CMA vs CPA - Which is the right choice for you?

CMA vs CPA – Which is better?

If you’re looking to enter a career in the finance and audit industry, both the CMA and CPA certifications are valuable tools to help you earn a better income and take on different roles. But how do you decide which is the right certification for you?

This guide will help you understand the differences between the two certifications and guide you toward the right path for your career.

What is a CMA?

A Certified Management Accountant (CMA) is an accounting expert with a focus on management accounting. The CMA is administered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). A CMA is generally responsible for budget and asset management and holds the skills needed to make management-focused financial decisions for organizations.

What is a CPA?

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) are individuals licensed to practice public accounting in the USA. The CPA exam is administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and is composed of four parts. The CPA exam allows you to call yourself a licensed accountant. On a basic level, CPAs are generally responsible for tax reporting and audits.

CMA vs CPA Salary and Careers

Both the CMA and CPA allow you to earn more than those who do not have certifications and allow you easier access to job opportunities at the beginning of your career.

CMA Salary and Careers

According to the IMA’s annual salary survey, a CMA makes on average around $139,000 USD a year in total compensation in North America. On average, CMAs earn 22-25% more than non-CMAs do in their jobs in North America. The CMA certification allows professionals to take on roles like cost accountant, management accountant, financial analyst, financial planner, and staff accountant when they first begin their careers.

CPA Salary and Careers

The AICPA Global CGMA Salary Insights report for 2019 states that CPAs in the USA make an average of $122,000 USD annually. On average, CPAs earn 10-15% more than non-certified accountants. CPA professionals usually take on careers as accountants and auditors and can work in taxation, quality assurance, or advisory services. Many common job titles include public accountant, financial accountant, and internal auditor.

CMA vs CPA Certification Requirements

CMA Requirements

To achieve your CMA designation there are certain requirements. You will need to have an active IMA membership, hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or a related professional certification, and have two continuous years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management. You must also complete and pass both parts of the CMA exam and abide by the IMA’s Statement of Ethical Professional Practice. You may sit for the CMA exams before graduating from university and fulfilling experience requirements, but you must fulfill all requirements to become certified.

CPA Requirements

For the CPA exam, you must pass the Uniform CPA exam. You must also meet specific education, examination, and experience requirements which differ by jurisdiction. These requirements are laid out by contacting each state’s Board of Accountancy. As a minimum, you will need to have at least 150 credit hours. In some states, you might be able to sit for the exam if you have 120 hours, but you must have 150 to be certified. Each state sets a minimum of accounting-specific subjects required to be eligible.

In short, while the CMA requires a bachelor’s in any specialty, the CPA requires a bachelor’s in a field related to accounting and sets specific conditions on the number of hours and topics covered.

CMA vs CPA Exam Differences





CMA fees are different depending on whether you are a professional or a student.

All CMA applicants must have an IMA membership which has an additional fee, pay an entrance fee, and exam fees.

  • Professionals will pay approximately $1,475
  • Students will pay approximately $945-990

CPA fees include an application fee, registration fee, administration fee, and licensing fee once you pass your exams. Depending on where you do your exam, you may be required to take a professional ethics exam which also has a fee attached.

For the CPA you will pay approximately $1,440-1,600, not including any review courses that you may choose to sign up for.

Exam Parts

2 Parts

  • Financial Planning, Performance & Control
  • Financial Decision Making

4 Parts

  • Business Environment & Concepts
  • Financial Accounting & Reporting
  • Audit & Attestation
  • Regulation

Overall Average Pass Rate

43%, according to ICMA

54%, according to AICPA

Continuing Education Requirements

30 hours annually

40 hours annually

Certification Timeframe

Must be completed within 3 years

Must be completed within 18 months

Exam Content

Focuses on accounting and finance, with some focus on general management.

Covers a broader range of topics covering accounting, auditing, taxation, and general business knowledge.

CPA vs CMA – Which is better for me?

Choosing between the two certifications is a personal decision, as both have their benefits. Many wonder if the CMA or CPA is harder, but as they each have different topics that they cover, answers can vary. One person may find an exam easy, while the other might find it challenging.

A CPA offers great benefits and a wide breadth of training for roles across the financial industry, so it can be a good choice for those who may not be sure which exact path they’d like to take. Many CPAs take on roles in auditing and tax reporting.

CMA is, as in the name, ideal for those who wish to take on management roles in finance and accounting. CMAs are trained to make hard management decisions, which can help them edge out the competition for management roles. These can include roles like financial manager or chief financial officer.

Ask yourself what kind of role you’d like to have in your career – do you prefer auditing numbers and working with taxation regulations, or do you prefer the analytical and strategic aspects of the field? The former leans more towards the CPA, and the latter the CMA.

It’s possible to achieve both designations; having both can make you marketable across the industry and broaden your opportunities. While no career demands both, having them when pursuing a career in executive-level management roles can set you apart from the crowd.

How to Pass the CMA and CPA Exams

No matter the certification you choose, there are tools available to help you pass. Many course review providers offer CMA exam prep guides and CPA exam prep guides, designed by professionals who understand both the exams and the work environment. Studying with these guides can make these designations more achievable and save you money on having to repeat exams.

If you are interested in starting to achieve your CMA designation, consider studying with the PRC CMA exam prep. Our guides provide continuous support, comprehensive study materials, and mock exams to help you achieve your designation with ease. Try our CMA exam prep with a free demo today!