Top Accounting Certifications

Accounting or Auditing is a lot more than just bookkeeping and taxes. Many related certifications will lead to work that is in demand and above-average pay. A degree and work experience is the basis, supplementing that with an advanced certification can only help boost your career. This list will guide you through what’s required to qualify for the various certifications, what jobs and salaries the Labor Bureau predicts will require certification, and what the certification exam entails.

Corporate Accounting Certifications

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

CPAs help companies comply with internal and external laws and regulations, reduce the organization’s risk, support valuation and appraisal of assets, improve processes, and create and maintain reporting mechanisms.

CPAs work in a variety of accounting specializations, including audit, compliance, tax, forensic accounting, fraud examination, IT systems, risk management, and appraisals, etc.

Average Salary: $62,054

Requirements to obtain the certification: BA in Accounting, and pass the CPA exam administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). All states have different education and work requirements, so you need to check with your state’s licensing board. 

Cost of the Exam:  Each part of the CPA exam is $208.40. In addition, each state charges a registration fee.

CPA Exam Overview

The CPA exam is a four-part exam:

  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) contains 66 multiple-choice questions & 8 task-based simulations.
  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD) contains 72 multiple choice questions & 8 task-based simulations,
  • Regulation (REG) contains 76 multiple-choice questions and 8 task-based simulations.
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) contains 62 multiple-choice questions & 8 task-based simulations.

Passing Score: 75 on each part of the exam on a scale of 1 to 100.

How to Prepare: Several third-party vendors offer CPA exam prep materials. Read our reviews of the best CPA review courses.

Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)

The CGMA distinguishes professionals who have advanced proficiency in finance, operations, strategy, and management. The CGMA encompasses the technical finance and accounting skills, as well as the business, people, and leadership skills needed to be successful in a global business leadership position.

CGMA holders are qualified for advanced financial leadership positions in almost any industry worldwide.

Average Salary: $89,000

Requirements to obtain certification: BA Degree, completion of the CGMA program of study, at least three years of experience in finance, and pass the CGMA exam administered by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA), or Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).

Cost of the Exam: $325

CGMA Exam Overview

The Exam is a 3-hour computerized exam and has three levels: operational, management, and strategic. For each level, candidates register to take the corresponding case study exam.

You will be given a business case seven weeks in advance of your test date. During each exam, you will be presented with three to five tasks related to the business case. Along with the tasks, new information may be provided that will change the business scenario and will require you to adapt your answer.

Passing score: 80 on a scaled score of 0-100 and minimum threshold marks of at least 30 for each competency.

How to Prepare: CGMA.org offers a free online CGMA Strategic Case Study practice exam and a review course. 

Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

A Certified Management Accountant helps an organization make management decisions and is experienced in organizational performance measurement, financial analysis, budgeting, strategic assessment, and ongoing financial management of the company. 

CMAs work as Staff or Senior Accountants, Cost Accountants, Internal Auditors, Budget Analysts, Financial Analysts, Finance Managers, Controllers, Finance Treasurers, CFOs, CEOs, and more.

Average Salary: $74,410

Requirements to obtain the certification: BA in Accounting, two years of professional experience in accounting work, and you must pass the exam administered by The Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business (IMA)

Cost of the Exam: $415 per part + $250 entrance fee

CMA Exam Overview

The exam is a two-part exam covering multiple topics.

PART 1: Financial Planning, Performance and Analytics

Format: 100 questions and 2 essays. 4 hours.

 Topic Exam Weight
External Financial Reporting Decisions  15%
Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting  20%
Performance Management  20%
Cost Management  15%
Internal Controls  15%
Technology and Analytics  15%

Part 2: Strategic Financial Management

Format: 100 questions and 2 essays. 4 hours.

Topic Exam Weight
Financial Statement Analysis  20%
Corporate Finance  20%
Decision Analysis  25%
Risk Management  10%
Investment Decisions  10%
Professional Ethics  15%

Passing score: 360 for each part of the exam on a scale of 0-500.

How to Prepare: IMA offers its official test prep material through Wiley, which runs about $900 -$1,800. Several other third-party vendors offer CMA prep materials.

Banking and Financial Services Certifications

Chartered Financial Analyst  (CFA)

The CFA® charter gives you expertise and real-world skills in investment analysis. 

The CFA charter is a must for portfolio and wealth managers, investment and research analysts, asset managers, fund managers, and senior finance leadership positions. 

Average Salary: CFAs earn from $50,00 to upward of $153,000 per year.

Requirements to obtain certification: A BA in Accounting, four years of qualified work experience, completion of the CFA Program of study, and you must pass the CFA exam administered by the CFA Institute

Cost of the Exam: Level II, III, and I each cost $450 + one time $450 registration fee.

CFA Exam Overview

The CFA exam consists of three levels of tests, which focus on accounting, economics, ethics, money management, and security analysis. 

  • Level I is a 6-hour 240 multiple-choice question test on key term and concepts.
  • Level II is a 6-hour 120 multiple choice question exam consisting of mini case situational analysis problems.  
  • Level III is a 6-hour two-part exam consisting of constructed-response and multiple-choice questions in response to mini case studies. 

Passing Score: You must pass one level before you can go on to the next level. While the exact formula is not published and changes year to year, a score of over 70% is assumed passing.

How to Prepare: A minimum of 300 hours of study for each exam is recommended for each exam. See our list of recommended CFA study materials.

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

An internal auditor is employed by companies to provide independent and objective evaluations of financial and operational business activities, including corporate governance. 

CIA’s are tasked with ensuring that companies comply with laws and regulations, follow proper procedures, and function as efficiently as possible.

Average Salary: $62,588

Requirements to obtain certification: Associates degree in Accounting or higher, and 12 to 60 months of internal audit work experience. You must pass the Internal Auditor exam administered by the Institute of Internal Auditors

Cost of the Exam: If you are a member of the IIA, you receive a substantial discount. Non-member costs are a one time Application fee of $ 230, Part 1 $395, Part 2 $345, Part 3 $345.  

CIA Exam Overview

The exam is a three-part computerized exam. 

  • Part 1 – Essentials of Internal Auditing. 125 questions with 2.5 hour time limit.
  • Part 2 – Practice of Internal Auditing. 100 questions with 2 hour time limit.
  • Part 3 – Business Knowledge for Internal Auditing. 100 questions with 2 hour time limit.

Passing Score: 600 based on a scale score across all three parts.

How to Prepare:  THE IIA offers in-person courses and online seminars to prep for the exam. Third-party providers such as Gleim, HOCK, and Powers also offer CIA exam review courses. 

Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)

CFE’s learn how fraud is committed and identified, inspect books/records for signs of fraud, interview/expose suspects, write reports on their investigations, advise clients, testify at trial, and recognize signs of motivation, which lead to fraud. 

CFE jobs include forensic accountants, internal/external auditors, compliance officers, state or private investigators, and law enforcement. A CFE can move into leadership positions, such as an inspector general, chief compliance officer, chief risk officer, or chief audit executive. 

Average Salary: $63,969

Requirements to obtain certification: A bachelor's degree in any Business or Accounting related field, and two or more years experience in a field associated with the detection or deterrence of fraud. join ACFE, and you must pass the CFE exam administered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

Cost of the Exam: $400

CFE Exam Overview 

The exam is a 2-hour computerized test that has four sections:

  • Financial Transactions and Fraud Schemes
  • Statutes and Common Law Principles
  • Investigation Process
  • Fraud Prevention and Deterrence

Each section has 125 objective and True/False questions.

Passing Score: 75 on each exam section.

How to Prepare: THE ACFE offers a  CFE Exam Review Course .

IT Specific Accounting Certifications

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

CISA certificate holders demonstrate to employers that they have the knowledge, technical skills, and proficiency in meeting the dynamic challenges facing modern organizations.

The CISA is designed for IT auditors, audit managers, consultants, and security professionals.

Average Salary: $73,279

Cost of the Exam: $710.

Requirements to obtain certification: To receive a CISA certification, candidates must pass a comprehensive exam administered by (ISACA) the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, and have five years experience in information systems auditing, control, assurance or security. 

CISA Exam Overview

The exam is four hours and consists of 150 multiple-choice questions. The exam tests candidates’ knowledge of five job practice domains: 

  • Information System Auditing Process (21%)
  • Governance and Management of IT (17%)
  • Information Systems Acquisition, Development and Implementation (12%)
  • Information Systems Operations and Business Resilience (23%)
  • Protection of Information Assets (25%)

Passing Score: 450 on a scale between 200 and 800.

How to Prepare: A study guide costs $40, and there is a comprehensive review manual and question database for $300+ from ISACA.

Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP)

The CITP is a specialty certification for CPAs that want to demonstrate their mastery of technology skills.

Average Salary: $80,000

Requirements to obtain certification: BA Accounting, CPA certification, 1,000 hours of business experience, 75 hours of coursework in information management and technology, and pass the CITP exam administered by the AICPA.

Cost of the Exam: $300 to $500

CITP Exam Overview 

The Exam is a 4-hour computer-based test consisting of 360 multiple-choice questions over seven domains that are tested in 3 modules.

Module 1 - Information Security & Cyber Risks

  • Information Security Governance
  • Cyber security Risk Management
  • SOC for Cyber security

Module 2 - Business Intelligence, Data Management & Data Analytics

  • Data Management
  • Data Analysis & Reporting
  • Business Intelligence Management

Module 3 - IT Governance, Risks & Controls

  • IT Governance & Strategy
  • IT Risks, Process & Controls
  • System and Organization Controls Reporting

 Passing Score: 70 on each module on a scale of 0-100

 How to Prepare: The AICPA offers a CITP Exam Review Course for $149.