Certification is a significant concern for many accounting students. It is common for them to wonder – Should I get a CPA or CMA certification? Is it vital to be certified? If so, which one is better – CPA or CMA? What are the advantages of a CMA over a CPA license? What is the difference between a CPA and a CMA? The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certifications are two of the most common accounting certifications worldwide. Therefore, a certification option could significantly impact one’s future, so it is essential to consider all the specifics of each of them before selecting one. This page analyses the CPA and CMA, their similarities, differences, and uses, and addresses the dilemma of CPA vs. CMA.

Tip: Head to the bottom of this page if you want a quick breakdown of CMA vs. CPA.

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What is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA)?

What is CMA or Certified Management Accountant? A Certified Management Accountant (CMA) is a designation given to an accountant who has met the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) requirements. To become a CMA, one must pass the Certified Management Accountant Examination (CMA Exam) administered by the IMA.

What is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)?

What is a CPA or Certified Public Accountant? A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a designation given to an accountant who has met the requirements set by their state board of accountancy. To become a CPA, one must pass the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination (CPA Exam), administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

CPA vs. CMA – Key Differences

The main difference between CPAs and CMAs is that CPAs focus on public accounting while CMAs focus on corporate accounting. CPAs are licensed by the state in which they practice, and the exam is administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)[1]. CMAs are certified by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)[2].

Another key difference is that CPAs must complete Continuing Education Credits (CECs) to maintain their license. CMAs are required to complete Continuing Education Units (CEUs) to maintain their certification.

Finally, CPAs are often hired by accounting firms, while CMAs are often employed by corporations. CPAs typically work with clients on various financial issues, while CMAs usually work with managers on strategic planning and decision-making.

CPA vs. CMA Organizing Body

The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam is organized and overseen by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the national professional organization of Certified Public Accountants in the United States, with more than 428,000 members in 130 countries. The Certified Management Accountant (CMA) is organized and administered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), a worldwide association of accountants and financial professionals in business.

CPA vs. CMA Syllabus

CPA Syllabus 

The CPA Syllabus primarily consists of the following topics:

  • Professional Responsibilities 
  • Economic Concepts and Analysis 
  • Entity Federal Taxation 
  • Individual Federal Taxation 
  • Financial Statement Accounts
  • Corporate Governance 
  • Ethics & General Principles 

CMA Syllabus 

The CMA Syllabus primarily consists of the following topics:

  • Performance Management 
  • Financial Statement Analysis 
  • Decision Analysis 
  • Professional Ethics 
  • Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting 
  • Internal Controls 
  • Cost Management 
CPA vs. CMA Exam Pattern

CPA Exam Pattern 

The CPA exam is divided into four parts, each of which might take up to four hours to complete. Currently, the parts are:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD) 
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) 
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) 
  • Regulation (REG) 

The four tests are divided into five components: two multiple-choice with 60 to 72 questions (varies by exam) and three with eight accounting simulations.

Since July 1, 2020, the CPA Exam has been administered in a Continuous Testing model, allowing CPA candidates to test year-round with limited constraints, such as major exam modifications. More information on Continuous Testing is available on the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)[3] website.

CMA Exam Pattern 

The CMA exam is divided into two parts, each covering 12 skills. These are:

Part 1 – Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics: 

  • External Financial Reporting Decisions 
  • Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting 
  • Performance Management 
  • Cost Management 
  • Internal Controls 
  • Technology and Analytics 

Part 2 – Strategic Financial Management 

  • Financial Statement Analysis 
  • Corporate Finance 
  • Decision Analysis 
  • Risk Management 
  • Investment Decisions 
  • Professional Ethics 

The Content Specification Outline[4] represents the body of information that will be covered in the CMA examinations.

CPA vs. CMA Exam Fees

The CPA exam cost varies by state. Almost every state charges over $1,500 to apply, register, and take all four examinations. Here is a quick run-down:

Exam fees vary by state but typically range between $50 and $200 and are payable separately for each of the four sections; the current cost per section is roughly $193. There are also registration costs, which can be paid as the applicant registers for each portion, but the registrations are only valid for six months. This means applicants must complete all four tests within six months if they register for all four sections at once. Therefore, it is suggested that individuals only register for one exam section at a time. A single section costs approximately $65. After passing the CPA exam, most states require that candidates take an ethics exam. The ethics exam costs between $150 and $200 and comes with a study guide. Additional licensing fees and costs vary by state.

As for the CMA, the cost of an annual IMA membership, which is a requirement, varies based on whether the candidate is a student, academic, young professional, or senior professional. The fee for entering the CMA program is $250, although students and academic members receive a significant discount.

CMA exam expenses are $460 per part, although students and academic members pay only $345 (per part).

Note: The IMA offers scholarships and awards to help students take and pass the exam for free[5].

CPA vs. CMA Requirements

CPA Requirements 

Understanding the CPA criteria by state is essential for the CPA Exam. Each of the 55 jurisdictions that issue CPA licenses (the 50 states plus Washington, DC, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Mariana Islands) has its own set of requirements that applicants must meet to be licensed. However, in general, the CPA requires applicants to:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Have a valid Social Security Number 
  • Be at least 18 years old 
  • Have 120 college credit hours or a bachelor’s degree  

Note: Since these criteria widely vary by state, students are advised to check the requirements page on the official AICPA website.

CMA Requirements 

To qualify for the CMA exam, applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • Hold an active IMA membership 
  • Complete and pass Parts 1 and 2 of the CMA Exam 
  • Hold an undergraduate degree from an accredited college/university or have a related professional certification 
  • Abide by IMA’s Statement of Ethical Professional Practice. 
  • Have 2 continuous years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management. 

More information on CMA requirements is available in the Experience Qualification section of the CMA Handbook.

CPA vs. CMA Duration

While the CPA program is typically 18 months, the CMA requires as much as 36 months or three years to complete. As for their exams, the CPA’s 4-part exam totals 16 hours of testing, while the CMA’s 2-part exam totals 8 hours of testing.

CPA vs. CMA Careers

Both CPAs and CMAs have many job options. For example, licensed CPAs may operate in business and industry, specialty firms, such as litigation assistance, or worldwide, national, regional, or local CPA firms that provide attest, tax, or consulting services.  

A CPA’s typical work prospects include: 

  • Controller 
  • Public Accountant 
  • Internal Auditor 
  • Financial Manager 
  • Budget Analyst 
  • Financial Advisor

The CMA certification focuses on operations and finances and qualifies professionals to work in large firms with complicated operations. CMAs are frequently hired by large multinational companies in the United States and abroad.

Typical CMA career opportunities include: 

  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO) 
  • Financial Risk Manager 
  • Cost Accountant 
  • Financial Analyst 
  • Management Accountant 
  • Cost Accountant 
CPA vs. CMA Salaries

The CPA and CMA are known to increase one’s earning potential substantially. Those with a graduate degree and CPA certification can earn 10% to 15% more than the average starting salary[6]. The same goes for CMA, where CMAs in their 20s make 70% more than their peers and those in their 30s.According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2022 median annual salary for accountants and auditors was $78,000[7], with a growth potential of 4% (as fast as average). While these figures apply to those who do not have a CPA or CMA, those with either credential can earn more. For example, a Financial Manager’s median annual salary is $139,790[8], and a Personal Financial Advisor’s median annual salary is $95,390[9]

CPA vs. CMA FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

How to enroll in CPA and how to enroll in CMA?

To enroll in CPA, applicants can check the General Guide on the official website of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), which lists all the steps for enrollment. As for CMA, applicants can check the Exam Registration page on the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) official website.

Which is harder –  CPA or CMA?

How to get a CPA?

How to get a CMA?

CPA or CMA, which is better?

Can I do CPA and CMA?

CPA vs. CMA – Quick Comparison

Now that all critical aspects of the CPA and CMA have been covered, here is a quick comparison of the two:

ParameterCPA 2024CMA 2024
Official AuthorityThe American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)[1]The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)[2]
Exam Pattern3-Part Exam:
1. Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
2. Regulation (REG)
3. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
1-Optional Part From:
1. Business Analysis & Reporting (BAR)
2. Information Systems and Controls (ISC)
3. Tax Compliance & Planning (TCP)
2-Part Exam:
1. Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics:

2. Strategic Financial ManagementFinancial Statement Analysis 
Exam FeesOver $1,500Approx. $900 to $1,200
Exam Duration16 Hours8 Hours
Pass Rate~50%~45%
Exam DatesContinuous Testing (Since July 1, 2020)Jan 1 through February 28
May 1 through June 30
September 1 through October 31

Additional Resources for CPA & CMA

It is strongly recommended that prospective applicants go through the official websites of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) for CPA and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) for CMA to get exact and proper information on both certifications. In the meantime, why not check Online Master Colleges’ related pages on accounting, finance, taxation, and the MBA in finance? These programs could be the stepping stones to the CPA or CMA certifications. Also, visit our site regularly for in-depth guides and information on various educational options.

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