Key Differences Between Bookkeeping and Accounting

By: Flaka Ismaili    May 12, 2021

business returns

There are multiple types of accounting and tax professionals including bookkeepers, accountants, CPAs, and enrolled agents. Let’s start by explaining what each professional is and what they can do for your business. The BLS expects the job market for accountants and auditors to grow by 6% between 2018 and 2028, slightly faster than the overall growth rate for all jobs (5%). Of that number, about 8,900 will be in management, scientific, and technical services, marking a 21.5% increase in that industry. Another 7,700 will be in healthcare and social assistance, a 14.3% increase. Every business, no matter how big or small, needs to stay on top of its finances.

When it comes to accounting, it usually translates into managing a client’s assets and sticking to strict ethical standards. CPAs are also expected to follow a strict code of ethics and meet the high standards of the profession, as having the license is not the only requirement to be a CPA. Accounting as a system tries to identify, assess and record the transactions of financial nature in a very systematic approach. Organizing and recording financial transactions, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, depreciation and journal entries, and collections. In fact, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics , and CPA licensure data, only about 50% of accountants in the United States are actively licensed CPAs.

  • Most accounting majors can satisfy most of the educational requirements, although states require 150 semester hours of college credit before you’re eligible to take the exam.
  • Careers for unlicensed accountants, according to Indeed, are found mostly in the area of private accounting.
  • Then, once they are certified, they must continue their training with at least 120 hours of continuing education every three years.
  • CPA candidates need at least a bachelor’s degree related to finance and accounting to apply for the exam.
  • Deciding which to hire depends upon your particular set of circumstances and the type of assistance you need.

The primary difference between an EA vs CPA is that EAs specialize in taxation, and CPAs can specialize in taxation and more. An accountant is a certified financial professional who performs functions such as audits or financial statement analysis according to prescribed methods. A CFA generally analyzes financial reports, notably financial statements, while a CPA is most often the one that puts together or audits those reports. An accountant is a person who performs the accounting function and prepares accounting records by gathering all the data and then summing it up properly and adding it to the financial statement. Bookkeepers don’t need a special certification, but a good bookkeeper is important for an accountant to have accurate financial records.

CPA vs Accountant: Differences Between Accounting Professions

Accountants analyze financial data and provide financial advice and tax guidance. To determine what services your company needs, assess your business’s current financial position and consider the type of growth it’s expecting, and then decide what tasks you can manage on your own. Sometimes bookkeeping and accounting tasks overlap, but there are some distinct differences, as outlined in the table below. However, all accountants with the appropriate training and experience can perform a wide range of services.

  • This provides a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to our partners.
  • Many titles and levels in your firm will be unattainable without it, and as a result your pay will have a much lower ceiling.
  • This article highlights what the bookkeeping and accounting functions entail and what to consider when determining which role or combination of roles is appropriate.

They’re also a great option if you need tax preparation and planning advice for an individual or business. Yes, a bookkeeper can become an accountant, usually with experience and a bachelor’s degree in accounting. But to be able to provide attestations or validate financial statements, a CPA license is required. To become a CPA, bookkeepers must meet all the education requirements and pass the Uniform CPA exam like any other candidate. Accountants must hold a bachelor’s degree in accounting from an accredited college or university. Businesses looking for a higher level of mastery in accounting often hire a certified public accountant.

Bookkeeper Credentials

As you can already assume by the requirements in education and training, a CPA salary is higher than the one of an accountant. However, keep in mind that this can vary, depending on the company, job location, and industry. On average, a CPA salary in the US is $67,080 per year, while for an accountant, it is $56,520 per year. Accountants without a CPA certification may prepare a proper tax return, but a CPA offers distinct advantages to clients that non-CPAs cannot provide. Bookkeeping involves the day-to-day recording of all financial transactions. The work can be basic and administrative, but bookkeeping is at the financial core of a company and accuracy is of paramount importance.

This includes having a bachelor’s degree or gaining the necessary experience in the investment industry, as well as completing three different intensive examinations. People with these designations are expected to maintain strict codes of conduct and high standards of ethics and integrity. Strict CPA licensure requirements and education should guarantee that a CPA is able to perform a number of different services and that his knowledge and capabilities surpass the ones of a regular accountant. Although sometimes they both can perform the same tasks, a CPA can do more for you.

Accountants analyze financial data and provide business owners with important insights and financial advice based on that information. CPAs must pass a rigorous four-part exam, are required to pursue continuing education and are held to ethical and fiduciary standards. Accountants tend to start with and maintain higher annual salaries than bookkeepers, but both roles can save a business owner time and money. Additionally, small businesses should evaluate accounting software to determine how it can automate certain parts of the accounting cycle. Whether a small or midsize business employs a full-time bookkeeper or hires an accountant only to prepare and file tax returns, accounting software can help simplify the entire accounting process. You use an accountant’s services daily, recording financial transactions, reconciling statements and performing financial analysis.

Accounting vs. CPA – Final Thoughts

The what is bookkeeping Statistics projects the employment of accountants to grow 7% from 2020 to 2030. This disparity between supply and demand has resulted in accounting departments and CPA firms struggling to find qualified talent. It’s also important to note that not all accountants and CPAs perform all of the duties listed above. Review and provide consultation on compensation, benefits, assets and spending of company money. Knowing the differences between all three can help you determine which type, or types, is right for your business. These factors can help you determine if a bookkeeper, accountant, or CPA is right for your business. is committed to delivering content that is objective and actionable. To that end, we have built a network of industry professionals across higher education to review our content and ensure we are providing the most helpful information to our readers. Fiduciaries can be bankers, financial advisors, or the company’s board directors. CPAs also have the legal power and responsibility to be fiduciaries while accountants don’t. They may be responsible enough, but they don’t have the legal power to act on behalf of your business.

CMA or CPA: the basics

I like that the debits always have to equal the credits, and the balance sheet has to balance. I was lucky to have amazing accounting teachers at the Isenberg School of Management at University of Massachusetts Amherst that really encouraged my interest in accounting. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site. Gain access to exclusive content, AICPA benefits and scholarship opportunities. Available to full or part time high school or university students.

Profit and loss sheets, or P&Ls, are basic summaries of the money that businesses obtain and spend, but financial records can become much more complex. Even small companies have multifaceted investments and revenue streams. They often also have debts and other considerations, all of which frequently require a financial professional to manage. Whether it is better for you to pursue CPA certification and licensure is a question that only you can answer. That’s because it depends upon what career opportunities you’re interested in pursuing.

All states require the equivalent of 40 hours of CPE every year, but some states have flexible requirements. For example, Alaska requires CPAs to get 80 hours of CPE every two years, with a minimum of 20 hours per year. This means a CPA is likely to be more knowledgeable in the field of accounting than someone who has not earned the designation. A CPA is also allowed to perform certain duties that regular accountants are not permitted to do. Cost accountants are money experts who analyze exactly where a businesses money is going and how costs could be improved.

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You can use a firm or work with accounting software for your business needs. With NetSuite, you go live in a predictable timeframe — smart, stepped implementations begin with sales and span the entire customer lifecycle, so there’s continuity from sales to services to support. Accountants tend to start with higher annual salaries based on the more stringent requirements and expectations. Additionally, the career path of a bookkeeper is much more limited than that of a CPA, so a CPA’s salary can grow much faster than a bookkeeper’s. However, accountants are usually paid more than bookkeepers, so having an accountant perform the more repetitive tasks of a bookkeeper might not be cost-effective.

Accounting positions, especially at top public accounting firms, can be incredibly competitive. It’s essential to find ways to stand out—on your resume, during job interviews and on the job. A CPA will immediately signal that you are a top-tier accountant, while a master’s degree can showcase leadership potential and cutting-edge skills in complementary areas such as data analysis. A master’s degree in accounting and a CPA license are not competing credentials. These designations provide different benefits and signify different qualities to a prospective employer. While a CPA shows mastery in foundational accounting skills, a master’s degree shows you’re driven to gain new skills that will directly benefit an organization.

Reconciling accounts at the end of the month or year to ensure all accounts and financial transactions are consistent. CPAs are held to specific professional standards and a code of ethics. This guide will help you differentiate between a CPA and an accountant, as well as answer pressing questions about how these designations impact an accountant’s career path. Your privacy is important, so we encrypt all the personal data provided. Your payment goes to an expert only after you accepted the project. All the staff is professional and delivers on time/quality work.

CPA vs. Accountant: What Are the Main Differences?

We learned a lot about financial accounting and also learned to audit. In my experience, the best way to learn to audit was to actually be an auditor, which I did for many years out of college working in public accounting. Whether you are applying for a role in finance, accounting, marketing, production, or administration, being a CPA is a sign of intelligence and expertise. For companies trying to determine the best applicant, it gives them an objective measurement of your capabilities where question marks exist for your competition.

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Which credential you should earn depends on your current professional role and desired career trajectory. This is a hard question to answer, because a master’s degree and a CPA license are such different credentials. It’s important to note that states have different CPE requirements and deadlines. For example, states have different requirements for the number of hours of ethics CPE you’ll have to do, and accept various types of education. It’s always best to check your state’s rules and regulations before starting your CPE. Each state sets its specific requirements for your eligibility to take the Uniform CPA Exam.

CPA vs Accountant: Which Is Better?

International equivalency exams are also offered so that CPAs can work in countries other than the one in which they were certified. They may specialize in areas such as financial reporting, auditing, taxation, and of course, accounting. First, many CPAs are more knowledgeable in tax codes as a result of the rigorous CPA licensing examination and continuing education requirements. Another significant factor is that CPAs are eligible to represent clients before the IRS if audit support is required, while a non-CPA accountant is not. A Certified Public Accountant is an accountant who has met state licensing requirements. Although requirements vary by state, they typically include minimum education (usually a bachelor’s degree in accounting) and experience requirements, plus passing the CPA exam.

Merchant Maverick’s ratings are not influenced by affiliate partnerships. Project accountants are hired on a by-project basis to take the helm on specific business projects. Project accountants specialize in job costing, management, and communication as they often have to work closely with project managers. Like CPAs, EAs are able to legally represent taxpayers before the IRS. They also have to undergo rigorous education and a certification exam and are licensed by the federal government rather than individual states. A certified public accountant is a professional accountant who has more credibility and expertise than a regular accountant.

financial transactions

Armed with such a degree, accountants and CPAs are able to navigate all sorts of financial situations that might arise in a variety of industries and in businesses. Explore how Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Accounting, featuring Becker CPA exam preparation courses, can help you advance your career. In general, you must have 150 extra hours of either undergraduate or graduate education. You have to have from six months to two years of experience working in public accounting, depending on the state you live in. After that you sit for a four-part exam, each part requiring four hours to complete. The four parts of the CPA exam are attestation and auditing, financial accounting and reporting, regulation and business environment and concepts.


Many businesses that are required to have a financial statement audit will find that only a CPA is capable of performing these services and issue the necessary reports. Based on EMSI’s aggregated job posting data for 2021, there were 46,626 job postings for accounting professionals that required a CPA. On the other hand, there were 170,607 jobs posted for accountants that only required a bachelor’s degree, not a CPA. Once you have achieved either the CPA or CMA certification, you aren’t done with education!

The length of time it takes to become a CPA depends on the personal situation of the candidate, their level of education, the state they live in and the state’s qualifications. The difference between state requirements for obtaining the CPA credential can be considerable. For instance, some states only require one year of work experience while others require two.