous years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management.

4. Ethics

  • Abide by the IMA’s Statement of Ethical Professional Practice.

Finally, CMAs require 30 hours of Continuing Education each year to maintain certification.

Why Choose? Earn Both Your CPA and CMA

One of the first career decisions accounting students and accounting professionals make is whether to pursue their CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or CMA (Certified Management Accountant)—but who said you have to choose one or the other?

Particularly for CPAs, dual certification can be immensely rewarding.

Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Differentiate yourself from your colleagues
  2. Command an even higher salary
  3. Better serve your clients and add value to your employer
  4. Pave a path to management
  5. Prepare for both exams efficiently with overlapping content

Read more about the reasons to earn both your CPA and CMA.

Wiley helps you prepare to pass both the CPA and CMA exams. Our courses and exam prep materials come with all of the tools you need to succeed, including bite-sized lessons, engaging video lectures, and unlimited access until you pass. Take advantage of free trials to get started today.