CPA vs CA: Salary, Difficulty, Cost, Time, Career Opportunities, etc.

Choosing between CPA and CA for your accounting career? It’s a pivotal decision that sets the stage for your professional journey. In this blog, we’re exploring the key differences and similarities between CPA and CA.

From educational pathways to career opportunities, we dissect each aspect to help you make an informed decision. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to pivot in your career, understanding these paths is essential.

Dive in as we compare CPA and CA – demystifying each route to aid your choice in the vibrant world of accounting.

What is CPA?

The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) course is a prestigious accounting qualification primarily recognized in the United States. It requires candidates to have a bachelor’s degree and complete 150 semester hours of coursework, followed by passing a rigorous four-part exam covering areas like auditing, business concepts, financial reporting, and regulation.

Additionally, CPA candidates must gain professional experience under a licensed CPA. This course prepares individuals for a wide range of accounting and finance roles, emphasizing expertise in financial management, regulatory compliance, and ethical accounting practices.

To know more about CPA as a course, read – All About CPA

What is CA?

The Chartered Accountant (CA) course, widely recognized in the UK, India, Canada, and other Commonwealth countries, is a prestigious path in the accounting profession. It typically involves a combination of advanced education, rigorous examinations, and practical training.

Aspiring CAs must complete relevant undergraduate degrees, pass a series of professional exams that cover various aspects of accounting, tax, law, and financial management, and fulfill a mandatory period of practical experience under a qualified CA.

This comprehensive course prepares individuals for high-level roles in accounting, finance, business strategy, and consulting, emphasizing in-depth knowledge of accounting standards, business laws, and ethical practices in finance.

Eligibility Criteria

CPA

Educational Requirement: The primary requirement for CPA eligibility is a bachelor’s degree in any field.

However, before taking the CPA exam, candidates must complete specific coursework in accounting and business-related subjects.

The exact requirements can vary by state in the U.S., but typically 150 semester hours of college coursework are recommended, which may require courses beyond a standard bachelor’s degree.

CA

Educational Requirement: For the CA program, candidates typically need to have completed 10+2 level education (senior secondary education) or an equivalent.

Program Completion Requirements

CPA

  • Uniform CPA Examination:
    • Comprehensive Exam: Candidates must pass three core sections of the CPA exam: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Regulation (REG) and one out of three discipline sections: Business Analysis & Reporting (BAR), Information Systems and Controls (ISC), Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP) .
    • Time Frame: Typically, all four sections must be passed within an 18-month period.
  • Professional Experience:
    • Duration: Varies by state, but generally requires 1-2 years of accounting experience under the supervision of a licensed CPA.
    • Nature of Work: The experience should be relevant to accounting or auditing, meeting specific state board requirements.
  • Ethics Exam:
    • Requirement: Some states require the completion of an ethics exam or course as part of the licensure process.

CA

  • CA Examinations:
    • Intermediate and Final Exams: After clearing the Foundation Course, candidates must pass the Intermediate and then the Final Course exams, covering a wide range of accounting, tax, and law subjects.
    • Time Frame: These exams are conducted at specified intervals and have to be cleared as per the CA program schedule.
  • Articleship:
    • Duration: 3 years of mandatory practical training under a practicing Chartered Accountant.
    • Timing: The articleship typically begins after passing the Intermediate Course and before the Final Course.
  • Continuing Professional Education:
    • Post-Qualification: Chartered Accountants are required to engage in ongoing learning and professional development activities.

Exam Structure

CPA

  • Exam Structure:
    • The CPA exam comprises four sections:
      • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
      • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
      • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
      • Regulation (REG)
    • Candidates take each section as a separate exam.
  • Type of Questions:
    • The format includes multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, and written communication tasks.
  • Duration:
    • Each section is four hours long, totaling 16 hours.
  • Passing Criteria:
    • Each section is scored from 0 to 99.
    • A passing score is 75 or higher on each part.

CA

  • Exam Structure:
    • The CA program consists of three levels, each with multiple papers:
      • Foundation Course: 4 papers
      • Intermediate Course: 8 papers (split into two groups of 4 papers each)
      • Final Course: 8 papers (split into two groups of 4 papers each)
  • Type of Questions:
    • The exams include descriptive, theoretical, and problem-solving questions.
  • Duration:
    • Each paper in the Intermediate and Final levels is typically 3 hours long.
  • Passing Criteria:
    • The passing percentage is typically 40% in each paper and an aggregate of 50% in each group.

In summary, the CPA exams are a set of four comprehensive tests, each covering different aspects of accounting and business, with a clear cut-off score for passing.

On the other hand, the CA exams are more extensive, with three levels comprising multiple papers, each testing a broad spectrum of accounting knowledge and skills, with specific passing percentages required in individual papers and groups.

Both programs demand high levels of understanding and proficiency in accounting principles and practices.

Duration And Flexibility

CPA

  • Examination Timeframe:
    • 18-Month Window: Candidates must pass all four sections of the CPA exam within an 18-month period, starting from the date they pass the first section.
    • Retake Policy: If a candidate fails a section, they can retake it in a subsequent testing window.
  • Flexibility:
    • Scheduling Exams: The CPA exam offers flexibility in scheduling, allowing candidates to take the sections in any order and at various times throughout the year.
    • Work Experience Timeline: The required work experience can be completed before, during, or after taking the CPA exams, depending on state regulations, offering flexibility in professional path planning.

CA

  • Examination Timeframe:
    • Structured Schedule: The CA exams (Foundation, Intermediate, and Final) follow a set schedule, typically conducted twice a year.
    • Reattempt Options: Candidates who do not pass an exam can reattempt in the next cycle.
  • Flexibility:
    • Articleship Commencement: The mandatory 3-year articleship generally starts after clearing the Intermediate Course, but there’s some flexibility in timing depending on the candidate’s progress in exams.
    • Long-Term Commitment: The CA program requires a longer-term commitment, typically spanning several years, including both study and articleship.

In summary, the CPA program offers more flexibility in terms of exam scheduling and completion of work experience, suitable for those who might be working or have other commitments.

The CA program, while more rigid in its exam schedule, provides some leeway in starting the articleship and spans over a longer period, demanding a more extended commitment.

Both programs require careful planning and time management to successfully navigate through their respective requirements.

Program Costs

CPA

  • CPA Application Fee: Varies depending on the state board in the U.S., generally ranging from approximately ₹3,600 to ₹14,500.
  • CPA Examination Fee: Approximately ₹14,100 per section of the CPA exam.
  • CPA Registration Fee: Depends on the number of sections a candidate opts to take at a time:
    • For one section: Approximately ₹4,600.
    • For two sections: Approximately ₹5,900.
    • For three sections: Approximately ₹7,200.
    • For all four sections: Approximately ₹12,900.
  • CPA Ethics Exam Fee: In states requiring this for licensure, the fees range from approximately ₹10,900 to ₹14,500.
  • CPA Licensing Fees: Annual fee for obtaining and maintaining a CPA license varies by state, approximately ₹3,600 to ₹36,000.
  • Continuing Professional Education (CPE): CPAs must complete CPE annually to keep their license active. Costs range from ₹60,000 to ₹3,75,000 per year, depending on courses and requirements.

Total Average Cost: Approximately ₹3.5 to ₹4 lakhs for completing the CPA course.

CA Course Fees

  • CA Foundation Course Fees:
    • Total: Approximately ₹11,300, covering registration, exam forms, and additional charges.
    • Registration Fee: ₹9,000, including the cost of prospectus and journals.
    • Exam Form Fee: ₹1,500 for Indian students.
  • CA Intermediate Course Fees:
    • For both groups: Approximately ₹20,700.
    • For a single group: Approximately ₹14,500.
    • Registration Fee: ₹11,000 for a single group and ₹15,000 for both groups.
    • Exam Form Fee: ₹2,700 for both groups and ₹1,500 for a single group.
  • CA Final Course Fees:
    • Total: ₹39,800 for both groups and ₹38,300 for a single group.
    • Registration Fees: ₹22,000.
    • Exam Form Fees: ₹3,300 for both groups and ₹1,800 for a single group.

In addition, CA candidates need to complete ICITSS and AICITSS training during their journey, with fees for these programs typically around ₹6,500 for the Information Technology Program and ₹7,000 for the Orientation Program.

Total Approximate Minimum Cost: ₹1,20,000 for the CA course.

The CPA course generally entails higher costs, particularly when accounting for the expenses associated with meeting the 150-semester hour requirement and continuing education fees.

In contrast, the CA course, while less expensive overall, involves costs spread over a longer duration, including tuition fees for various levels and training programs.

Prospective students should consider these financial aspects along with the academic and professional commitments when choosing their path in accounting.

Salary Prospects

CPA

  • Average Salary: Approximately ₹7,00,000 per annum.
  • Salary Range:
    • Starting Salary: Around ₹5,00,000 per annum for entry-level positions.
    • Experienced Professionals: Can go up to ₹18,00,000 per annum for highly experienced CPAs.

To get more information about CPA Salaries, Jobs, etc., read – CPA Salaries, Jobs, Scope

CA

  • Average Salary: Approximately ₹9,00,000 per annum.
  • Salary Range:
    • Starting Salary: Roughly ₹6,00,000 per annum for those starting their careers.
    • Experienced Professionals: Salaries can reach up to ₹20,00,000 and above per annum for seasoned CAs.

While the average salary for CAs appears higher, the range for CPAs indicates substantial growth with experience. Starting salaries for CPAs are generally lower compared to CAs, but experienced CPAs can achieve competitive salaries.

Both CPA and CA qualifications offer lucrative career paths with the potential for salary growth as professionals gain experience and expertise in their field.

Career Opportunities

CPA

  • Global Reach: CPAs, primarily trained under US GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), have significant opportunities in multinational corporations, especially those with operations or partnerships in the United States.
  • Public Accounting: CPAs often work in public accounting firms, offering services in auditing, tax preparation, financial planning, and consulting.
  • Corporate Finance: Many CPAs hold key positions in corporate finance departments, handling roles like financial analysts, controllers, and chief financial officers (CFOs).
  • Specialized Roles: CPAs also find niches in forensic accounting, environmental accounting, and information technology auditing.
  • Education and Government: Opportunities also exist in educational institutions as lecturers or in various government agencies.

CA

  • Domestic Strength: CAs, with their training in standards like IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards), are highly sought after in domestic companies and firms, including those with international affiliations.
  • Audit and Taxation: A large number of CAs work in audit and taxation, providing expert services in audit firms, tax consultancy firms, and as independent practitioners.
  • Corporate Sector: CAs are often preferred for roles in financial management and advisory within the corporate sector, including positions like finance managers, tax managers, and internal auditors.
  • Consultancy and Advisory Services: CAs excel in consultancy roles, offering expertise in areas like corporate law, risk management, and financial advisory.
  • Entrepreneurship and Education: They also have the option to set up their practice or venture into teaching and research in finance and accountancy.

While CPAs generally have a more international focus, making them ideal for roles in global firms and US-based entities, CAs dominate the domestic accounting landscape, with strong opportunities in audit, taxation, and financial management within the country.

Both credentials open doors to a range of sectors including public accounting, corporate finance, consultancy, and education, allowing professionals to tailor their careers to their interests and expertise.

Global Reach and Opportunities

CPA

  • International Recognition: CPAs are widely recognized in the United States and countries with American business interests. The US GAAP expertise that CPAs possess is highly valued by multinational corporations.
  • Global Career Pathways: CPAs often find opportunities in international audit firms, global financial institutions, and multinational corporations. Their qualification is particularly advantageous for roles in the US or in American companies operating worldwide.
  • Cross-Border Expertise: CPAs have a strong foothold in international finance and accounting standards, making them suitable for roles that require cross-border financial reporting and compliance expertise.
  • Networking and Mobility: The CPA designation provides access to a vast network of accounting professionals globally, enhancing mobility and career advancement opportunities in various countries.

To know more about Salaries and Opportunities for CPAs Globally, read – CPA Salaries Internationally

CA

  • Commonwealth Countries: CAs are highly recognized in the United Kingdom, India, Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth countries. Their expertise in IFRS and local accounting standards is particularly valued in these regions.
  • Diverse International Roles: CAs have a strong presence in international audit and accounting firms, corporate finance, and consultancy roles in various countries, especially where IFRS is the adopted accounting standard.
  • Adaptability: CAs are known for their adaptability to various financial and taxation systems, making them suitable for diverse roles in international finance, auditing, and taxation.
  • Strategic Financial Roles: In addition to traditional accounting roles, CAs often occupy strategic positions in global companies, contributing to financial strategy and business development.

CPAs have a strong international presence, especially in the United States and in countries with US business interests, owing to their specialization in US GAAP. Their qualification is highly regarded in global finance and multinational corporations.

On the other hand, CAs enjoy recognition primarily in Commonwealth countries and are well-regarded for their versatility and adaptability in international financial environments.

Both CPA and CA qualifications open doors to a range of global opportunities, but the CPA is more US-centric, while the CA is more versatile in Commonwealth and other countries adhering to IFRS.

Program Difficulty

CPA

  • Examination Format: The CPA exam consists of four sections, each requiring a deep understanding of specific accounting topics. The exam tests a candidate’s knowledge through multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, and written communication tasks.
  • Pass Rates: The pass rates for CPA sections vary but are generally considered moderate. This indicates a challenging but achievable goal for most candidates.
  • Study Duration: CPA candidates often balance their exam preparation with work, as the program allows flexibility in scheduling the exams. The total study time can vary based on the candidate’s background in accounting and their commitment level.
  • Content Depth: While the CPA exam is comprehensive, it is more focused on the application of accounting principles, auditing standards, tax laws, and business concepts predominant in the United States.

CA

  • Examination Format: The CA program involves a series of exams at three different levels – Foundation, Intermediate, and Final. Each level consists of multiple papers with a mix of theoretical and practical questions.
  • Pass Rates: CA exams are known for their relatively low pass rates, which is often attributed to the extensive syllabus and the depth of understanding required.
  • Study Duration: The CA program is extensive, typically requiring a minimum of 5 years to complete, including the mandatory articleship training. The long duration adds to the intensity of the program.
  • Content Depth: The CA curriculum is comprehensive, covering a wide range of topics in depth, from accounting, taxation, and law to business management. This breadth and depth contribute to its perceived difficulty.

While both the CPA and CA programs are challenging in their rights, the CA program is often considered more difficult due to its extensive syllabus, lower pass rates, and the longer commitment required.

The CPA program, while also rigorous, is more modular and allows greater flexibility, focusing on American accounting and business practices.

The choice between the two should align with the candidate’s career goals, their educational background, and their readiness to commit to the demanding nature of these professional accounting courses.

Future Prospects

In an era marked by rapid advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and technology, the future prospects of CPA and CA qualifications are influenced by how these roles adapt and evolve.

Here’s a comparison considering the potential impact of AI and technological advancements on both professions.

CPA

  • Adaptability to Technology: CPAs, particularly in the U.S., are increasingly integrating AI and automation tools in areas like auditing, tax preparation, and financial analysis. This integration suggests a promising future for CPAs who are adept at leveraging technology.
  • Demand in Global Markets: The CPA qualification, with its strong grounding in U.S. GAAP and financial regulations, remains in high demand, especially in multinational corporations. As businesses increasingly rely on technology, CPAs who can navigate these changes will likely see continued or even increased demand.
  • Skill Evolution: Future CPAs will likely need to develop skills beyond traditional accounting, such as data analytics, cybersecurity, and financial technology, to stay relevant and prosperous in their careers.

CA

  • Global Integration and AI: The CA curriculum, encompassing a broad range of financial and business disciplines, is well-positioned to integrate AI and technological advancements, especially in analytics and strategic decision-making.
  • Versatility in Various Sectors: CAs have a strong presence in diverse sectors, and their role is evolving with technology. Their adaptability to various financial systems and regulations positions them well for future challenges and opportunities.
  • Potential for Higher Prosperity: Given the broad scope of the CA qualification and its recognition in many Commonwealth countries, CAs might have a slightly higher potential for prosperity, especially if they effectively incorporate AI and technology in their skill set.

Both CPA and CA professionals face a future where AI and technology play a crucial role. CPAs have a significant opportunity in leveraging technology within the realm of American accounting standards and business practices.

CAs, with their versatility, might have a slight edge in terms of future prosperity, provided they embrace technological advancements and diversify their skills accordingly.

Ultimately, the future success of professionals in either pathway will depend largely on their ability to adapt to and integrate emerging technologies into their practice.

Comparison Table

AspectCPA CA
EligibilityBachelor’s degree in any field, with additional specific accounting coursework.Completion of 10+2 level education, followed by Foundation Course registration.
Exam StructureThree core sections: AUD, FAR, and REG, and
one out of the three Discipline sections: BAR, ISC, TCP.
Three levels: Foundation, Intermediate, and Final, each with multiple papers.
Requirements to CompletePass all four exam sections, gain relevant experience (varies by state), and in some states, complete an ethics exam.Clear all exam levels, complete 3 years of articleship training, and fulfill other training requirements like ICITSS and AICITSS.
Flexibility and DurationModerate flexibility in exam scheduling. Total duration varies but can be completed within 18 months to a few years.Less flexible exam schedule. Typically takes a minimum of 5 years including articleship.
CostsTotal cost approx. ₹3.5 to ₹4 lakhs.Total cost approx. ₹1,20,000
Salary ProspectsAverage salary around ₹7,00,000 per annum. Range from ₹5,00,000 to ₹18,00,000 per annum.Average salary around ₹8,00,000 per annum. Range from ₹6,00,000 to ₹20,00,000 per annum.
DifficultyConsidered challenging but achievable; moderate pass rates.Often perceived as more difficult due to extensive syllabus and lower pass rates.
Career OpportunitiesPublic accounting, corporate finance, auditing, education, government roles, and specialized areas like forensic accounting.Audit and taxation, corporate sector roles, consultancy, entrepreneurship, and education.
Global ReachStrong in the U.S. and countries with American business interests.Highly recognized in Commonwealth countries, with adaptability in various international finance and auditing roles.
Future ProspectsSlightly higher potential for prosperity, especially for those adept at leveraging technology in accounting and finance.Promising, particularly if integrating AI and technology effectively in their broad range of skills and roles.

Choosing the Right Program

Deciding whether to pursue the CPA or CA qualification depends on several factors including your career goals, geographical preferences, and personal interests in the accounting field.

Here’s a guide to help you choose the program that best aligns with your aspirations:

Career Goals and Sector Preference

If your ambition is to work in multinational corporations, especially those based in or dealing with the United States, or if you have a keen interest in US GAAP, the CPA is a more suitable choice. It’s also ideal for those looking to specialize in areas like forensic accounting or auditing in the U.S.

If you envision a career in countries that follow International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), like the UK, India, or other Commonwealth nations, or if you’re more inclined towards audit and taxation, a CA qualification might be more beneficial.

Geographical Location and Mobility

For those based in or aiming to work in the United States, or in countries with strong business ties to the U.S., a CPA qualification provides a significant advantage.

If you’re located in or targeting countries within the Commonwealth, or if you prefer a qualification that’s widely recognized in various parts of the world, the CA course is preferable.

Flexibility and Duration of the Program

If you seek a program that allows more flexibility in terms of scheduling exams and completing requirements, and if a shorter duration for qualification is important, consider the CPA.

Choose CA if you are prepared for a longer commitment, which includes mandatory articleship training, and if you can adhere to a structured exam schedule.

Cost Consideration

Evaluate your financial readiness as the CPA course might be more expensive, especially when factoring in continuing education requirements.

The CA course, while still requiring a significant financial investment, generally has lower total costs compared to the CPA.

Interest in Specialized Accounting Fields

Assess your interest in specific areas of accounting. If you are more inclined towards international financial management, strategic business roles, or corporate law, CA might be the right path.

If you’re interested in American corporate finance, international taxation, or regulatory compliance in the U.S., a CPA would be more aligned with your interests.

Future Prospects and Technological Adaptation

Consider how each qualification aligns with future technological advancements. If you are tech-savvy and interested in roles that require advanced technological skills in accounting, both CPA and CA offer evolving prospects, but with different focuses.

Personal Circumstances

Finally, consider your current academic background, work experience, and personal circumstances. This includes the time you can dedicate to studying, your current location, and where you see yourself in the future.

Both CPA and CA are prestigious qualifications with their unique strengths and specializations. Your choice should be influenced by where you want your career to take you, both geographically and in the accounting world. Remember, the right choice aligns with your personal career goals, financial situation, and long-term aspirations in the field of accounting.

Conclusion

Deciding between CPA and CA is more than just picking a qualification; it’s about shaping your future in accounting.

Align Your Goals and Aspirations

Reflect on your career aspirations and how each path aligns with them. Whether it’s the global reach of the CPA or the broad scope of the CA, each offers unique opportunities in the evolving world of finance.

Embark on Your Professional Journey

Make a choice that not only suits your current ambitions but also paves the way for future growth in the dynamic accounting landscape.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is harder, CPA or CA?

The CA program is often considered more difficult due to its extensive syllabus and lower pass rates.

Is the CA qualification recognized in the U.S.?

While respected, the CA qualification is less recognized in the U.S. compared to the CPA.

Can I switch from the CA to CPA or vice versa?

Yes, but it requires meeting the specific criteria and possibly taking additional exams for the desired qualification.

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