Accounting and finance jobs are in demand year after year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 10 percent employment growth for accountants and auditors through 2026, which is above average for occupations.
In addition to education, a certification can certainly help you propel your career upward, and it serves as a point of justification when you're negotiating a salary bump with your current employer or considering a new job offer.
For the five certifications in this article, employers require job candidates to have a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance or a related field, as well as some on-the-job experience. Becoming certified, and maintaining that certification, indicates you're up to date on processes, procedures, laws and other aspects of your chosen profession.
Top 5 certifications, by the numbers
The following table lists top accounting or finance certifications and the number of open positions on a single day that call for the certification specifically or experience with the subject matter. This isn't a scientific analysis in which every job description is examined, just an overall glance at search numbers.
Job site search results
|Certification||Simply Hired||LinkedIn Jobs||Total|
|Certified Management Accountant (CMA)||107||147||254|
|Certified Public Accountant (CPA)||2,226||2,596||4,822|
|Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)||786||292||1,078|
|Enrolled Agent (EA)||401||530||931|
|SAP HANA Financial Accounting||116||178||294|
The following sections provide details of popular accounting or finance certifications according to job site searches, as well as other certifications the various companies offer.
Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
IMA, short for the Institute of Management Accountants, is the membership organization behind the Certified Management Accountant (CMA), which aims at management accountants and financial professionals. Regarding the difference between a CMA and other accounting-related professionals, IMA explains that CMAs understand the "why" behind numbers, whereas the others understand the "what."
A CMA certification can be lucrative. IMA reports the median income for CMAs is about 28 percent higher in the U.S. than for their peers without the designation.
To achieve the CMA, you must have a current IMA membership, a bachelor's degree or an approved accounting certification, two years of relevant work experience, and a passing score on a two-part exam. The first part of the exam covers financial reporting, planning, performance and control. The second part focuses on financial decision-making. IMA charges an entrance fee of $250, and each exam part costs $415. (A discount is available to students and academic members, and a limited number of scholarships is available each year.) [Take Dr. John's CM course on Udemy]
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
The creme de la creme of accounting certifications is the certified public accountant, or CPA. A CPA works for a public or private sector organization, or as a consultant, and can handle a variety of tasks, such as maintaining and auditing financial records, overseeing finances and budgets, preparing taxes, and providing financial plans.
Each state and several jurisdictions certify and license CPAs through their boards of accountancy, which means you'll need to research requirements for your locale. Typically, a minimum requirement is a bachelor's degree with courses in general accounting, cost accounting and the like. A good starting point is AccountingEdu.org.
Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
Candidates for the CFA need an international passport for ID purposes, as well as a bachelor's degree or equivalent, four years of professional work experience, or a combination of education and experience. Earning the CFA requires passing three exams – levels 1, 2 and 3 – which are offered every June. (The Level 1 exam is also offered in December.)
The CFA Institute charges a one-time program enrollment fee of $450, and $950 for each exam.
Enrolled Agent (EA)
Tax professionals may be interested in earning the enrolled agent (EA) credential. Created by the IRS, the EA credential recognizes a person's knowledge of the U.S. tax code for individuals and corporations and how to apply it. An EA may also represent taxpayers before the IRS for situations like collections and appeals. It's the highest credential you can achieve through the IRS.
To become an EA, you must have worked for the IRS for at least five years in which you interpreted tax code, or pass the three-part Special Enrollment Exam (SEE). You must also pass a background check, adhere to ethical standards and complete 72 hours of continuing education every three years.
Treasury Department Circular No. 230 is the go-to source for official information on what EAs do and how to become one. The National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) offers information that's easier to digest, as well as training resources.
SAP Financial Accounting
SAP is best known for its widely used enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, which integrates business processes with financial and accounting processes, and a whole lot more. The company offers many different certifications, seven of which are SAP Certified Application Associates for Financial Accounting or Management Accounting, on various SAP applications. [Take SAP Financial Accounting and Controlling Super User Training on Udemy]
All seven accounting-related certifications require candidates to pass one 80-question exam and cost $500 (with the exception of the SAP HANA for Financial Accounting certification, which costs $535). To see all certifications, go to the SAP Certification Validities page and search for "accounting."
Another worthy certification in the accounting and finance realm is the Certified Bookkeeper (CB) by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers. The Institute of Internal Auditors is well known for its Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification, but it also offers the Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA) and Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP), among a few other credentials.