CPA vs CMA vs CFA - A Complete Comparison


Deciding between three of the most popular, globally recognized professional certifications can perplex many. Certified Public Accountant (CPA), US Certified Management Accountant (CMA), or Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) are three of the best professional courses available to candidates willing to start their profession in the accounting career. All these certifications have their expertise.
Among CPA, US CMA, and CFA certifications, candidates who opt for CPA specialize in finance and general accounting, while candidates opting for CMA USA specialize in financial management and business accounting, and candidates choosing CFA to specialize in the investment sector and financial services.

Well, this article on CPA vs CMA vs CFA will help you learn the differences between these three certifications to help you choose the one apt for your career. 
Before we get into the CPA vs CMA vs CFA comparison, let's have an understanding of each professional certification, what they are, how you can obtain them, and the eligibility requirements for each.

What is a US CPA?

A US CPA is a licensed accounting certification given to professionals who have cleared the Uniform CPA exam conducted by the American Institute for Certified Public Accountants (AICPA and meet the individual state boards required education and work experience requirements. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) coordinates with the AICPA to conduct the CPA USA exam and issue the CPA License.A US CPA License ensures that the candidate has expertise and credibility in the field of Accountancy. Getting the US CPA certification paves numerous career opportunities and creates a roadway to a rewarding career in Accounting and Finance.The Certified Public Accountants (CPA) certification paves the way for a plethora of services apart from financial consulting, including, but not limited to, auditing, accounting, tax filing, and tax preparation. 

With the help of the US CPA certification, licensed CPAs can fill the job roles of auditors, accountants, forensic accountants, tax professionals, and even Chief Financial Officers (CFOs).

To obtain CPA US Certification, candidates must know a few things:
  1. Candidates must clear the Uniform CPA exam conducted by the AICPA.
  2. Candidates need to fulfill the professional experience requirement as specified by the AICPA.
  3. Candidates must hold a bachelor's degree or relevant degree in the accounting field with 150 credit hours and have two years of work experience in the relevant field.
  4. Candidates also need to pass the ethics exam in addition to the Uniform CPA exam.
The US CPA exam consists of four sections, commonly known as the Uniform CPA exam. The Uniform CPA exam consists of MCQs, Task-Based Simulations, and Written communication skills. Candidates must clear all four sections within 18 months from the time of registration for the US CPA exam. The candidates can take the exam anytime during the year with the continuous testing model.

What is CMA USA?

The US Certified Management Accountant (CMA) is a globally recognized professional credential for finance and accounting professionals specializing in financial management and business accounting. The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) confers the USA CMA certification to individuals who clear the CMA USA certification exam.
A US CMA is responsible for assisting management in decision-making in an organization or company, which is why they have a pivotal role in the company or organization they work for. A Certified CMA professional specializes in budgeting, financial planning, cost control, business analysis, and strategic decision-making within an organization or company.
A US CMA engages in the task of making business decisions within an organization. This ability of a certified US CMA professional in strategic decision-making empowers them to fill in the job roles of leadership in an organization effortlessly.

To obtain USA CMA Certification, candidates must know a few things:
  1. Candidates have to enroll as a member of the IMA.
  2. The candidate must have a Bachelor’s degree from a renowned institute. 
  3. At least two years of continuous work experience is required in the Financial Management or Management Accounting field. 
  4. Candidates must abide by the IMA’s Statement of Ethical Professional Practice.
The US CMA consists of two exam parts only. It takes less than 6-9 months to clear both parts of the exam. More than four exam windows are open throughout the year to take the USA CMA exam, which can be taken in any order. Candidates must secure a minimum of 70% to clear the USA CMA exam.

What is CFA?

The CFA is a professional certification offered to candidates wherein the field of specialization is an investment and related financial management services. After completing the CFA program, the CFA institute grants this certification.
Certified CFAs are eligible to work in monetary management, investment, portfolio management, asset management, risk management, research analysis, or hedge funds.

To become a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), candidates need to do the following:
  1. Candidates have to enroll in the CFA program and clear it.
  2. Candidates are also required to meet the work experience requirement.
  3. Accept your application to become a CFA.
The CFA Program comprises three levels. Candidates can take each level twice a year, but only six attempts are available for each level. It would take around 2.5 years to clear the CFA Program and become a certified CFA professional.


The cost of a certification course is another deciding factor for choosing a professional certification in the CPA vs CMA vs CFA comparison.


For US CPA, there is an Application Fee of $225, an Examination Fee of $250 per part for the four parts of the Uniform CPA exam, and an Evaluation Fee for NASBA of $225. It would overall cost $1500 for students taking the exam in the USA. For students taking the Uniform CPA exam outside of the USA, an extra charge of $1500 is applicable, totaling the cost of a US CPA course to $3000.
In Indian rupees, it can vary between INR 3.2 lakhs to INR 3.6 lakhs. But upon enrolling in NorthStar Academy, which is an Approved Learning Partner (ALP), candidates can avail themselves of Bundle discounts on the examination fee and another fee, reducing the load of the overall examination cost of a US CPA.


In the case of the CMA USA exam, the overall fee is different for students and working professionals. For the CMA USA exam, candidates need to pay the IMA Membership fee, Entrance fee, and Exam fee. For students, the overall cost of the CMA USA exam is $1035 ($345 for each exam part & $210 for entrance fees), while for working professionals, the CMA USA exam fee totals $1460 ($460 for each exam part & $280 for entrance fees). Moreover, they must pay $135 (students) and $260 (working professionals to maintain the IMA membership.
But NorthStar Academy offers Bundle discounts on the examination fee along with other fees of the CMA USA exam as well. So you can avail of these discounts upon enrollment and take the CMA USA exam at a lesser cost.


For the CFA exam, there is an enrollment fee of $350, along with a Standard Registration Fee of $1200. That amounts to around $1550. If candidates wish to reschedule an exam, the cost is $250, which increases the cost of CFA to $1800. Comparing CPA vs CFA cost, the total course of CFA costs more than the total course of CPA. CFA and CMA courses cost almost the same, but with discounts on the CMA USA course, the CMA cost becomes lesser than CFA.
In the case of the CMA USA exam, the overall fee is different for students and working professionals. For the CMA USA exam, candidates need to pay the IMA Membership fee, Entrance fee, and Exam fee. For students, the overall cost of the CMA USA exam is $1035 ($345 for each exam part & $210 for entrance fees), while for working professionals, the CMA USA exam fee totals $1460 ($460 for each exam part & $280 for entrance fees). Moreover, they must pay $135 (students) and $260 (working professionals to maintain the IMA membership.
The salary prospects of a certified individual with a professional certification become another deciding factor for choosing from the CPA vs CMA vs CFA. Although the career opportunities available for CPAs, CMAs, and CFAs are different, the salary packages offered to certified individuals differentiate between the three certifications. 
Certification US CPA CMA USA CFA
Average Annual Salary (according to Payscale) INR 8,24,336 INR 4,05,620 INR 6,10,128

The average annual salary range of a licensed CPA professional is $82,000 to $129,000. In comparison, a US CMA earns an average of $73,000 to $133,000, and a CFA professional earns around $126,000 to $177,000 in the USA.
Now that you know about the salary particulars of CPA vs CMA vs CFA, let's take a look at the side-by-side comparison.


In the table below of CPA vs CMA vs CFA, we have discussed the key differences between the three professional certifications so that you can glance through them all at once and consider each aspect to decide on the right career for you.
Area of FocusAccounting and FinanceFinancial Management and Business AccountingFinancial Analysis
Official Accounting BodyAICPAIMACFA Institute
Exam Fees350,000*150,000*450,000*
Exam LevelsFour LevelsAUDBECFARREG Two Exam PartsFinancial Planning, Performance, and AnalyticsStrategic Financial ManagementLevel 1Level 2Level 3
Work Experience Requirements1-2 years of relevant work experienceTwo years of full-time work experience or seven years of part-time work experience4,000 hours of relevant work experience
Educational Qualification RequirementsBachelor's degree or Master's degree of 150 creditsBachelor's degree in any Discipline from a recognized University or institutionBachelor's degree
Passing Percentage50% Aggregate72% in each part40%-50%
Course Duration18-24 Months6-9 monthsAt least 2 years
Job Roles OfferedSenior Financial Analyst, Public Accountants, Staff Accountants, Personal Financial Advisor, Finance Director, Corporate Controller, etc.Relationship Manager, Senior Accountant, Cost Accountant, Finance Manager, Business Analyst, CFO, etc.Portfolio Manager, Consultant Research Analyst, Investment Analyst Strategist, Wealth Manager, Chief Investment Officer, etc.
Average Salary Offered$82,000-$1,29,000$76,000-$1,33,000$1,26,000-$1,77,000

Students are often plagued by the question: "among CPA vs CMA vs CFA , which is harder." Going by the number of parts to complete a certification exam, clearing the US CPA exam will be the hardest, although the CFA exam syllabus is extensive. If the comparison is made among CPA vs CMA vs CFA for the time duration taken to clear the exam, the CFA Program takes the longest to complete and can, therefore, be considered the hardest.


1. Who earns more CFA or CMA?

The earning potential of both CMA and CFA-certified professionals in India are at par, around INR 10 lakhs per annum for both.

2. Is CFA tougher than CMA?

Generally, it takes almost 2 to 3 years to clear the CFA certification exam, while the CMA USA exam can be passed within 6 to 9 months. CFA is lengthier and tougher than CMA USA in course duration.

3. Which is better: CFA or CPA or CMA?

Depending upon which field of career interests you and you would want to specialize in, you have to choose accordingly between CPA vs CMA vs CFA . It is because these certifications offer great careers in different paths. CFA is for those who want to pursue a career as a Financial Analyst, CMA is for those who want a Management Accounting career, and CPA is for those who want to build a career in Accounting and Finance.

4. Is CMA good for financial analysts?

CMA certification does not focus on financial analysis as much as it focuses on companies' accounting and financial management. On the other hand, CFA is the perfect credential that can make you eligible to become a financial analyst.

5. What is the future of CMA?

CMA USA is an in-demand professional certification that the best MNCs highly value. US CMA-certified professionals are eligible to work anywhere in the world as CMA USA is globally recognized. There are many high-paying job roles offered to CMAs.

6. Can I do CFA after CMA?

It is possible to pursue CFA after CMA USA. However, you must note that no exemptions will be available for pursuing CFA after clearing US CMA.


Whichever professional certification you may pursue CPA vs CMA vs CFA, it is better to choose one that will benefit you most while conforming with your interests and preferences. If you are interested in making a career in Management Accounting & Finance, you should go for CMA USA. If you are interested in Accountancy, CMA USA and CPA are excellent choices. However, if you are passionate about Financial Analysis and want to pursue it as a career, CFA is the best fit.
No matter which certification you choose, enrolling in a coaching institute will help you get complete guidance from experienced mentors to aid in your preparation for the certification exam of your desired credential. NorthStar Academy (NSA) offers comprehensive guidance for preparing for certification exams, including CPA and CMA USA.

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