The Major Differences Between CPAs and Accountants

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( — February 14, 2021) — The statement “every square is a rectangle, but every rectangle is not a square” applies to the expert finance industry. Every CPA (Certified Public Accountant) is an accountant, but every accountant is not a CPA. Both CPA and accounting are vital elements of your business functions. In case your business has reached a point where you require an expert to manage your company’s financial aspect, it is essential to distinguish between the two. So, here are the major differences between CPAs and accounting.

Meaning of Accounting and CPAs

Accounting refers to collecting data, summarizing it, analyzing it, and reporting it in a detailed financial statement. The individual who performs the accounting duty is called an accountant.

CPA refers to a Certified Public Accountant who has a certification from the State Board of Accountancy. In other terms, CPAs are individuals who are entrusted to assist businesses, individuals, and other corporations to plan and attain financial objectives.

1. Training, Education and Licensing

When it comes to education, accountants only need a bachelor’s degree in business management, finance, accounting, or other related fields. Training for an accountant begins with an attachment or internship program and on-the-job training.

On the other hand, CPAs require a finance and accounting-related degree and might need to complete other courses to sit for the CPA exam successfully. Regular accountants will require substantial training that will last around half a year to two years to become CPAs. They will also need to pass their CPA exam successfully. The body that offers the CPA exam is called AIPCA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants)

2. Fiduciary Responsibility

Fiduciary refers to an organization or an individual who has legal permission to act on behalf of other people. Fiduciaries manage customer’s assets, and they ought to stick to their ethical standards. They include financial advisors, bankers, and board members. Even though regular accountants might uphold some ethical standards, CPAs are the only people responsible and have the power to act as fiduciary to the customers.

3. Taxes and Regulations

CPAs can represent their clients before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and they have the right to sign the tax returns. On the other hand, accountants do not possess the legal right to the IRS. Accountants may also prepare tax returns but compared to the CPAs; they cannot offer much about tax codes.

4. Code of Conduct

CPAs must abide by the strict code of conduct and professional standards that AIPCA sets. On the other hand, regular accountants do not have any particular governing body; hence, they do not have a specific ethical code to abide by. The ethical principles AIPCA needs include the following categories.

  • The public interest
  • Responsibilities
  • Integrity
  • Independence and objectivity
  • Due care

5. Job Environment

Regular accountants operate from an office set-up full-time and might require to work overtime or during weekends. CPAs also operate from an office; however, they can also work remotely. They might also travel if they are required to perform an audit or stand in court as an expert witness.

6. Salary

Both CPA and accountant salaries are dependent on the education level, job location, company, and industry. An accountant receives an average annual salary of $56520, while a CPA gets an annual average wage of $67081.


CPAs and accountants can handle similar jobs such as tax preparation, bookkeeping, etc. However, only CPAs can handle audits for clients and private companies. Both CPAs and accountants should ensure they protect their finances and reputations in line of work. They should be aware that the advice they offer affects the bottom line of the clients or employers.