CMA vs CPA – Which Track Is the Right One For You?

cma vs cpa

As a CMA, I am frequently asked about CMA vs CPA. Not surprisingly, there tends to be quite a bit of confusion over the two accounting designations.

I figured the best way to explain my choice is by breaking down the key differences and advantages between the two designations, so you can make an informed decision on which is best for you.

CMA vs CPA Requirements

To help differentiate the two designations I have provided a chart below to show the differing requirements:



Number of Parts 2 4
Exam Fees $900 (may vary) $873.20 (may vary)
Testing Windows Jan, Feb, May, June, Sept, Oct Jan, Feb, Apr, May, July, Aug, Oct, Nov
Average Pass Rate on First Try 35% 48%
Continuing Education Requirements 30 hours/year Approximately 40 hours/year depending on the state
Experience Requirements 2 years of Financial Management Typically 1-2 years under the supervision of a licensed CPA, but varies depending on state

At one point the CMA exam was a four-part exam just like the CPA. That was until the IMA (Institute of Management Accountants) decided to condense them into only two parts. In large part to this decision, the exams became a lot harder as it now had to cover much more content in each exam.

Though a deterrent to many, one of the reasons I chose to become a CMA was the fact that it went from a 4-part to a 2-part exam. Another reason was prior to obtaining my CMA credential, I was working as a Corporate Controller. This position allowed me to fulfill the financial management experience requirement for the CMAs. If I chose the CPA, I would have needed to find another job where I could work under a CPA for a year or two, and that wasn’t an option I was interested in.

Finally, learning about taxes and performing audits did not appeal to me. I do however, have many colleagues who enjoy working in both of those fields. The trick is deciphering which certification is best suited for you by understanding which areas in accounting or finance you can see yourself working in. More importantly, you want to choose a path that allows you to work in an area you truly enjoy.

CMA vs CPA Exam Content

Simply put, the CMA focuses on business analysis and strategy, and corporate financial management. The CPA focuses on taxes, compliance, financial reporting and audit.

Both exams are designed to test candidates knowledge of each designations core strengths and this could be considered the main difference between CMA vs CPA.

As far as testing goes, here is what is covered in each Part for both the CMA and CPA exam.

CMA Exam Parts

CPA Exam Parts

Part 1: Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance and Control BEC: Business Environment & Concepts
Part 2: Financial Decision Making FAR: Financial Accounting & Reporting
AUD: Audit & Attestation
REG: Regulation

As I was already working in management accounting, it was fitting for me to obtain the CMA vs CPA. Along with the above core differences and the fact that I prefer to work in private accounting, the CMA made more sense for me personally.

CMA vs CPA Salary

There are factors such as a job title, years of experience, industry, and age that have a direct impact on how much CPAs and CMAs earn.

Below you can see how these factors affect salary, according to a 2011 salary survey conducted by the IMA (Institute of Management Accountants).





19-29 $52,124 $59,812 $60,417
30-39 $79,246 $93,495 $85,052
40-49 $104,278 $118,553 $108,956
50-59 $104,072 $119,591 $120,777
60 and over $108,409 $106,334 $128,767
All $95,823 $111,037 $115,052

The important take away from this chart is that by obtaining a certification (both CMA or CPA), it is more financially advantageous than choosing to obtain neither designation.

CMA vs CPA – Which is right for you?

The designation that is the best for you is the one that will take your career to where you want it to be. It is important to take some time to self reflect and really think of which areas you excel at and enjoy. Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll know which designation is best suited for you.

It is important to remember that the CPA’s core strengths are in taxes, compliance, reporting, and audit, while the CMA’s are in business analysis, strategy, and corporate financial management.

If you’re leaning towards the CPA, Crush the CPA Exam is the most comprehensive and up-to-date resource you will find online. Founder, Bryce, is the most helpful CPA I know and will literally help you crush the CPA Exam on your first try!

However, if you are interested in the CMA, I can help answer any questions and provide further information if you need it.

Whichever designation you choose, it will be one of the best investments you’ll ever make for yourself. Certified professionals command higher salaries, respect from peers, and are more likely to receive a promotion.

For more information on how I can help you pass the CMA exam on the first try, check out my highly successful online training program.

Comment below and share which designation you’ll go for and why. I’d like to hear from you 🙂






Share the Love!