The 11 Most Lucrative Accounting Certifications

“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin (rumored). This quote is eternal, just like taxes. Accounting/Auditing is a lot more than just taxes, but its many related certifications will lead to consistent work, above average pay. While practice and work experience is important, supplementing that with a wealth of certifications can only help your career. The certifications cost money through studying and exam fees, but these investments will pay long term dividends. This list catalogs what’s required to qualify for the various certifications, how much they’ll cost, what the job market and Labor Bureau predictions for the fields are, and more. The accounting career of your future lies ahead:

Internal Auditor

Internal auditors are employees charged with giving independent, objective analysis on a company’s finances, corporate governance (the company’s rules, practices, processes), and business operations. They evaluate the operational efficiency of the company, then share their findings with top management on what can be done to maximize the company’s structural and practical efficiency. Internal auditors look at how a company complies/performs within its own structure, how it follows SEC regulations/general auditing guidelines, and how to improve performance in all aforementioned sectors. The average salary for this position is $62,588. Internal auditing statistics from The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) falls under the larger umbrella of accountants and auditors. The BLS recommends a bachelor’s degree in addition to certification to become an entry level auditor. Its stats also show that in 2014, there were over 1.3 million jobs in accounting/auditing. The field is expected to grow 11% by 2024, adding over 140,000 jobs. According to O*Net Online, the growth could be as high as 13%, and there will be nearly half a million job openings in the field between 2014-2024.

In order to become a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), you’ll need to learn business and industry standards, internal controls, governance, risk and compliance, the inner workings of financial statements, accrual accounting, the International Professional Practices Framework (IPPF), the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and more. Those looking to earn this certification should become members of the Institute of Internal Auditors. There you can find comprehensive information about other useful certifications, the exams which convey certification, relevant courses, and a comprehensive breakdown of the costs associated with achieving this certification (they differ based on a wide variety of factors, but costs range between $1,000-5,000 when exam fees, study materials and other costs are considered).

  • Average Salary: $62588


A Certified Public Accountant is someone who’s achieved a CPA licensure. There are many subsections of CPA work, including consulting, forensic accounting, environmental accounting, internal accounting, tax and financial planning, and much more. The most macro explanation of the job is threefold. CPA’s assess and attest to the quality of financial disclosures, guard against misstatements, and make sure organizations/individuals are following generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). The average salary for CPA’s is $62,054. In order to sit the CPA exam to obtain licensure, students should have 150 semester hours of education (in some states it’s a requirement, but it’s extremely helpful regardless). BLS stats also show that in 2014, there were over 1.3 million accounting/auditing jobs. The field is expected to grow 11% by 2024, adding over 140,000 jobs. According to O*Net Online, the growth could be as high as 13%, and there will be nearly half a million job openings in the field between 2014-2024.

CPA’s learn how to use accounting software, and the intricacies of general ledgers, job costs, bank reconciliations, cash management, budgeting, tax preparation, forensic accounting, financial statement compilations, asset depreciation, payroll accounting, auditing, spreadsheets statistics and much more. Concepts like organizational management, business law and marketing are extremely valuable as well. In order to take and receive the CPA License, there are a number of costs and fees, but in the U.S., on top of the 150 semester hours of education, students can expect to spend around $3,000 on exam and licensing fees, as well as review courses.

  • Average Salary: $62054

Certified Fraud Examiner

Certified Fraud Examiners are awarded certification by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). It’s their responsibility to prevent fraud, identify fraud, and expose fraud by organizations/individuals. This position requires people with accounting, investigative, legal, and criminology skills. CFE’s learn how fraud is perpetrated and identified, inspect books/records for signs of fraud, interview/expose suspects, write reports on their investigations, advise clients, testify at trial, and recognize signs of motivation which lead to fraud. The average salary for CFE’s is $63,969.

CFE’s learn the inner workings of accounting and auditing, criminology/sociology related to fraud, fraud investigation, forensic methods, loss prevention, fraud law, the ACFE code of ethics, and much more. The process for becoming a CFE generally involves a Bachelor’s in a related field (business administration, accounting, etc.) to build foundational skills, becoming a member of the ACFE, then taking the certification exam and passing. The cost to apply for the exam is $400, and an optional prep course is $300. Both the BLS and approximate a 3% growth in a field that encompasses fraud examiners, investigators, claims adjusters, etc. O*Net Online offers a far more specific outlook on accounting fraud examiners. According to O*Net, in 2014, there were 146,000 people working in this position, and they project growth of 5-8% by 2024. O*Net also predicts just under 22,000 job openings as people retire or leave fraud examiner positions over that time period.

  • Average Salary: $63969

Certified Information Systems Auditor

CISA’s ensure an organization’s IT/business systems are properly checked, controlled and protected. This role combines some accounting, auditing and computer scientist skills. CISAs use an auditor’s knowledge in the world of IT, assess vulnerabilities, while instituting technology controls in an enterprise environment. To become CISA certified, you’ll need to pass an exam with a score of 450+ (on a scale of 200-800), have five years experience in information systems auditing, control, assurance or security, although some substitutions and waivers may apply. There are many ways to earn the experience to get this certification. It is designed for IT auditors, audit managers, consultants and security professionals. The CISA exam is extremely difficult, and takes four hours to complete. It’s 150 multiple choice questions, some worth more than others. CISA holders have to train 20 hours per year, and 120 in a three-year period to keep their certification. They also must maintain the auditing standards of ISACA and adhere to the ISACA Code of Professional Ethics.

You don’t need to become an ISACA member to take the CISA exam, but it’ll save you money. Membership varies by chapters, but is between $10-$140 annually. The costs of the 2017 exam are $525 for members who register early, $575 if not. For non-members it’s $710 for early registration, $760 for standard. There’s a $50 one-time application fee, and an annual maintenance fee is $40 for members and $65 for non-members. Finally, a study guide costs $40, but a comprehensive review manual and question database is $300+. In total, depending on registration times, membership, and how much you want to invest in studying, you can expect to pay between $970-$1,470 for the CISA exam. The average salary for CISA’s is $73,279. BLS puts Information Systems Auditors in the overall accountants and auditors group, predicting a 11% growth between 2014-2024, with over 142,000 jobs added.

  • Average Salary: $73279

Enrolled Agent

Enrolled Agents are federally-authorized tax professionals who are authorized by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to represent taxpayers dealing with an Internal Revenue Service examination/audits, collection, or appeals. This position combines the knowledge of a tax professional with the ethical expectations of a lawyer to guide individuals or organizations through their interactions with the IRS. Enrolled agents advise, represent, and prepare tax returns for people, corporations, trusts, or any other organization or entity that files taxes.

There are two ways to become an EA: work for the IRS for five years interpreting the tax code, or pass all three parts of the Special Enrollment Exam (SEE) and a background check. To maintain authorization as an EA, you’ll need to complete 72 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) every three years, with two hours of ethics or professional conduct each year.

BLS groups Enrolled Agents with Tax Examiners and Collectors and Revenue Agents. They place this group in decline, saying there will be -6% job change between 2014-24, for 4,200 less jobs. The EA exam is one of the more inexpensive exams on this list, requiring $109 per part of the test, for a total of $327. There are approximately 48,000 practicing EAs in the US. The average salary of people in corresponding positions is $48,850.

  • Average Salary: $48850

Certified Management Accountant

Management accountants figure out the status and success of a company or organization. Certified Management Accountants (CMA), is similar to being a CPA,with more focus on cost accounting, financial planning, and management issues. CMAs have a professional understanding of financial planning, analysis, control, decision support, and professional ethics. CMAs work for all types of organizations: manufacturing, public, private, non-profit, academic institutions, governments, and multinationals. There are over 50,000 CMAs worldwide. CMAs work to figure out the why instead of just the what when it comes to an organizations finances. They record and analyze numbers to recommend budgetary changes that will lead to better financial performance. CMAs may help choose and manage investments. CMAs are risk managers, budgeters, planners, strategists, and more. In the simplest terms they help an organization’s management make decisions. They combine in-depth accounting skills and basic tax principles with a macro understanding of the organization they work for and leadership/management skills to convince decision makers to convert their findings into policy change.

The average salary for people who hold a CMA is $74,410. CMAs work as Staff Accountants, Cost Accountants, Internal Auditors, Budget Analysts, Financial Analysts, Senior Accountants, Finance Managers, Controllers, Vice Presidents, Finance Treasurers, CFOs, CEOs and more. BLS’ closest approximation to this position is “Management Analysts.” They predict a 14% growth between 2014-24, with over 103,000 added jobs, and O*net predicts 208,500 job openings as current CMA holders retire or leave positions they hold over that same period of time. Those looking to become CMAs should consider membership in The Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business (IMA). Entrance to the CMA program costs $225, but IMA members get a $150 discount. CMA exam fees are $300-350 per part, depending on how an applicant registers and when they take the exams. The total costs for the exam are between $600-700. Applicants should also consider paying between $470 for an online self-study course to $1,110 for a more comprehensive online self-study course plus textbooks and access to an online test bank.

  • Average Salary: $74410

Certified Payroll Professional

CPPs are certified after demonstrating their payroll knowledge and experience. Before taking the CPP exam, applicants will need to be a practicing payroll professional for three of the last five years before they take the exam, be employed for two years and take a number of courses, be employed for 18 months, receive a different but similar certification and take courses. The full list of different options to prepare for the CPP examination can be found at Practicing payroll professionals are those working in Payroll Production, Payroll Reporting, Payroll Accounting, Payroll Systems, Payroll Taxation, Payroll Administration or Payroll Education/Consulting. You’ll need to understand payroll functions and management. CPPs have knowledge and skills in taxation, benefits, compliance issues, calculation methods, payroll systems, accounting, management, administration (policies, procedures and auditing). Key duties include collect & verifying time-sheets, making sure organizations meet federal and state compliance rules, and preparing the payroll.

CPPs work as Payroll administrators, administrative managers, payroll specialists, and more. predicted between 11-13% growth in related career paths between 2012-2022. People in CPP corresponding positions make $73,695 a year. According to PayScale, associated positions are overwhelmingly occupied by women, and the highest wages for associated positions can be found in San Francisco. The exam costs $425.

  • Average Salary: $73695

Accredited Business Accountant

The ABA designation is similar to the CPA, but is essentially a more financially based credential for accountants or finance professionals. Those that earn it specialize in financial accounting, financial reporting, financial statement preparation, taxation, managerial accounting, business law, ethics and more. To earn this credit, you’ll need to pass the Comprehensive Examination for Accreditation in Accountancy. It’s offered twice each year at proctor sites around the country. To qualify for the exam you’ll need three years of related work experience, two of which can be substituted with college credit. The exam is broken into Practice 1 and Practice 2, both of which must be passed to earn your ABA. If only one Practice is passed (or taken), you’ll have 18 months to pass the other Practice and become an ABA. Practice 1 is 100 multiple choice questions on financial accounting, financial statement preparation, presentation and reporting. Practice 2 is 100 multiple choice questions on taxation, business law, business accounting and ethics. It costs $400 to take both Practices, or you can take one for $250, and the other for $250 within the 18 months (assuming you pass).

According to BLS statistics, accountants’ median pay in 2015 was $67,190 annually, or $32.30 per hour. In 2014 there were over 1.3 million people working in this field. BLS predicts that between 2014-24, there will be an 11% increase in jobs in this field, with over 140,000 new positions created. O*Net also estimates that 498,000 accounting jobs will open between 2014-24, as people retire or move on to other positions. They predict a 9-13% job growth over that time period.

  • Average Salary: $47224

Accredited Financial Examiner

Financial examiners work to keep banks, and other financial institutions in line with the laws and regulations which govern them. They can work for financial or insurance firms, or for federal/state government agencies. It’s their duty to examine institutions, present findings, and recommend corrective action/supervision to organizational management/oversight. Financial examiners review balance sheets, income/expense accounts, and loan documents. They train and supervise newer financial examiners, and keep up to date with new regulations and laws to adapt existing organizational policies and procedures. Some financial examiners may be involved in training and supervising other examiners. In addition, examiners are tasked with reviewing new regulations and laws, and establishing guidelines for procedures and policies.

The average salary for corresponding financial examiner positions is $60,830. BLS predicts this field will grow by 10% between 2014-2024, adding 3,700 jobs. O*Net predicts between a 9-13% growth, along with over 13,000 jobs opening over that timeframe as examiners retire/transition into other work. It may make sense to join SOFE (Society of Financial Examiners) if you’re looking to obtain the AFE. Members pay $200 to take the AFE exam, or $150 to retake it. Non-members pay $275 to take it and $210 to retake it. There’s a variety of options that qualify people to sit the AFE that can be found here:

  • Average Salary: $60830

Forensic Accountant

Forensic Accountants work in two distinct areas of accounting: litigation and investigation. In the former, FAs break down the economic issues involved in upcoming or ongoing legal disputes. In this position, FAs can prevent legal confrontation, aid settlements, or offer expert testimony in unresolved cases. In the investigative wing of forensic accounting, FAs assess criminal issues like employee theft, securities fraud, identity theft, or insurance fraud. FAs are often compared to bloodhounds for their ability to find existing fraud rather than prevent it from happening. The Certified Forensic Accountant certification exam costs $585. You’ll need to submit your resume, degrees, CPA License or international equivalent, any other certifications or licenses and at least two professional references in addition to the exam costs.

Forensic accountants are suspicious. They must be able to apply their accounting knowledge to legal issues. A forensic CPA will be asked to write expert reports, assist in depositions, testify as an expert witness, conduct fraud investigations and assist in civil and criminal investigations. On average, FAs make $64,520 annually. BLS predicts that between 2014-24, accounting positions will go up by 11%, faster than average. BLS’ stats say there will be 142,400 new additions to the workforce. O*Net says there will be a 9-13% job growth in this field, with 498,000 job openings as new jobs are created and current job holders retire.

  • Average Salary: $64520

Certified Quality Auditor (Quality Assurance Manager)

Certified Quality Auditors are professionals that use examining, questioning,
evaluating, and reporting techniques to assess a quality system’s adequacy and deficiencies. CQAs judge a system;s industrial management, quality evaluation and control system. CQA candidates need extensive experience (8 years, with at least three of them in decision-making). This experience can be earned working as a quality engineer, reliability engineer, supplier quality professional, software quality engineer or quality manager.

American Society for Quality members can take the CQA exam for $348, non-members for $498, and those who need to retake it will pay $298. The multiple choice examination that measures comprehension of the ASQ BOK (American Society for Quality Body of Knowledge) tackles basic auditing, auditing process, auditing competencies, audit program and business applications, and quality tools/techniques. For a more comprehensive look at what the exam tests applicants on, visit

BLS predicts that between 2014-24, auditing positions will increase by 11%, adding over 142,000 new jobs. In addition, O*Net predicts a 9-13% job growth in auditing, with just under 500,000 jobs added.

  • Average Salary: $85293
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