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Difference Between CPA & Accountant

Certified public accountants (CPAs) and accountants both provide financial services; however, their education and expertise differ. This article will cover the job outlook, job duties, and educational responsibilities for each position.

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Comparing CPAs to Accountants

While CPAs and accountants perform similar duties, a CPA takes on more of a strategic management role within an organization. The key similarities and differences between these two financial services careers are highlighted below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary Job Growth (2014-2024)**
CPA Bachelor's Degree $63,227 (2017)* 11% (Accountants & Auditors)
Accountant Bachelor's Degree $68,150 (206)** 11% (Accountants & Auditors)

Sources: *Payscale.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of CPAs vs. Accountants

Both of these professions involve assisting organizations with their financial management. Careers as either a CPA or accountant require strong analytical skills and attention to detail. A CPA's additional education and experience allows them to be more involved in a company's overall portfolio, such as dealing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In contrast, an accountant may focus more on taxes and auditing duties.

CPA

As a CPA, you can have your own business or work for a public accounting firm. CPAs specialize in examining individuals' or organizations' financial records and creating reports based on their findings. You will ensure there are no irregularities in clients' files and that they are in compliance with federal regulations. Job responsibilities include bookkeeping, establishing and overseeing budgets, and advising management on ways to reduce cost. This career requires a bachelor's degree in accounting, with some states requiring 30 hours of college coursework beyond the traditional bachelor's degree. You must also have practical work experience, pass the Uniform CPA Examination, and become licensed in the state you wish to practice.

Job responsibilities of a CPA include:

  • Preparing tax returns and filing appropriate documentation
  • Advising management on topics like benefits and compensation
  • Assisting with fraud prevention and strategic management
  • Managing an organization's accounts receivable and payable

Accountant

An accountant is responsible for overseeing an organization's financial health. Accountants primarily work for accounting, tax preparation, or payroll services, but may also work for government or insurance agencies. As an accountant, you will examine an organization's financial processes for efficiency, create and update financial records, and preparing and filing tax returns. You will have the opportunity to specialize in a particular line of business, such as healthcare services, or a particular service, such as risk management or assurance services. An accountant will need a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field. A master's degree in business administration or accounting is required for some positions.

Job responsibilities of an accountant include:

  • Analyzing financial records for any discrepancies
  • Discussing your examination of financial records with clients
  • Ensuring individuals and organizations follow federal regulations
  • Providing guidance to management teams on improving their work processes

Related Careers

If you would like to become a CPA, consider a job as a financial analyst, as both careers focus on an organization's financial health. Those interested in a position as an accountant might be interested in a job as a tax examiner, as both jobs involve working with organizations on their tax compliance.

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