CPA vs Non-CPA

Updated on April 15, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Difference Between CPA and Non-CPA

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and non-CPAs are both professionals in the field of accounting. However, in the context of CPA vs non-CPA, the primary difference between the two is that while the former practices the profession with a license, the latter doesn’t. Naturally, the former has expertise over the latter and thus affects the CPA vs non-CPA salary as well.

CPA vs Non-CPA

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Since a license is not mandatory to practice the accounting profession, non-CPAs also qualify to be called accountants. Hence, an accountant is an all-encompassing term that includes both CPAs and non-CPAs. However, the CPA certification adds greater credibility to accountants and also expand their scope of work. The requirements, eligibility, and roles are quite different and we shall understand them through the discussion in this article.

Comparison Table

Let us understand the differences apart from the qualification of both these types of accountants through the comparison table below.

ParticularsCPANon-CPA/General Accountant
DefinitionA state board-issued accounting credential earned after passing the AICPA-administered exam and fulfilling the education and experience requirements.  An entry-level accounting designation.
Eligibility CriteriaUniform CPA Examination, Bachelor’s degree (150 credit hours), 1-3 years of Work Experience (may vary as per state board)Bachelor’s Degree in accounting or related field (not mandatory)
Job ResponsibilitiesBriefing management on the firm’s financial state and suggesting improvements Forensic accounting, Budget development, Strategic planning, Preparing and upgrading accounting records (physical & digital), Tax preparation and filing,  Auditing, Forecasting revenues, Analyzing financial records, Supervising daily bookkeeping activitiesPreparing financial reports, budgets, or documents Reporting findings to managers or other senior officials Financial consulting, Ensuring regulatory compliance Discussing business policies and opportunities with managers, Verifying the accuracy of records, Conducting financial audits Calculating tax details  
Career optionsFinancial advisor Risk and Compliance Professional Accounting software developer, Finance Director, Senior Financial Analyst, Corporate controller, IT Accountant, Chief Financial Officer (CFO)Government accountants, Management accountants, Public accountants, CPAs (after fulfilling the licensing requirements), External auditors, Internal auditors, IT auditors, Senior staff accountant
Industries they work forFinancial forensics, Consulting, IT consulting, Government agencies, Non-profit organizations, Educational institutionsFinance & Insurance, Government agencies, Corporate Educational institutions, Hospitality Healthcare
Required SkillsPeoples skills, Communication skills, Technology know-how, Project management skills, Top ethical standards, Analysis, research, and decision-making skillsListening skills, Computing skills, Problem-solving skills, Critical thinking skills, Organizing skills, Research skills
Benefits of the credentialCareer growth, Job Satisfaction, Professional Reputation, Job Security, Better career opportunities, Higher salaryFlexible work environment, opportunities for growth through specializations, Enhanced understanding of Business Law & Taxation, Stable & ever-growing job sector, Different specializations
Professional statusHigh statusLower professional status as compared to CPAs
Projected Job Growth22% (2020-2028)4% (2019-2029)
Average Annual Salary$119,000$73,560 (May 2020)

What is a CPA?

A CPA is a state board-issued accounting license acquired by a candidate after passing the Uniform CPA exam and fulfilling the educational and experience requirements. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) supervise the entire process to gain a CPA credential. 

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Prerequisites for a CPA license

To acquire a CPA license, an applicant must meet all the following four E’s:

  • Exam – Qualify the Uniform CPA Exam
  • Education – Bachelor’s Degree with 150 credit hours and necessary coursework
  • Experience – 1-3 years
  • Ethics Exam (only if required by the state board)

Apart from the Uniform CPA exam, all other requirements vary by state boards. Besides the above prerequisites, one must also fulfill the Continuing Professional Education (CPE) requirements to retain their license.

Uniform CPA exam

Passing the Uniform CPA exam is the most crucial step in the attaining the license. The AICPA coordinates with the State Boards of Accountancy and NASBA to administer this exam.

The exam consists of four sections to be taken one at a time. An applicant must clear all four exam sections within 18 months of passing the first section. Please note that one needs at least a 75 on a scale of 0-99 in every section to pass..

Roles and Responsibilities

The rigorous preparation for the license infuses a strong set of accounting and managerial expertise in CPAs. With their seasoned skills and unique judgment, they easily adapt to the contemporary needs of the dynamic business world. Some of the key job responsibilities of a CPA are as follows:

  • Preparation and analysis of financial records
  • Auditing and reviewing financial statements
  • Financial and management consulting
  • Tax planning, preparation, and filing
  • Financial data management
  • Compliance to regulations
  • Financial planning, reporting, and budgeting
  • Forensic accounting

CPAs are most valued for their advisory role. With their extensive knowledge of all aspects of finance, they are ideal for guiding you through all your growth plans. From starting a new office or planning a multibillion-dollar merger, they are the right pick to achieve your desired milestones. 

Career Prospects

The exclusive skills and broad scope of work of CPAs make them eligible for higher pay packages. For coherence with the CPA vs non-CPA salary comparison, CPAs earn nearly 10%-15% higher than their non-certified counterparts. Besides that, they also enjoy a stable career, numerous job opportunities, immense respect, and a professional edge over non-CPAs.

Moreover, as per the Accountancy Licensee Database (ALD), there are 658,267 actively licensed CPAs across the United States. This number is expected to grow further in the coming years. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has reported a 22% employment growth for CPAs during 2021-2028. 

Exclusive rights

CPAs are usually in much demand in all business sectors. However, they are particularly sought after by large corporations and public limited companies. This is due to some exclusive rights they enjoy owing to their license.

Under federal law, public limited companies (PLC) have to offer audited financial statements to their stakeholders. They are also often faced with complex financial and tax concerns and have dealings with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

CPAs offer them dedicated services in the following areas:

  • Writing audited financial statements
  • Filing a report with the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC)
  • Signing their tax return as a paid preparer
  • Issuing an opinion on reviewed, compiled, or audited financial statements

Being an Accountant might be good; however, being a CPA is even better. Though it calls for countless hours of dedicated learning and training, the rewarding outcome is worth every bead of sweat on your forehead. 

What is a Non-CPA (General Accountant)?

A general accountant is an accounting professional entitled to record, examine, analyze, and report financial transactions. Their key responsibility is to ensure the accuracy of financial records and compliance to accounting principles. In addition, they strive to assess and eliminate as many risks as possible to help the business run efficiently.

Educational requirements

To be an accountant, one needs to have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field like business or finance. However, candidates with an associate degree having relevant experience can also work as junior accountants.

Moreover, accountants can also specialize in management, public, or government accounting to improve their job prospects.

Duties and responsibilities

Some of the job responsibilities of non-CPAs are as follows:

  • Preparing financial reports, budgets, or documents
  • Reporting findings to managers or other senior officials
  • Financial consulting
  • Ensuring regulatory compliance
  • Discussing business policies and opportunities with managers
  • Verifying the accuracy of records
  • Conducting financial audits
  • Calculating tax details

Of late, general accountants have also started leveraging updated technologies like Robotics Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence to assist them in their tasks.

Career prospects

Accountants work in almost every business sector, from thriving government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporations to budding start-ups.

According to the BLS, jobs in the accounting profession are likely to grow by 4% during 2019-2029. So, it is expected to keep enjoying a reasonable market demand in the future.

However, average salary and low prestige compared to CPAs act as an impediment to attaining career stability in this profession. Therefore, accountants must strive to get certified to bridge this gap and ensure sustained professional growth.  

CPA vs non-CPA Choice

Despite sharing a similar job profile, accountants still lag behind CPAs due to their lack of in-depth knowledge, formal training, and relevant experience. The absence of certification also puts them at a disadvantage. They are not licensed to deal with government agencies like SEC and IRS directly or sign tax returns or audited financial statements.

With their niche knowledge and skill, CPAs are well-equipped to offer valuable financial insights, contribute to budgeting processes, and design effective strategies. Though with experience, non-CPAs too can do these.

However, their competency and credibility are debatable. Accountants are generally better suited to perform basic accounting tasks like bookkeeping, handling common tax issues, and maintaining business accounts.

Moreover, with a regulatory body looming overseeing their practice, the quality and integrity of a CPA’s work is rest assured. However, there are no professional bodies governing non-CPAs. Hence, the onus of choosing the right accountant lies on the clients.

Finally, the choice between a CPA and a non-CPA boil down to a client’s circumstance or situation at hand.  Generally, small businesses with relatively lower budgets and less complex financial and tax issues opt for non-CPAs. On the other hand, large corporations or PLCs favor CPAs as they provide exclusive and reliable accounting services.

CPA vs Non-CPA Infographics

Let us understand the differences further with the help of visual representation of the comparison table through the infographics below.

CPA vs Non-CPA Infographics

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This article is a guide to CPA vs Non-CPA. Here we discuss the difference between CPA and Non-CPA along with infographics and a comparative table. You can learn more from the following articles –

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