CMA vs CPA – Which One is Better?

CMA vs CPA which is betterIn this article, Nathan Liao from the CMAcoach.com, compares the CMA vs the CPA including the key differences and advantages between the two designations.

Have you asked yourself at some point whether the CMA or the CPA is the right certification for you? It absolutely crossed my mind many times before deciding to pursue a CMA license.

But wait a minute.. I thought Bryce was a CPA?! Well, he is. I’m Nathan, a Corporate Controller by day, and a passionate CMA advocate by night.

As a CMA, I get asked why I chose it over the CPA. I think that’s a fair question and would like to take this opportunity to respond. I think the best way I can explain it is by describing the various differences between the CMA and the CPA.

CMA vs CPA Requirements

Let’s start by understanding the differing requirements:

Exam CMA   CPA
How Many Parts? 2-part exam 4-part exam
Exam Fees $900 (may vary) $873.20 (may vary)
Exam Windows Jan, Feb, May, Jun, Sept, Oct Jan, Feb, Apr, May, Jul, Aug, Oct, Nov
Average Pass Rate for First-Timers 35% 46%
Continuing Education Requirements 30 hours/year about 40 hours/year depending on the state
Experience Requirements 2 years of financial management Varies by state; typically 1-2 years under supervision of licensed CPA

A few years ago, the CMA exam was also a four-part exam just like the CPA until the Institute of Management Accountants, or IMA, decided to combine them into two. This decision made the exams a lot harder since they cover so much more content. The fact that it went from a 4-part to a 2-part exam was a factor that helped me favor the CMA. Another reason was that I was working as a Corporate Controller prior to obtaining my CMA credential. This allowed me to fulfill the experience requirement for CMAs, which is to work in financial management for at least 2 consecutive years.

If I had picked the CPA, I would have had to find another job where I could work under a CPA for a year or two. That option didn’t appeal to me.

Lastly, I was not interested in learning about taxes or performing audits. However, I have colleagues who love working in both of those fields. The key in deciding which certification to go for is to know which areas in accounting or finance you can see yourself working in, but most importantly, enjoy working in.

CMA vs CPA Exam Content

Because the core differences of each designation are in different areas of accounting, the exam content is tailored to test these strengths.

In short the CMA focuses on business analysis & strategy, as well as corporate financial management. The CPA focuses on taxes, compliance, financial reporting and audit.

CPA Exam Parts CPA Exam Sections
Part 1: Financial Planning, Performance and Control BEC: Business Environment & Concepts
Part 2: Financial Decision-Making FAR: Financial Accounting & Reporting
AUD: Audit & Attestation
REG: Regulation

Based on these core differences and the fact that I prefer to work in private accounting, the CMA made more sense for me personally. Since I was already working in management accounting, it was fitting to obtain the CMA versus the CPA.

CMA vs CPA Salary

There are factors such as job title, years of experience, industry, and age that have a direct impact on how much CPAs and CMAs earn. The chart below is by age group according to a 2011 salary survey conducted by the Institute of Management Accountants.

>

Age No CPA or CMA CMA CPA
19-29 $52,124 $59,812 $60,417
30-39 $79,246 $93,495 $85,052
40-49 $104,278 $118,553 $108,956
50-59 $104,072 $119,591 $120,777
60 and over $108,409 $106,334 $128,767
All $95,823 $111,037 $115,052

This chart can serve as a guideline and for reference. The take away is that obtaining a certification, either the CMA or CPA, is more advantageous financially than none at all.

CMA or CPA – What Certification is Best For Me?

This is the million-dollar question. Which designation is the best? The CMA or the CPA?

The designation that is the best for you is the one that will take your career to where you want it to be. Take some time to ponder on this. Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll know which designation will get you there.

Remember that the CPA’s core strengths are in taxes, compliance, reporting, and audit. The CMA’s are in business analysis, strategy, and corporate financial management. Which areas do you find the most interesting?

If you prefer the CPA, Crush the CPA Exam is the most comprehensive and up-to-date resource online so you are in good hands. Bryce is the most helpful CPA I know and also has a great sense of humor.

If you are interested in the CMA or would like to learn more about it, please stop by www.CMACoach.com. I will help answer any questions and provide further information if you need it.

Final Thoughts

Whichever designation you choose (perhaps you’ll choose both), it will be one of the best investments you’ll ever make for yourself. Certified professionals command higher salaries, respect from peers, and are handpicked for promotions.  If you have any questions or just want to say what’s up and introduce yourself, please leave a comment below I’d love to hear from you!

Nathan Liao, CMA

  • Steven R.

    Thanks for the comparison! I only have 1 more section to go for the CPA exam but am definitely considering going for my CMA next year. This was very helpful!
    -Steven

    • Bryce

      Good luck on your last exam Steven!

      Cheers,
      Bryce

  • David

    Great information. This website is awesome. Would you post anything about Enrolled Agents any time soon? I am taking my second exam soon, prior to study for the CPA. My new job requires the CPA license but even though I am going in the field of taxation, I don’t see many companies required a Masters in Taxation or at least an EA title. It is like it doesn’t add much to the plate. But in my experience, I have learned A LOT and I think it give anyone who is interested in taxes a competitive edge since the CPA covers it briefly. Thank you

    • Bryce

      Thanks David,
      I am definitely interested in publishing something about Enrolled Agents. I will reach out to some of my contacts and see if they would be willing to write an article for this blog (I want to learn to!) Yeah I’ve noticed the same thing, having a master’s degree doesn’t quite have the same weight it use to when job hunting but I can imagine you learn a ton of stuff not covered in a bachelor’s degree.

      Cheers,
      Bryce

  • BJD

    I was an undergraduate finance major, and while spending ten years in the Army I completed my MBA. When I left the military I moved into CPG finance. I decided to become a CMA to bridge the skills gap with my peers who all had a great deal more finance experience then I did.

    I am proud of my CMA, but I get a little tired of constantly having to explain what it is and how one goes about getting it. The CMA will help in a job interview, but it won’t really help you get the interview. My MBA and my military experience is more important than my CMA when applying for positions.

    I am now getting ready to take the CPA exams because the CPA is the gold standard in the Accounting/Finance world. Don’t be afraid that you have to work in public accounting to gain the experience, as many states only require “equivalent” experience, which financial analysis work qualifies.

    If I am fortunate enough to earn my CPA, it will always be listed before my CMA and MBA.

    • Bryce

      That’s interesting, thanks for sharing man. CPA, CMA, MBA after your name?? Baller status. You might need to get extra wide business cards for all those digits.
      Definitely a good problem to have, good luck!

      -Bryce

  • Nagendra

    Very nice!
    Cheers,

    CA.CMA.Nagendra
    India

  • Dalia

    i have bachelor degree of business adm in accounting but i worked before as sales& purchasing coordinator and now as legal administrative assistante, but now i want to go for CMA exams, to start accounting career, but if i pass will i be CMA certified or do i need to have 2 years experience in accounting field.

    Note: i didn’t work in accounting before becaues they prefare the one with experience.

    • Bryce

      Yes you need the 2 years of experience for CMA the license. I would check with Nathan from CMAcoach.com though since he’s the CMA expert.
      Cheers,
      Bryce

  • Michael

    Can I throw another credential worthy of pursuit? CFA – Chartered Financial Analyst. The three parts of the CFA Exam do not test subject matter separately, as the CPA and CMA generally do. The CFA builds each exam on the last covering many of the same subjects just at broader and deeper levels. :)

  • Hayden T Joseph

    Hi,

    Every CPA would most likely have an accounting or finance degree. Most would now also have a masters degree in a related area. So in fact the CPA tends to be better prepared for the field of accounting or finance. A CMA is not required to have a related degree and his claim to preparation, rests on 8 hrs of testing. A CPA would have been subject to 150 hrs plus the 14 hrs of the professional exam. No other MA professional credential has its proficiency rely on 8 hrs of testing. Most are at least 42 hrs. If shortening the exam made it harder then it should be really difficult if it were 1/2 hr. You can see how ridiculous that is. Imagine a 1 minute exam.
    More than 670K accountants have chosen the CPA, while less than 21K have decided on the CMA. Following your analysis, quite a lot of people got it wrong.

    It is rather inaccurate to portray a CPA in terms of Audit and Taxes. A quick perusal of the average BS Accounting and MS Accounting or MBA would cast doubt on such a conclusion.

    Regards

  • Srinivasan

    Dear Nathan liao,

    Good and neat presentation of Comparision of both Certification.
    i am a graduate in commerce and have done my PG diploma in Business Administration. Now 53 yrs but having lot of thrust to do a professional qualification. Got into CMA from Bangalore india but yet to complete the exams … what do foresee chances for people like us .. no harm in doing right… at least as professional we will be regarded. I am working as Sr.Com.Mgr in Retail Company.

    My id is rsrini19@rediffmail.com, Please be in touch.

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