cpa vs. cma

A lot of people in the accounting world often wonder what the big difference between the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and CMA (Certified Management Accountant) designation is. In addition, they also wonder which one will get them further along in their careers and which one is more worth obtaining than the other. We at Roger CPA Review get this question all the time, and we're here to give a definitive answer.


The main differences between a CPA and CMA is that a CMA has mix expertise in financial accounting and strategic management. This certification essentially expands on financial accounting by adding management skills which enable CMAs to make strategic business decisions based on financial information. CPAs perform/sign audits and are involved in lots of tax work, especially representing companies during IRS audits. Make sure you know what you'd like to do in your career since both designations lead to different industry roles.


But, the most important thing in your career should not be the amount of licenses or certifications you have; or even your degree. It's crucial to keep in mind that the most important thing in your career is you. People spend tens of thousands of dollars on their education and thousands of dollars on certifications; but how much have you spent on yourself, in terms of building your character and values? Make sure that whatever designation you choose is one that you feel is worth it for you and what you want to achieve in your professional career.


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That being said, having a strong certification does, of course, help.  It's not only required in most public accounting firms, but is a huge leg up on your competition. Particularly in the interviewing and recruiting stages of finding your first job, and making a career jump down the road. For those of you that are unaware, the practical difference between a CPA and CMA license is for the career path you are taking:

  • CPA > Public Accounting Firm 
  • CMA > Private Company 


Here are some other factors to take into consideration when deciding between the two: 

Exam Length

  • CMA – 2 part exam
  • CPA – 4 part exam

Exam Cost

  • CMA – ~$900 (varies by state)
  • CPA – ~$900 (varies by state)

Exam Pass Rate

  • CMA – 35%
  • CPA – 46%

Continuing Professional Education Requirement (CPE)

  • CMA – 30 hours per year
  • CPA – 40 hours per year

Experience requirements to become fully licensed

  • CMA – 2 years
  • CPA – 1-2 years (varies by state)

Average total compensation over the course of career

  • CMA – $135,000 
  • CPA – $141,000


While all of these comparisons are great, the most important thing it does not factor in is the intangible value. We feel it's our obligation to remind you that most people outside of the accounting industry know what a CPA is. Although they might not know what the title stands for, they know the acronym mostly because it is one of the most recognizable professional certifications. It is more rare that someone will know what a CMA is, much less what they do. In addition, in our experience, most employers: 

  • Prefer a CPA over a CMA  
  • Pay more for a CPA over a CMA (as seen above)
  • Require a CPA more often than they require a CMA


Although obtaining the CPA license is a bit more difficult and will take more time, you can see that it's definitely worth it. However, we revert back to our first point, which is to go with the certification that you know will serve best for what you want out of your career. Or, if would still like to obtain both, our advice is to do just that! Get your CPA license first and then your CMA afterward!