What is a CPA? Certified Public Accountant

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What is a CPA? Certified Public Accountant

What is a CPA?

As the accounting industry continues to evolve, the demand for CPAs is growing, making now the ideal time to embark on this exciting journey. In this blog post, we will provide a comprehensive guide to understanding “what is a CPA” – the designation, licensure, specializations, and the benefits of becoming a CPA, as well as addressing challenges and considerations. Let’s dive in and explore the many possibilities that a career as a CPA has to offer.

Short Summary

  • The CPA credential is the highest achievement in accounting, offering various career opportunities and specialized privileges.
  • The state board of accountancy establishes licensing and regulation for aspiring CPAs with educational requirements including obtaining a bachelor’s degree and 150 semester hours of college credit.
  • Becoming a CPA provides increased earning potential, job security, respect & credibility, making it financially rewarding & fulfilling.

What is a CPA? Certified Public Accountant

The CPA Credential: An Overview

The CPA credential represents the pinnacle of success in the accounting profession. A certified public accountant is a licensed accounting professional who has met the high standards set by state boards of accountancy and is regulated by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). CPAs play a crucial role in the financial world, as their responsibilities include preparing financial statements, filing tax returns, and providing advice on financial and tax-related matters. The CPA designation signifies an individual’s expertise in financial accounting and opens doors to many career opportunities and specializations.

However, it’s essential to understand that not all accountants are CPAs. A CPA has the authority to perform specialized tasks, such as representing clients before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which are not available to general accountants. In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the roles and responsibilities of a CPA, as well as the licensing and regulation process that distinguishes them from other accounting professionals.

Role and Responsibilities

A CPA is an experienced and skilled individual in the field of finance. They have been officially certified by a state board to offer accounting services for the public. Their responsibilities encompass various financial matters, such as providing guidance to clients, preparing and submitting tax documents, and generating financial reports. CPAs possess a unique skill set that allows them to undertake additional tasks associated with the IRS and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) unavailable to all accountants.

One significant area where CPAs stand out is their exclusive qualification to conduct audits of public U.S. companies and prepare audited financial statements, such as balance sheets and income statements. This distinction became particularly important after the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which increased the significance of the CPA designation. In essence, a CPA’s specialized knowledge and expertise set them apart from other accountants, making them invaluable assets in finance.

Licensing and Regulation

The path to obtaining a CPA license is a challenging yet rewarding endeavor. The licensing process requires candidates to fulfill the educational and experience requirements established by the state board of accountancy in the jurisdiction where they plan to practice. These requirements generally include completing a bachelor’s degree with at least 150 credit hours of coursework and successfully passing the CPA Exam.

It’s important to note that the requirements’ specifics may differ, making it crucial for aspiring CPAs to research the guidelines set by their respective state boards. Obtaining the CPA designation is a testament to an individual’s comprehensive understanding of accounting procedures and adherence to the most stringent standards.

In a world where financial integrity is of utmost importance, a CPA license is a badge of honor that showcases an individual’s commitment to excellence and ability to navigate the complex world of finance.

What is a CPA?

The Path to CPA Licensure

While the requirements to become a CPA vary by state, they typically include a bachelor’s degree, passing the CPA exam, and meeting work experience requirements. The road to CPA licensure may seem daunting, but the rewards outweigh the challenges.

As a licensed CPA, you will have access to a world of opportunities, from prestigious public accounting firms to high-ranking positions in private companies, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Let’s explore the educational and examination requirements that aspiring CPAs must fulfill to reach their goals.

Educational Requirements

To become a CPA, candidates must meet specific educational qualifications set by their state board of accountancy. These requirements generally involve a bachelor’s degree and 150 semester college credit hours. Undergraduate and graduate-level accounting programs typically cover topics such as financial accounting, auditing, and taxation at both individual and corporate levels. This educational foundation is crucial for preparing aspiring CPAs to tackle the challenges they will face in their professional careers.

In addition to traditional accounting programs, there are innovative options for those seeking a more flexible educational experience, such as the online Master of Accounting (iMSA) program offered by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Regardless of the chosen program, CPA candidates must acquire a solid understanding of accounting principles and practices, as this knowledge will be tested during the CPA examination.

The CPA Examination

The Uniform CPA Exam is a crucial milestone on the path to licensure, and its requirements vary depending on the state. This comprehensive exam consists of four sections, each of which candidates have four hours to complete. A minimum score of 75% is required to pass each team, and candidates must complete all four sections within 18 months. Although the exam is known for its rigor, the sense of accomplishment upon passing is unparalleled.

Preparing for the CPA exam demands dedication, discipline, and a strong foundation in accounting principles. As you embark on this journey, remember that the exam is just one of the many hurdles you will face in your pursuit of CPA licensure. With determination and the right resources, you can overcome these challenges and become a licensed CPA.

CPA Specializations and Career Opportunities

As a CPA, the world is your oyster regarding career opportunities and specializations. From forensic accounting and tax preparation to personal financial planning, there are many options for CPAs to make their mark in the financial world.

With such a diverse range of possibilities, it’s essential to explore different specializations to find the one that aligns best with your interests and passions. In the following sections, we will delve into three popular CPA specializations and what they entail.

Forensic Accounting

Forensic accounting is an exciting and dynamic field that combines accounting, auditing, and investigative techniques to assess financial statements and investigate potential financial crimes or fraud. Often associated with criminal investigations and legal proceedings, forensic accountants play a vital role in litigation support, investigation, and dispute resolution by analyzing financial documents, financial records, and financial reporting.

To become a successful forensic accountant, one must possess an in-depth understanding of accounting principles, auditing, and investigative methods, a comprehensive knowledge of the legal system, and the ability to interpret and analyze financial information.

Career opportunities for forensic accountants abound in various settings, such as law firms, government agencies, and private companies, as well as independent consulting roles or as part of an investigative team.

Tax Preparation and Planning

Tax preparation and planning is another popular specialty for CPAs. While tax preparation involves preparing and filing a tax return, tax planning focuses on evaluating a financial situation or plan to ensure that all elements are maximized to minimize the amount of taxes owed. In this role, a CPA prepares applicable tax filings and offers tax planning and analysis services.

Whether working for a public accounting firm, a private company or as an independent consultant, tax preparation and planning professionals are in high demand. As tax laws and regulations evolve, CPAs with expertise in this area will be invaluable assets to individuals and businesses seeking to navigate the complex world of taxation.

Personal Financial Planning

Personal financial planning is strategically planning and managing one’s economic activities, such as income generation, spending, saving, and investing, to optimize one’s financial situation and achieve financial goals. CPAs specializing in personal financial planning can help individuals make informed decisions, set and achieve financial goals, and manage their money most beneficially.

Personal financial planning has numerous benefits, from improved financial security and enhanced savings to better financial decision-making and reduced debt. As a CPA specializing in personal financial planning, you can play a pivotal role in helping clients achieve their financial dreams and secure their future.

Benefits of Becoming a CPA

There are numerous benefits to becoming a CPA, from increased earning potential and job opportunities to the prestige and respect that comes with the designation. As a CPA, you are in high demand due to your expertise in accounting, auditing, and taxation and your ability to provide financial advice and guidance. Furthermore, CPAs typically earn higher salaries than other designations, making pursuing this credential financially rewarding.

Another critical advantage of becoming a CPA is the credibility it brings to your career. Your credibility as a trusted business consultant and financial specialist is paramount for your and your client’s success. Maintaining high standards in all aspects of your work makes it essential. By becoming a CPA, you demonstrate to your clients that you possess a deep understanding of the field and have been tested on it. This assurance helps establish client trust and paves the way for a successful and fulfilling career.

Challenges and Considerations

While the benefits of becoming a CPA are numerous, it’s also essential to consider the journey’s challenges. The exam’s notoriously low pass rate can make it a daunting prospect for aspiring CPAs.

Moreover, continuing education and professional development are crucial for maintaining a CPA license and staying current with industry trends. This involves completing the required number of hours of continuing education annually and passing the recertification exam every three years.

Despite these challenges, the rewards of becoming a CPA far outweigh the obstacles, making it a worthy pursuit for those dedicated to the profession.

Continuing Education and Professional Development

Continuing education and professional development are essential aspects of a successful CPA career. Staying up-to-date with industry trends and maintaining your license through continuing education is crucial for staying relevant in the ever-evolving world of finance. Each state has its requirements for continuing education, so it’s essential to be aware of the guidelines set by your respective state board.

In addition to meeting continuing education requirements, professional development is vital for expanding your skills and knowledge in your chosen specialty. By pursuing additional training and certifications, you can enhance your expertise and open up new opportunities for career growth. In the fast-paced world of finance, staying ahead of the curve is key to a long and successful CPA career.

Comparing CPA with Other Designations

When considering a career in finance, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons of various designations. The CPA designation has distinct educational requirements, career paths, and salary potential compared to other designations such as MBA and CMA. To obtain a CPA license, an individual must fulfill a required number of college credits, pass the CPA exam, and satisfy other criteria set by the state where they seek licensure.

Regarding career paths and salary potential, CPAs generally have higher prospects than other designations due to their expertise in accounting, auditing, and taxation and their ability to provide financial advice and guidance. The CPA designation offers a unique combination of prestige, versatility, and financial rewards, making it an attractive option for those looking to make their mark in finance.


In conclusion, becoming a Certified Public Accountant is a challenging yet rewarding journey that offers many personal and professional growth opportunities. From rigorous educational and examination requirements to the vast array of specializations and career paths, the CPA designation is a testament to one’s dedication and expertise in finance. As you embark on this journey, remember that the challenges you face will only strengthen your resolve and pave the way for a fulfilling and successful career in finance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does CPA do?

As a Certified Public Accountant, a CPA provides essential financial services to individuals, businesses, and organizations. CPAs offer expertise and guidance in tax preparation, accounting services, auditing, financial consulting, and financial advisory services such as financial planning, business valuation, estate planning, and risk management.

Is a CPA better than an accountant?

Overall, a CPA is better than an accountant because of their expertise and experience in accounting that regular accountants may not have. CPAs have the credentials to provide audited financial statements and represent clients before the IRS, setting them apart from regular accountants.

What is CPA equivalent to?

The CPA credential is highly sought-after and held in the highest regard as it signifies a mastery of financial reporting and taxation laws.

In other words, it is equivalent to a Chartered Accountant in other jurisdictions.

What are the general requirements for becoming a CPA?

Becoming a CPA requires obtaining a bachelor’s degree, passing the Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, and meeting the work experience requirements specified by the state.

These requirements vary by state but typically include at least one year of accounting experience. Additionally, some states require CPA candidates to complete an ethics course. Once these requirements are met, the candidate can apply for a CPA license.




Massey and Company CPA is a boutique tax and accounting firm serving individuals, small businesses and non-profits in Atlanta, Chicago and throughout the country.  Our Tax Department provides tax return preparation, tax planning, IRS tax problem resolution and IRS audit services.  Our Accounting Department provides small business accounting and bookkeeping services using QuickBooks Online.

You are welcome to contact our CPA office to request assistance with your tax and accounting matters.   We can be reached by telephone at 678-235-5460 (Atlanta) or 773-828-0551 (Chicago).  To reach us online, contact us here.

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Massey and Company CPA

Based in Atlanta and Chicago, Massey and Company CPA specializes in tax and accounting matters of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and their families.
We do everything related to tax return preparation and tax planning, as well as accounting and bookkeeping for small businesses using QuickBooks Online.
In addition, we represent taxpayers before the IRS, keeping taxpayers out of tax trouble. We negotiate with the IRS and the state, so you do not have to.
We know the tax issues. We know our way around the IRS. We know QuickBooks. And we know how to help you save taxes and keep more of your hard-earned profits.

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