CMA vs CPA – Which One is Better?

CMA vs CPA – Which One is Better?

cma versus cpa In 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.

CMA 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 testing strategies and finding the best CMA study materials, 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

45 Comments
  • Francisco
    Posted at 4 June, 2018 07:15 AM Reply

    Hi Nathan, Thank you for posting this information! I asked the same question just a few days ago, why do I want to be a CPA? I found out that they specialize in two areas of accounting that are less appealing to me than the others. I do want to say that I enjoy the business strategy and analysis area in accounting and I believe the CMA is the right option for me. I do want to do a little more research since there is a time commitment to becoming a CMA and I would like to make sure that this certification will help me with my future career plans. Thank you for providing this information! Please let me know if there is anyway that I can get more information about the CMA or if I can ask you a few questions about the certification process.

    • Kelsi
      Posted at 25 May, 2018 00:38 AM Reply

      I am getting a lot of push back from my partner and family because I'd like to go the CMA route over the CPA route. My interest is in business and business management, not so much audit/tax. Some of those giving me push back work as CPAs. I have been doing my due diligence to network in my area with management accountants, but unfortunately my network consists mostly of public accountants. I graduate this December with my Bachelors. I'm looking at making a decision here in the near future whether I take CMA in October or wait until the first opportunity next year. Any advice you can offer as I navigate the family relationships? And what about for the exam. I'm down to part time, just two classes this summer and three in the fall. I'd really appreciate any insight you might have for me.

      • Andre V
        Posted at 7 December, 2017 03:02 AM Reply

        Hi! I'd like to hear more about CMA as I am nearing my accounting master's graduation. Please email me any useful info that you might have for me.

        • Shirish
          Posted at 29 August, 2017 12:32 PM Reply

          Thank you for the Information shared. I would like to know more detailed about both Courses like 1. Eligibility 2. Procedure to Apply 3. Requirement for International Students (I am From India) 4. Exam Structures, Pattern 5. Fees (for International) 5. Frequency of Exam, Center of Examination 6. Scope of the Courses 7. Eligibility for Licence

          • shemarine4018
            Posted at 22 September, 2016 22:47 PM Reply

            I know that the CMA designation is globally recognized, but how about the CPA? After reading this assessment, I'm leaning towards CMA anyways, but I was curious since I eventually want to end up abroad.

            • BWelk
              Posted at 3 October, 2016 21:49 PM Reply

              Hi,The CPA isn't globally recognized like the CMA.Cheers,Bryce

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