Many people ask me why I chose the CMA over the CPA. The basis of my decision to become a CMA was not a matter of which credential is better, but rather which credential made the most sense for me as an individual. As there is often confusion over the two credentials, allow me to break down the key differences between them. If you are on the fence about which designation to pursue, perhaps I can help make the decision a clear one.
CMA vs CPA Salary
When it comes to salary, the difference between what a CMA and what a CPA earns is insignificant. Of course there are factors that come into play such as job title, years of experience, age, and industry that directly impact the earning power of both CMAs and CPAs.
Below you can see how age and credential affect salary, according to a 2015 US Salary Survey conducted by the IMA (Institute of Management Accountants).
CMA Vs. CPA, Salary Graph
As you can see, both designations are advantageous options in terms earning potential. Therefore, when choosing whether to pursue a career as a CMA or a CPA, I advise you to take a few of factors into consideration in order to decide which designation best suits you.
CMA vs CPA Requirements
Before you make your decision to pursue a career as either a CMA or a CPA, It is helpful to take a look at the requirements for each credential, provided below:
CMA Vs. CPA Exam Parts
When considering which designation to pursue, it is beneficial to take your current professional position into account. Does your current position count toward the experience requirement to become a CMA or a CPA? Do you mind starting all over again with a new position, or do you want your current position to be a stepping stone to a credential?
An important component in my decision to become a CMA was my work experience as a Corporate Controller which allowed me to fulfill the financial management experience requirement for the CMA credential. If I had decided to pursue the CPA credential, I would’ve been required to spend another year or two working under a CPA - not an option I was interested in.
CMA vs CPA Exam Content
It is important to reflect on the content of each exam before deciding which to take. Each exam focuses on the core strengths of either a CMA or a CPA and provides a good representation of what areas you would be working in as a CMA or CPA.
CMA focus - business analysis and strategy, and corporate financial management
CPA focus - taxes, compliance, financial reporting, audit
Ask yourself - what is it about accounting and finance that you most enjoy? In what areas do you excel? If you are like me and enjoy working in management accounting, with a preference for private accounting, the CMA may be a good fit for you. However if taxes and audits are more your style, the CPA may be the way to go.
Here is what is covered in each Part for both the CMA and CPA exam:
CMA Vs. CPA, Exam Parts
CMA or CPA – Which is right for you?
Rest assured that whether you choose to become a CMA or a CPA, it will be one of the best investments of your life. Both certifications earn high salaries, receive more promotions, and gain respect from peers. The designation that is right for you will be the one that interests you most, and that will help you to thrive in your career.
Nathan Liao, CMA, is the founder of CMA Coach and CMA Exam Academy.