What’s the difference between an Accountant and a CPA? By Aradia Knight
Accountant.” So, this begs the question: What’s the difference between an
Accountant and a CPA? The answer—legally there is no difference. The U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that every
accountant or auditor who files a report with the Securities and Exchange
Commission (SEC) must, by law, be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Just as
a person who earns a medical degree must hold a medical license to legally
practice medicine, an individual must be a CPA to legally call himself or
herself an Accountant or Auditor. An accounting degree simply isn’t enough.
is an Accountant?
BLS uses the terms Accountants and Auditors interchangeably, but an individual
may use either term to describe their respective title. The basic duties of an
Accountant or Auditor include:
- Preparing and
examining financial records for accuracy and compliance with laws and
- Computing and
preparing tax returns
- Assessing a
business’ financial records to make sure the organization runs efficiently
and uses legal accounting procedures
- Maintaining and
organizing financial records
- Suggesting ways
to reduce costs, increase revenues and boost profits
findings to clients or employers using prepared reports
professionals provide similar services, but only a licensed CPA can legally say
he or she is an Accountant or Auditor.
Accountants and Auditors work with the financial records of individuals and
businesses, they generally fall under four main specializations:
CPAs perform a broad range of services, including accounting, consulting,
auditing and tax assistance. A true accountant is licensed as a CPA, as
this individual works with the financial documents that their clients are
required to disclose by law. Such documents can include balance statement sheets
or tax forms.
Requiring licensure as a CPA, a management accountant is also known as a
private, industrial, corporate, managerial, or cost accountant.
Individuals in this specialization generally work for organizations and prepare
information for budgets, performance reports and financial forecasts.
With duties that resemble those of a management accountant, a government
accountant has a CPA license and works with federal, state or local
governments to make sure that money is handled in a way that complies with
laws and regulations. Some government accountants audit the financial
records of businesses or private citizens to ensure compliance with tax
laws or government regulations.
These licensed accountants work for organizations and specialize in
looking for the mismanagement of funds. As auditors, they look for ways
that companies can use funds more efficiently and report fraudulent
a degree as an accountant does not legally make an individual an accountant.
Furthermore, most U.S. states prohibit using the terms “auditor,” “accountant”
and “accounting” to describe the financial services that one may perform if he
or she is not a licensed CPA. If, for example, an individual works in the
accounting department of a company without a CPA license and later starts a
private bookkeeping business, he or she cannot legally say that they held a
position as an accountant or provided accounting services. The
problem with using these terms is that it implies that the individual held the
appropriate license and was legally able to perform the services of a CPA.
become a licensed accountant, an individual must graduate with at least a
bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. The graduate must then
obtain relevant job experience before sitting for and passing a four-part CPA
licensing exam from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants,
which is administered by each state’s Board of Accountancy. Then, to keep the
license, a CPA must participate in continuing education classes. Accounting and
Auditing certifications from professional associations are available, but they
aren’t a substitute for a state-issued CPA license. True accountants use such
certifications as a means to specialize in an accounting or auditing field
an Informed Consumer
is no such thing as an individual who is an accountant, but not a CPA. There
are, however, unlicensed individuals who illegally say they are accountants or
provide “CPA-quality” services to look better to clients and prospects.
On the other hand, there are those who abstain from using such terms, but are
mistakenly labeled as accountants in phonebooks and directories. If you’re in
need of a licensed accountant, you can verify if an individual holds a current
CPA license by
state, nationwide. On the other hand, if you’re simply looking for a service to
help you with your personal or business finances, plan and prepare your taxes,
or launch a new startup… a bookkeeper can indeed provide these
Aidara Inc. in 2011, bringing with her a solid background in accounting and
business development. Aidara, Inc. an online bookkeeping service
serving businesses all over the U.S. The Aidara team provides support for tax
planning, monthly business bookkeeping, and consulting.
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