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Pursuing CPA Licensure After a Master’s of Accounting Degree: Do You Need It?

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A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is always, by definition, an Accountant, but is an Accountant always a CPA? Quite simply, no–gaining CPA licensure is an extra step beyond obtaining a Master of Accounting degree (see our list of the best online master of accounting degree programs for some of the schools to check out if you still need to pursue your degree). An Accountant who meets the 150-hour educational requirements and successfully sits for the CPA exam has gone through a uniform credentialing process to become not only the premier standard of accounting, but also the publicly-guaranteed qualified accounting professional. Additionally, there are some job specifics that only CPAs are legally allowed to execute–such as filing  reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and performing audits and attestations. Accountants can do a lot–completing tax returns is probably the most well-known service. A CPA can prepare your tax return as well, but they can also represent you if you are called in for an audit and help you make informed and complex business and tax decisions.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is the professional organization in for CPAs in the United States. The organization is responsible for designing and monitoring the results of the Uniform CPA Exam. Accountants must pass the exam to become a CPA, and to maintain the designation must pursue Continuing Professional Education–80 hours worth–every two years. There are also specific state regulations of which CPAs need to be aware. (Many websites offer a breakdown of state requirements as well as guidelines towards getting CPA licensure).

For those who want to know about their return on the investment of pursuing CPA licensure, consider that CPAs make (on average) about 10-15% more than the average accountant salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants who possess an undergraduate degree made on average about $68,000 a year in 2016. With that being the case, that would mean a licensed CPA made, on average, almost $80,000 in 2016.

So the choice is yours if you want to go the extra mile to become a CPA. Being an accountant is a fine professional endeavor, but if you are looking for a little more clout and a larger salary, consider becoming a CPA.

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Michael Templeton
Managing Editor

Kacey Reynolds Schedler
Contributing Editor