Accounting certifications come in several different forms. Distinguishing the differences between them is key when you’re trying to decide which one is right for you.

With so many abbreviations, things can get confusing. I’m going to break it down to make things simple and straightforward.

One of the most common designations is that of the CPA (Certified Public Accountant), however, just because it’s widely known doesn’t mean it’s the right title for you. Let’s do a CIA vs CPA comparison to find out just how different these positions are.

Job Descriptions


CIAs, spend most of their time conducting internal audits. CIAs are responsible for ensuring that all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed when it comes to a company’s’ financials.

This position requires a high level of morality to ensure that money is not being defrauded or misused in any way.


CPAs, on the other hand, have a broader certification and may be responsible for performing a number of different jobs, such as income tax preparation, record keeping,  consulting, and auditing financial statements to make sure that these are in accordance with GAAP.

CPAs must pass a series of 4 rigorous tests to become licensed. Each state has its own educational and experience requirements for CPA licensure.

Education and Work Requirements


Before you can become a Certified Internal Auditor, you must meet certain educational requirements.

CIA candidates must complete a 4 year post-secondary degree from an accredited university. You will be required to show proof of completion by providing a copy of your degree or transcripts, or a letter of confirmation from your university.

Once you have completed your degree you must gain 2 years of audit work experience. If you decide to pursue a master’s degree, this will count for 12 of the 24 months of work experience.

Until recently, no amount of work experience could be substituted for the educational requirement, but the rules have changed. Candidates are now eligible to sit and study for the CIA exam if they have:

Completed 2 years of post-secondary school in addition to having 5 years of work experience in the auditing field
Completed 7 years of verified work experience in the auditing field.


One of the major differences between a CIA and CPA is their respective education requirements. The state in which you plan to practice as a CPA determines specifically how much education you must have.

For example, in Delaware you are required to have a bachelor’s degree plus 2 years of general accounting work experience to get your CPA license. However, in California you need a graduate degree (150 credits) and 1 year of accounting work experience to get licensed as a CPA. Unlike CIAs, who are nationally certified, CPAs must obtain a license for each state in which they practice.

Taking the Exam


The CIA exam has recently been condensed from a 4-part exam to a 3-part exam.

Part 1 of the CIA exam focuses on internal audit activity, objectivity and concepts of governance. It also covers how to identify risks, management, and planning.

Part 2 encompasses everything from audit engagements and fraud to document and report audits.

The final part of the CIA exam covers business analysis and information technology.


To become a CPA you must pass 4 separate exams. The four sections of the CPA exam are:

  • Audit and Attestation (AUD)
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  • Regulation (REG)
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)


As you can see, both career paths require quite a lot of schooling and work experience. For many people it comes down to what will be most profitable in the future, which brings us to a comparison of the salary of a CIA vs CPA.

With most positions, salaries vary quite a bit depending on whether you are an entry-level hire or sit in a corner office among the other partners in your firm.

According to, Internal Auditors make between $47,800 and $58,500 a year, with senior and management level internal auditors making closer to $100,000 or more. lists the salary range of a CPA as between $41,800 and $98,400 a year, with senior level experienced CPAs making as much as $125,000, if not more.

Of course, depending on your motivation and ability to move up the career ladder, you have the potential to earn significantly more in both careers.

If you have any experience with these 2 accounting designations and would like to share it with our readers, please leave a comment in the box below, I’d love to hear from you!

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