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CPA vs CFA vs CFP: Which One To Choose?

For anyone who is interested in building a career in finance, selecting the right course is very important. They have plenty of choices when it comes to finance courses, and choosing the right one can become extremely confusing. Many students shortlist the Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), and the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) courses, which are the most reputed qualifications available today. However, the choice becomes extremely difficult when it comes to comparing between CPA vs CFA, CFA vs CFP and CPA vs CFA.

While all of these are courses in finance, each of them has the distinct features and pursuing each of these can often bring out extremely different career outcomes for the candidates. That is why it is extremely important for them to choose the right course at the very beginning so that they do not have to regret the decision in the future.

In general, CFP is a specialized qualification, but choosing between CPA vs CFA is tough.

Comparison : CPA vs CFA vs CFP


  • CPA: A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation will get you instant recognition within the USA. In fact, every state has laws that specify that CPAs have to be engaged compulsorily for various finance related activities. This is a very widely recognized and respected qualification and is the preferred qualification for many students who are studying finance, especially in the USA. However, the acceptability of this qualification is restricted to mostly within the USA.
  • CFA: This is probably the most well known finance degree which has an appeal and demand across the world. It can provide many different career paths to the CFA certificate holder, and if you want to have the option of choosing the field in which you would want to work in the future, then CFA is going to be a great choice for you.
  • CFP: This is another qualification that has worldwide recognition and is ideal for anyone who wants to have the option of working in the financial services industry as a financial planner or investment adviser. It also provides a global recognition.

Eligibility and Certification Requirements:

  • CPA: Before you can apply to become a CPA,
    • You need to complete your bachelor’s degree of 4 years duration with at least 150 hours of post secondary education from an accredited institution.
    • Pass the uniform CPA exam and
    • Gather relevant work experience of a minimum of two years.
  • CFA: To be eligible for receiving the CFA charter, you need to
    • Have completed a bachelor’s degree or equivalent.
    • Pass all the relevant certification examinations
    • Gather a work experience of at least 4 years or a combination of educational and work experience of 4 years.
  • CFP: To be awarded the CFP status you have to
    • Complete a CFP board registered education program,
    • Earn a bachelor’s degree or a post graduation degree from a regionally-accredited college or university,
    • Pass the certifications conducted by the CFP board,
    • Gain a professional experience of 6000 hours
    • Pass the CFP Board’s Fitness Standards For Candidates and Registrants which specify the professional ethics that every CFP has to follow.

Career Prospects:

  • CPA: As per the laws of USA, CPA’s have to be mandatorily engaged in activities like internal audits and public accounting. Apart from this a CPA also prepares tax returns for individuals as well as companies.
  • CFA: One of the best career options for a CFA is to become a financial analyst. In the recent times, the demand for financial analysts has increased significantly in different countries. The companies which look for financial analyst prefer the candidates with the CFA qualification.
  • CFP: The CFPs is are widely recognized as investment experts and they get to work in various profiles related to investment management. They may also provide investment advisory to individual clients as well as manage the portfolios of established companies. CFPs are also highly in demand for preparing financial plans for the clients and also executing the plans that have been created by them.

Salary Potential:

  • CPA: The current salary is of CPAs range between $44,654 to $101,090, without considering the bonus and the perquisites.
  • CFA: As per the latest salary surveys, the pay scale of a CFA can vary from $44,000 per annum to $167,000 per year. However the actual earning might be even higher than this depending on the expertise and experience of the candidate.
  • CFP: The earning potential of a CFP will vary widely because they mostly work as independent financial advisors are set up their own forms. As per the latest job postings on different websites average salary that CFPs draw ranges from $32,000 to more than $182000.

CPA vs CFA vs CFP: Which One To Choose?

The choice not very simple, but let me try to help you to decide.

If you are planning to settle in the US and want to take up public accounting as a career, then CPA is your best choice. However, if you are looking for global mobility then go for either CFA or CFP. Whether you will choose CFA vs CFP will again depend on whether you want to specialize as a financial planner or want to specialize in any other area of finance. In the former case go for CFP, otherwise for CFA.