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What Is a Certified Personal Accountant?

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While there isn't an official title called Certified Personal Accountant, CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant. These are accountants who have passed the national CPA exam. This rigorous test is a comprehensive, four-part exam that many accountants do not pass on their first try. In fact, accountants aren't required to have the CPA certification, and many do not even take the test. This doesn't keep them from working as a personal accountant for individuals or businesses. However, many jobs in accounting firms with business clients require CPA certification or expect accountants to get their CPA certification within a defined period of time after being hired.


Accountants who pass a rigorous certification test earn the designation of Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Job Description

Roughly half of accountants are CPAs. Whether you have the CPA designation or not, you’d perform the same types of financial duties. You might work for an accounting firm that handles individual or business clients, or both. Or, you could be self-employed and choose the types of clients you serve.

Typically, accountants also don’t handle personal bookkeeping such as recording transactions as they occur. That’s left to bookkeepers or computer programs that record transactions automatically. As a CPA or accountant, you’d review financial records for accuracy, efficiency and compliance with current laws. You'd prepare financial statements and advise clients on where they could save money or increase revenue. You might prepare tax returns and advise clients on when to file to avoid penalties.

You could specialize in specific types of accounting, such as accounting for departments of local, state or national government agencies; or in a particular industry like healthcare or manufacturing; or examining financial records for indications of crimes like embezzlement or fraud.

Accountants also prepare reports explaining the documents and outlining advice. The job of an accountant isn't always behind the scenes. You need to be able to talk with clients and potential clients and give presentations as well.

You can do any of these jobs with or without the CPA designation. However, some forms require the signature of a CPA. Also, executive jobs such as chief financial officer usually require a CPA.

Education Requirements for Accountants

Most CPAs and accountants have at least a four-year bachelor’s degree in accounting. It's possible to work as an accountant with an associate degree if a company will hire and train you. In these cases, you’d have the title of junior accountant until you have worked at the company for several years and proven your abilities.

The requirements needed to take the CPA exam vary between states. Although a few states allow you to substitute years of experience for a college degree, most states require at least a college degree. Many also require 150 hours of college credits, or about five years of college study. This could lead to a master's degree, but a master's degree is not required to be a CPA.

All states require CPAs to pass the Uniform CPA Examination given by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). You must pass all four parts of the exam, but not necessarily all at once. It’s common for states to require that you pass all four within 18 months of taking the test for the first time. For the first three quarters of 2018, pass rates varied from about 40 to 60 percent for each part. Many accountants take the exam several times before passing all four parts.

The median salary for accountants as of May 2017 was $69,350. A median salary is the midpoint in a list of salaries for an occupation, where half earned more and half earned less. Salaries at the lower end of the list would be new grads, junior accountants or those without a bachelor’s degree. Those with salaries above the median tend to be CPAs or have years of experience, or both. For example, as of October 2018, the median salary of a CPA in the U.S. was $81,610.

About the Industry

CPAs are needed in all industries, including the public and private sectors. Most work a 40-hour week with overtime during tax season. It's wise to ask about typical hours when you’re interviewing for a job.

Years of Experience

CPAs earn higher salaries as they gain experience, with or without a promotion. For example, a CPA with up to three years of experience typically earns an annual salary of $59,683. Those with eight years of experience earned $104,595.

Job Growth Trend

The need for accountants and CPAs is expected to grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026. Although computer software will do more of the routine accounting tasks, accountants will spend more of their time analyzing financial materials, especially as businesses become more globalized.


Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area who has written about careers and education for,, and more. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards for her writing.

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