Updated on May 15, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Edited byAaron Crowe
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Difference Between CPA and CFA

The main difference is that a CPA qualification (Certified Public Accountant) is for those candidates who seek a career in the field of accounting, auditing and taxation, while a CFA designation (Chartered Financial Analyst ) prepares candidates for investment portfolio management and corporate finance profiles.


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CPA vs CFA ® Infographics


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CPA vs CFA – Comparative Table

SectionCPA CFA
Organizing BodyAmerican Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) CFA Institute
PatternOnly one level Divided into 3 levels
Duration of Course1.5 Years 4 Years
  • Financial Principles
  • Portfolio Management
  • Financial Analysis
  • Accounting
Exam fees$1,500 $2,500-$3,500, depending on the time of registration
DifficultyModerately difficult with a passing rate of ~50% Challenging, and only ~10% of the candidates clear all the levels
Exam DateContinuous Testing (as of 1st Jul 2020) 2021 Calendar


  • Level I – Feb 16- Mar 1, May 18-24, Aug 24-30, Nov 16-22
  • Level II – May 25- Jun 1, Aug 31- Sep 4
  • Level III – May 25- Jun 1, Nov 23-25

CPA vs CFA – Which is Better?

Rather than straightaway deciding on which is a better qualification, it is important that you understand what career paths each qualification leads to and then decide which one is a better fit for you based on your career goals. If you intend to build a career in the financial domain of accounting, then CPA is a better credential for you. On the other hand, if you are interested in portfolio management or corporate finance, CFA suits you better. So, the appropriate answer is that the choice between the two completely depends on your career aspirations.

Skills Obtained

As a CPA professional, you will be required to perform many calculations as the role will be purely in accounting. Hence, the CPA course ensures that after the qualification, you become adept at crunching numbers. On the other hand, as a CFA charter holder, you will develop critical thinking, analytical ability, advanced Excel skills, excellent modeling skills, and acquire decision-making and communication skills.


From the day you clear one of the 4 parts of the CPA exams, you will have another 18 months to clear the remaining 3 parts of the course. On the other hand, CFA takes a little more time as you have to clear 3 levels of examinations, one after the other, and mandatory 4 years of professional experience. Given that work experience can be gained even while pursuing the CFA course, you can complete the course in a span of 4 years.

Eligibility or Experience Required

If you want to become a CPA-qualified professional, then you need to have at least a bachelor’s degree or related professional credential along with two years of work experience in a relevant field. On the other hand, to become a CFA charter holder, you need a bachelor’s degree and four years of relevant work experience.


The syllabus for CPA primarily revolves around the four parts – regulation,  audit & attestation, business environment & concepts, and financial accounting & reporting. Some of the main subjects covered in the course include economic concepts & analysis, financial statement accounts, entity & individual federal taxation, professional responsibilities ethics & general principles, corporate governance, etc. The CFA program syllabus is divided into three levels, wherein Level I covers topics on financial principles, Level II focuses on financial analysis & accounting, and Level III delves deeper into portfolio management. Some of the main subjects covered in the course include financial reporting & analysis, equity valuation, quantitative methods, corporate finance, economics, portfolio management, derivatives, fixed income, alternative investments, ethical & professional standards etc.

Career Opportunity and Salary

Both CPA and CFA offer bright career prospects for aspiring candidates. A CPA-qualified professional usually ends up a forensic accountant, public accountant, financial analyst, consultant internal auditor, etc. On the other hand, a CFA charter holder often works as a portfolio manager, research analyst, investment banking analyst, corporate financial analyst, consultant, financial advisor, etc.

In the US, CPA professionals’ salary varies in the range of $49,000 and $113,000, with a median salary of around $68,000 [Source: Payscale]. In contrast, CFA charter holders’ salary varies in the range of $56,000 and $120,000, with a median salary of $95,000.

Fees and Passing Rates

The cost of a CPA license and a CFA charter in terms of exam fees is quite comparable. The overall cost (including exam and application fees) of CPA qualification stands at around $1,500. On the other hand, each level of the CFA exam’s cost lies between $700 (early registration) to $1,000 (late registration). Further, you need to pay a one-time registration fee of $450, which means that the CFA program’s overall cost lies in the range of $2,550 and $3,450.

Based on the historical passing rates, it can be said that the CFA exams are much more difficult than the CPA exams. During 2020, the overall passing rate of the CPA exams was more than 50%, given that all four parts reported passing rates over 55% [Source: AICPA]. During June 2019, the pass rates for CFA exams Level I, Level II, and Level III stood at 41%, 44%, and 56%, respectively [Source: CFA Institute]. Since a candidate has to clear each level one after the other, it can be approximated that only around ~10% (= 41% * 44% * 56%) of the candidates who started with Level I come out successful after completing Level III.

Exam Availability

The upcoming CPA exams will be conducted as part of the Continuous Testing model wherein the candidates will be allowed to write the exams throughout the year. The schedule of the upcoming CFA exams for 2021 is as follows:

Level IFeb 16- Mar 1May 18-24Aug 24-30Nov 16-22
Level II May 25- Jun 1Aug 31- Sep 4 
Level III May 25- Jun 1 Nov 23-25

CPA vs CFA – How to Enroll?

To enroll for CPA and CFA, you need to visit the respective official website of AICPA and CFA Institute and then follow the registration guidance provided there.


The decision to take up either CPA or a CFA credential depends on choosing the direction you want to give your career. In all, we could say that each one of them is unique and focused on areas of accounting and investments, respectively. I hope this write-up will help you make an informed choice for your career. All the very best :-)

Recommended Articles

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Reader Interactions


  1. Elmira says

    Perfect breakdown. Thank you!

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      thanks Elmira!

  2. Alvin says

    Thank you for your informative graphic. Should a 39 year old working in an unrelated field pursue any of these designations? My education background is in the liberal arts. my interest revolve around geopolitics,international affairs and its effect on business. A CFA appears to be a natural choice but what of the work experience criteria? Is it worth pursuing at middle age? I know I ask the impossible but I would appreciate your feedback.

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Hi Alvin,

      Not sure if they make sense as of now. You can consider these only if you have a very keen interest in Finance and accounting field as such. These are highly focussed finance exams.

  3. Dan says

    Hi, I am planning to complete my bachelors in accounting and apply for CFA. Is that a good idea?

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Yes Dan.. that’s a great idea if you have interest in Corporate finance related topics (IB, ER, PE, Portfolio Management etc). If you want to make a career in accounting and auditing, then CPA is the right choice.

  4. Saquib shaikh says

    I am Indian CFA (ICFAI) and CMA- USA graduate currently working in Holding group in UAE as Investment Manger. Planing to enhanced my career in Corporate Finance- M&A and Private Equity since most of my experienced in Corporate & project finance. Hence which degree is better for me ACCA or CFA- USA. Since CFA is more toward equity,derivative and Portfolio management.

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Given your background and your interest in Corporate finance, M&A, Private Equity, my take is that CFA is more suitable.


    • Saquib Shaikh says

      Thanks Dheeraj,
      But but what about CAIA- USA option

      • Dheeraj Vaidya says

        Hi Saquib, please check these articles CAIA vs CFA.

  5. Buri says

    Thanks for breaking down the difference between CPA and CFA so precisely. I think I now know what direction I should be taking.
    Thanks again

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Thanks Buri, I am glad this comparison helped you to take the right decision.

  6. Chandra Sekhar says


    I am Indian CA and completed CPA. I am currently working for a CPA firm from India. If I do CFA, will it add value to my career and for better job prospects. I am also interested in stock markets and research.
    Please let me know your thoughts. Thank you!

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Hi Chandra, CFA should definitely help you if you are looking for careers in stock markets and equity research.
      CFA + CA is an excellent combination for such profiles.


  7. Azmi says

    Have a nice day Dheeraj,first I would like to thank you for you great efforts to help students
    For me Iam 31.My field of study is English Arts.I have not any prior experience with financials or commercials and for fact Iam planning to conquer this field that is why I need your advice about which one will be more appropriate for me to start with ,the CFA or the CPA.I know that matters may be difficult but I have strong will and determination to pass one of them also I have good acceptance to receive learning also I have good command with math and calculations.I have also time to study well.So please would you advise me which of them will be better for my case to have a better career later on.
    Iam waiting for your response as soon as possible
    Thank you in advance.

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      HI Azmi,

      If you are neutral to the choice of finance careers, then my take would be that you start with CFA as it is more broad based and provide wide array of career choices and learnings. CPA will be highly focused towards accounting.


  8. Mohith says

    Hi Dheeraj, Thanks for the wonderful comparison. Could you please help me in selecting the CPA or CFA course for my future career path. I am into UK Mutual Funds financial reporting field with above 8 years of experience. I am a certified FRM, MBA (Distance Education) and B.COM.

    Could you please help me in selecting the appropriate financial course.

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Hi Mohith,

      what do you want to become? What are your interest areas? CFA is very broad based, however, CPA is all about core Accounting.


  9. Ratnesh Routh says

    Hi Dheeraj,

    I am into Fucntional support role of Oracle and Financial applications in MNC (Banking). I am a BCom(H) and LLB and want to further enhance my education qualification. I have 12 years of work exp. As I am not into core accounting and feel apprehensive if I will be ellible for CFA or CPA. Any advice would be appreciated.


    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Hi Ratnesh, CPA is more about accounting. not sure you want to move into this one now? However, CFA will provide you with a general view of finance industry, its roles and technical knowledge. What is your plan? Are you looking for a shift from your current profile?

  10. mart vibo says

    Is it possible to hire who has a CFA for Chief Accountant Position?
    Or which is better for Chief Accountant qualification CPA or CFA?

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Mart,

      I guess for the chief accountant position, CPA makes lot of sense. CFA curriculum in general covers 8-10 broad areas including accounting. however, CPA primary focus in into accounting and taxation.


  11. Arpit Srivastava says

    Hey Dheeraj,

    I have done engineering in computer science technology, after which I am working for a Nationalized Bank in India as PO(2 years) in which my job is to bring in new business to my branch, my bank. My job has got nothing to do much with accounts and finance.

    Now, I want to grow ahead and my focus is on shifting to any developed country, I have come to know from my seniors and my mentors that CFA is a better option to go with, which can help me in moving abroad. But I don’t have any idea that if CFA is going to be fruitful to me.

    Kindly guide what should I pursue CFA (or any other course). Request you to also tell the duration that CFA takes in completing, what are the chances of going abroad with it. What’s the exposure that one can get with this.

    And also is it worth to leave a Nationalized Bank’s permanent job for CFA to move ahead in career?

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Arpit,

      CFA is globally recognized certification and is respected in the Investment Community. However, if you are purely taking it for moving abroad, I am not sure i have the right statistics to share with you. You may look at complete details of cfa exmaination here for your other questions.


  12. Vandy says

    Hello Sir, Wonderful comparison. Regarding my situation – I have finished my and MS in Finance(UK) and had worked for Public accountant in UK for 2 years and recently in payroll administrator in india for 1.5 years. Now i moved to USA after marriage. Looking at the career opportunities, can u pls advice which program is better to do CPA OR CFA?? since im bit confused.

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Vandy,

      Given your experience in accounting, i think CPA makes more sense logically. On the other hand, CFA takes a bit longer to complete (minimum of 2.5 years) as compared to CPA (less than 1 year). CFA is useful for those who want to move in Investment Management field.

      Best of luck,

  13. Robinson says

    Hi Dheeraj,

    This would be a bit complex situation for you to answer, at least hope that won’t be the case.

    I’ve done my bachelors in Management Studies with specialization in Finance and Investment & Portfolio Management from Mumbai, India.

    I currently work in Dubai, UAE as procurement & logistics (past 4 months) and wish to pursue ahead in field of Finance.

    Prior to this job, I was working as a Operations Manager & Finance controller for a logistics based firm in Dubai for a duration of 3.5 years.

    I attempted for CFA Level 1 exam in Dec 2015 & have not succeeded to clear it. During my course of CFA Level 1, I kept having this thought/feeling that CFA might not be the right option for as its more to do with Banking sector, stocks/derivatives/hedge funds, etc. plus lot of theory and less of actual calculations.

    I’m not so great when it comes to theory and more comfortable towards calculation based specialization field.

    I do know that I’m strong when it comes to numbers and never go wrong on that. However, I do not want a typical accountant job which involves receivables, payable s, petty cash, balance sheet, etc.

    I want to pursue something in finance/auditing/management. Would CPA be the right thing to go for at this stage? Or should I opt for MBA in Finance or Masters in Finance?

    I’m also looking to move out of UAE soon & move to Australia (permanently), so which ever option I opt for should help me utilize this specialization in Australia & hopefully land me a decent job too.

    Based on the above summary, would it be possible for you to help me out with a solution on this? Would really really appreciate a lot if you could do so.

    Awaiting your earlier reply.

    Many thanks.


    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Robinson,

      Based purely on the information provided, i think CPA would make sense for you.

      As you do not wish you pursue a career in banking, CFA is completely ruled out. You have two options – MBA or CPA. Downside of MBA would be to resign and do full time MBA. I dont think at this stage, a part time MBA would do.

      If you wish to move ahead in auditing, finance and management, go with CPA.

      All the very best,

  14. homere says

    Thanks alot,

    Your article has been of great help to me.

    My preoccupation is in term of payroll, which of the two is more lucrative.


  15. Frank Scott says

    Hi Dheeraj,

    I am currently thinking of pursuing either the CPA of CFA. I started out working in Public Accounting for three years and have worked the last 8 at a global custodian bank. What would be best for me to pursue? I also have a masters in accounting.


    • Dheeraj says

      Hello Frank,

      Given your background and experience, you must be very comfortable with accounting. I believe CPA will make lot of sense as compared to CFA.


  16. Saad says

    This was a great article!

    I just had a quick question, if someone was to pursue both (CPA and CFA) as their interests are split between the two, would that be allowed?

    Thank you,
    Saad M.

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Saad,

      There are no issues as such in pursing both the certifications. Just that both of them will require significant efforts, its much better to be clear on your interests before you appear for these exams.


  17. Vikram D S Mani says

    Hello Sir, Wonderful comparison. Regarding my situation – I have finished my MBA (finance) and had worked for a scheduled bank for 15 months. Now I want to add some weightag to my profile and want to pursue more knowledge in finance.
    Is it better to do CPA OR CFA after our Mba

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Vikram,

      Given your experience and MBA background, my take is that CFA will suit you more. Opt for CPA only if you are focused on accounting aspects of Finance.


  18. manish sharma says

    can we refer chartered accountant 3 years training for cfa 4 year working experience requirement

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Manish,

      I am really not sure if that can be counted as experience. But it is best to check with the CFA Institute and drop your query on the same. I have seen that they are very responsive with such queries.


  19. Chris says

    Good Day,
    i”ve decided to pursue a career in Accounting. i”m 17 years old and in college. can i do the CFA exams with no job training. CFA appeals to me more than CPA.

    • Dheeraj says

      Hey Chris,

      Here are the criterias for appearing in the CFA exam –
      You must have one of the following:
      – Bachelor’s (or equivalent) degree
      – Be in the final year of bachelor’s degree program (IF YOU ARE HERE, then you are qualified!)
      – Have four years professional work experience
      – Have a combination of professional work and university experience that totals at least four years


  20. aashiv says

    hello sir I am in my bcom2 year and want to do cfa in future . I just want to ask doing pg will boost my opportunity in corporate sector or I can do any other course bt not ca .

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Aashiv,

      If you are interested in MBA, then you must go for it as it is beneficial from the job perspective. Also, if you can add CFA charter while you complete your MBA, then it will be awesome!

      All the very best!

  21. Sanjana says

    Hi Dheeraj,

    I have completed CA from ICAI. 1 year work-ex as credit appraiser. 1.5 years in accounting & finance. Now, I have to move to Canada for five years after which I do not know where I may reside. Should I do Canadian CA, US CPA or CFA? I would like to have a global recognition as I can’t go on studying forever. I’m interested in financial analysis. Also is CFA very difficult to clear?

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Sanjana,

      With you being CA from ICAI, none of the degress like canadian CA, US CPA or CFA will be difficult. The study will be incremental. If you are interested in financial analysis, then CFA is right designation to look at as it has a global appeal and also suits your interests and work experience.


  22. Rob says

    Hello Dheeraj – Excellent article and read certainly appreciate the various tips and comparisons. Would really appreciate advice on the following.

    I have been working in public accounting for the past 5 years and have recently began working on clients such as broker-dealers, mutual fund servicing, asset management, etc. I have developed a strong interest in these various operations and am considering a change. Do you think the best route to potentially get an opportunity for an analyst role would be to move to the internal audit department within an investment bank and try to move internally or pursue the CFA then try switch accordingly?

    • Dheeraj says

      Hello Rob,

      If you are really interested in analyst kind of role in Investment Banking, then pursing CFA is a better option. What i saw at my firm was that internal job postings for such roles are rare and cannot be made as a long term strategy. Some of my friends saw the wait to be too frustrating.

      Hope this helps,

  23. Tanvi aggarwal says

    Hello sir, I am pursuing CA final and done with my mcom and Cwm certification now confused whether should I move to mba carrier or cfa or public sector exams .which will be better as I am interested in financial carrier as analyst wanna be in research department not in audit and accounting.

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Tanvi, if you are interested in Financial analyst kind of roles, then you should go for it! With your CA background, you are already one step ahead compared to others who do not have such financial degress. Additionally, if you opt for CFA, your chances of moving into research kind of roles will multiply.
      Hope this helps,

  24. Tanvi aggarwal says

    Sir , I am pursuing CA final now really confuse about pursuing MBA from private institutes or either pursuing CFA.

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Tanvi, depends on where you are planning to do your MBA. If the MBA institute is not well known, then it may not be worth taking. In this case, you can plan for CFA.

  25. Sepideh says

    Hi Dheeraj,

    Thank you so much for the informative article, it was the best, I have a question, I would like to know with an MBA from a very good B-school, CPA would be a deadly combination or CFA if one interested in CFO or investment banking positions,

    Thanks so much

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Sepideh,

      My take will be MBA + CFA. However, it all depends on your interest.


  26. Smith says

    Would undertaking both the CPA and CFA credentials be worth it?

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Smith,

      I think it is better if you could take the one that interests you the most – Accounting roles or Investment banking roles? If you are thinking of investment banking, then CFA is beneficial. CPA will be only incrementally helpful however.


  27. Sameul says

    Nice article. Looking at the career opportunities both fields provide, which would be better CPA or CFA?

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Sameul, what is your interest areas. If you do not have specific interest in Finance, then you may look at CFA as it provides better opportunities within Financial Industry.


  28. sunil says

    Hello sir,
    Thank you so much for the Informative article.
    I am currently doing honours from DU. I want to be the financial analyst but do not like to be in the field of audit and taxes. Which one course will be best suited for me after graduation ?? And also how much finance is required for the course ??

    • Dheeraj says

      If you want to get into financial analysis, then please take CFA exam. Details about the cost etc, you will find in this article – CFA Guide

  29. toshit jain says

    Hello sir,thnx for the great comparison between these two..
    I have one question
    I’m a ca student and going to enrol for CFA level 1 by the month end.
    So I want to know for better opportunity in finance CFA and ca is OK. Or I go for CPA after CFA and ca?
    Thank you

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Toshit, If you currently a CA student, then you already have a great career in Finance and accounting. However, if you want to make your more marketable for firms in Investment Banking and Research, CFA is a great option to look at. CFA + CA is a deadly combination for research jobs :-)

      all the very best,

  30. Kamlesh says

    I am masters & want to pursue further after a long time to enhance my position from Finance Manager to either CFO/Vice President level

    So can u pls. advice which program is helpful CFA or CPA, since m a bit confused, since reading advantages of both u feel to have both added on ur profile, so even if we plan to go for both than which prog. to be given first priority…

    • Dheeraj says

      Hello Kamlesh,

      If you are looking for pure corporate finance role as a finance manager, i think CPA should be better for you. If you plan to give both, then first give CPA and later take CFA.


      • KAMLESH says

        Thanks Sir

        Can u also help me to understand how can i directly undergo CPA knowing that I am residing in Qatar & here there are no universities undergoing the same so m keen to have it done online & which materials will be best to refer, so to summarize:
        1- Can I do CPA directly through online if yes is there any need to register with CPA America for the same
        2- Which Material are advisable for directly having it through
        3- How can i give my exams in Gulf


        • kamlesh says

          Hello Sir

          Sorry but is there any update with regards to my query Sir, Appreciate ur support towards the same

          Thanks in advance…

  31. Radhika Nair says

    Thank you Sir for an awesome comparison on CFA & CPA as usual your articles are always helpful & knowledgeable. I have one question sir, according to you which credential is more useful for a CFO position in a company?

    • Dheeraj says

      For a role of CFO, i think CPA will suit more as CFO role requires to have an excellent knowledge of accounting and MIS.

  32. Sohaib says

    How if one want to pursue CFA after qualifying CA..? please answer with proper justification and explanation, thanks.

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Sohaib,

      You can pursue CFA and it will be a great add-on to CA. Reasons could be –
      1. CA is purely accounting and if you are planning to move into investment banking, CA degree alone may not help alot. You will need to complement your skills by taking CFA.
      2. I have seen CAs move into Investment Banking directly as well, but the chances are pretty slim.
      3. CFA exam is very easy for CAs due to their accounting background.

      All the very best,

  33. Ari Priyatna says

    Good day
    thank you for a very good article that you’ve sent me

    if i work in securities and want to have better opportunity in the future should i take CFA?

    at present i already hold wppe and CSA licence

    thanks and will be waiting your reply

    • Dheeraj says

      Hello Ari,

      CFA is well suited for those who want to get into Investment Banking, Equity Research, Investment Management etc. If you work in securities, CFA can give you a bright future.


  34. Sachin says

    The post has some great information. Thank you so much for the comparison, it really helps people like me who are beginners in finance and are looking for career options.

  35. Elina Miller says

    Hello Dheeraj, excellent comparison once again. Your writing style is the best and very informative.I had a question that if i want to be in core Corporate Finance which is better? CPA or CFA?

    • Dheeraj says

      thanks Elina :-). This article is written by my colleague Jesal. If you want to move into core Corporate Finance, CFA will suite as they cover corporate finance in depth.


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