Accounting is one of the world’s best majors and most accounting careers will earn you at least $60,000 per year and are always in high demand. As long as our society continues to exchange money for goods, we’ll always need financial professionals.

As an accountant, you’re practically guaranteed a stable job, but experience won’t secure an actuary position at a top company. For more high-profile jobs, you’ll need additional certification. 

12 Most Common Accounting Certifications in the United States

Accountants can earn dozens of certifications in the US that boost their hiring potential and career growth. Here are 12 great accounting certifications that also have the best ROI.

1. Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

The certified public accountant certification is the most widely recognized because it’s the most general. One requirement for earning the CPA is passing an exam, where the content is broad. The CPA is the most regulated, oldest, and stipulated accounting certifications in the US.

When you earn a CPA, you acknowledge that you’re an expert in topics like financial and management accounting, strategic planning, auditing, and business and personal taxation.

2. Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

The certified management accountant certification focuses on management accounting. CMAs are required to pass a 2-part exam that tests a person’s knowledge of corporate finance, strategic management, and management accounting, all of which are needed to be a CFO.

The CMA is primarily used to land high-quality jobs, like COO, CEO, or VP of Finance. You’ll likely be hired by Fortune 500 companies that run large manufacturing or inventory facilities.

3. Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

The certified internal auditor certification equips internal auditors and compliance professionals with world-class auditing skills. The CIA exam includes three parts, and you only need an associate’s degree to apply. You’ll also need at least 1 year of internal auditing experience.

As a CIA, you perform the same auditing functions as a CPA, except you work for organizations and not-for-profit firms. The CIA is also considered an international designation, unlike the CPA.

4. Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

The chartered financial analyst designation is among the most popular titles in the investment community. Most asset managers and security analysts must have this certification, but the CFA is beneficial in all investment careers. CFAs typically work with hedge and investment funds.

The exam has 3 levels and a low bar of entry if you already have a bachelor’s degree. The CFA trains you to think analytically about business, investing, and finance, needed for CFO positions. 

5. Financial Risk Manager Designation (FRM)

The financial risk manager designation requires that you pass a two-part exam and two years of work experience in financial risk management. FRMs specialize in assessing financial risk for regulatory agencies, insurance companies, asset management firms, and accounting firms.

While the CFA and FRM are similar, the FRM is more specialized. After you pass your exam, you’ll be able to know how to anticipate, respond, and adapt to potentially critical financial risks.

6. Certified Financial Planner Designation (CFP)

The certified financial planner designation requires work experience, formal education, passing the CFP exam, and a demonstration of professional ethics. CFPs are all-encompassing and can help individuals manage their investments, retirement, education, cash, and other such assets.

According to several sources, becoming a certified CFP is one of the hardest things you can do as an accountant. However, becoming one opens up a lot of doors to plenty of fulfilling careers.

7. Enrolled Agent Designation (EA)

The enrolled agent designation is especially desirable for tax preparers. EAs have unlimited rights to represent taxpayers before the IRS for appeals, collections, and audits. Although EAs may lose business in between tax seasons, they make a killing during the first half of the year.

Once you pass the EA exam, you’ll set yourself apart from other tax professionals. You can either decide to open up your own firm or work closely with attorneys, businesses, or clients. 

8. Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) 

The chartered alternative investment analyst certification is a very specific and specialized investment certification. A CAIA deals with alternative investments, which include real estate, infrastructure, and private equity, which require a different strategy than traditional equity.

A CAIA needs to pass a 2-level CAIA exam, earn a bachelor’s degree, and have 4 years of relevant work experience. It takes an average of 9 to 10 years to become fully certified.

9. Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA) 

The certified investment management analyst certification is required if you want to manage international assets. The CIMA exam focuses on the theory and practical applications of investments and can only be completed at 3 universities: Pennsylvania, Yale, and Chicago.

Finance managers, analysts, accountants, and directors get the CIMA to prove they can consider new financial trends and industry shifts when they’re making investment moves.

10. Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

The certified information systems auditor certification is the most recognized piece of paper in information systems audit control. If you have at least 5 years of experience in information security, control, or auditing, you could earn 15K more per year after passing the CISA exam.

Due to recent financial fallout and security scandals in the business world, IT skills are desperately needed. A CISA certification can make you a valuable part of the IT industry. 

11. Certified Payroll Professional Designation (CPP)

The certified payroll professional designation requires you to practice a total of 3 out of the 5 years preceding the date of the exam. You also need to be employed by the same employer for the last 18 months and have earned the FPC designation. Becoming a CPP is hard work. 

But once you get it, you’re guaranteed to be considered first for HR-related or payroll jobs, as you’re telling your employers that you have the experience necessary to handle payroll.

12. Certified Fraud Examiner Designation (CFE)

The certified fraud examiner designation is a credential that confirms you’re an expert in fraud prevention, fraud schemes, fraud investigation, and fraud laws. The CFE is especially needed in any business that uses tech, where email phishing, malware, and ransomware run rampant. 

A CFE performs specialized accounting duties and therefore needs a lot of work experience and a strong accounting education. Once accredited, an accountant will become a fraud expert.

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