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What is a CMA Certificate? CMA Certification Explained

The CMA certificate is a globally recognized accreditation in strategic management and financial accounting. In fact, it’s considered the “gold standard” as the top certificate of management accountant professionals. I want to go over the benefits of getting your CMA certification and how to get this designation. Once you become a CMA, you could be a top candidate for the best financial accounting and management positions in the business world.

Define CMA Certificate

CMAs, or certified management accountants, are professionals with high levels of specific knowledge in financial accounting and strategic management. With this globally recognized credential, CMA accounting professionals have unique skills that make them vital in today’s business world. They must have a strong understanding of complicated, interconnected business and management strategies.

Why You Should Pursue a Management Accounting Certification

CMAs can bridge a company’s financial and management teams. CMAs understand the most basic-level accounting concepts. Yet, they also have enough finance and strategy skills to lead an organization’s teams. Plus, a certified managerial accountant understands how to apply practical financial solutions to improve business performance. This skill alone makes the CMA a valuable credential in today’s uncertain job market.

You’re in a League of Your Own with a CMA Certificate

The Institute of Management Accountants puts it best: CMAs are highly valued because they “can explain the ‘why’ behind numbers, not just the ‘what.’ And that can give you greater credibility, higher earning potential, and ultimately a seat at the leadership table.”

Plus, because of the high level of knowledge needed to get the CMA, the IMA only grants about 4,000 new CMA credentials per year, on average. That means that you’ll be part of an exclusive group.

Are There Jobs for CMA Holders?

Since CMAs specialize in cost accounting, CMAs help their companies manage large projects and plan for future financial endeavors. CMAs often lead teams of decision-makers and are tasked with making high-level business decisions. They understand potential financial investments. CMAs can also manage risk through informed analyzes of financial data and reports.

Since these types of skills will always be needed in business and industry, CMAs are in high demand. For example, CMAs often work as financial managers. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, financial managers will see a 16% increase in demand from now until 2028.

How to Become a CMA Accountant

In order to become IMA certified and land your first CMA job, you’ll need to pass several requirements established by the IMA. Basically, these requirements follow the 3 E’s:

  • Education: Earn at least a bachelor’s degree within 7 years of passing the CMA Exam
  • Exam: Pass both CMA Exam Part 1 and CMA Exam Part 2 within a 3-year window
  • Experience: Gain at least 2 years of experience in management accounting or financial management. You must complete all experience within 7 years of passing the CMA Exam.

Steps to a CMA Certificate

Here are the steps that you’ll take in order.

(But this list is a short summary. Check out this sister article, How to Become a CMA, for a full-length discussion.)

Step 1: Get ready to meet the challenges of the CMA certificate

Make sure that you are ready for this journey! The path to becoming a CMA is not easy, so first, make sure that the commitment (time, energy, and money) is worth it for where you want to go in your career. You might want to start with this article about Is the CMA Worth It?

Step 2: Meet the CMA education requirement

Basically, to satisfy the education requirement, you need to verify that you hold a bachelor’s degree or equivalent from an accredited college or university. Your degree doesn’t even have to be in accounting or a related field. However, it will certainly make passing the CMA Exam easier!

Step 3: Complete the CMA certificate application

Go to the IMA membership website, fill out the application, and pay the IMA membership fee. I’ve listed the fees below. Additionally, you must hold an annual membership to the IMA to keep your CMA license active.

  • Professionals: $275
  • Academics: $150
  • Students: $45

However, this isn’t a full list of CMA exam fees, which includes the IMA membership fee, CMA entrance and exam fees, and the cost of CMA exam review courses.

Step 4: Join the CMA Certificate Program

When you’re ready to sit for the CMA exam, you’ll enroll in the IMA’s CMA Certification Program.

Step 5: Register

Next, register for the 2-part CMA Exam and schedule your test dates.

Step 6: Study and pass!

And finally, study, study, study and pass the CMA Exam. I highly recommend using a CMA study course. Only about 45% of CMA candidates pass the exam. Therefore, studying with a trusted review course is important—I promise that it will make your CMA journey a lot smoother. I have CMA discounts for the top courses on the market.

Step 7: Meet the CMA certificate work requirement

However, your CMA journey doesn’t end after you pass the exam. Consequently, you’ll need to complete the CMA work experience requirements. You’ll need 2 continuous years working in management accounting or financial management. Or, you can work part-time for 4 years.

Step 8: Complete your CE to keep your CMA certificate

You’ll need to meet the annual continuing education (CE) requirements to keep your CMA credential active. The IMA requires CE for all CMAs.

The CMA Exam

Before you can call yourself a CMA, you must pass the Certified Management Accountant Exam. However, most CMA candidates think that passing the CMA Exam is the hardest obstacle to becoming a CMA. Right now, the average CMA Exam pass rate is only about 45%. Therefore, it’s important to study with a CMA Exam Review Course so that you can pass the exam the first time.

Let’s go over some of the details of the CMA Exam. Essentially, the CMA Exam has two parts. But you don’t have to take them in order. That is, you can take Part II before Part I if you want. However, you can only take each part during certain times of the year. Check out my full-length article, CMA Exam Format: Important Info on Question Type + Duration, for the schedule.

Here’s the breakdown of the content on the CMA Exam to get your CMA certificate.

CMA Part 1: Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics

  • 15% – External financial reporting
  • 20% – Planning, budgeting, and forecasting
  • 15% – Cost management
  • 20% – Performance management
  • 15% – Internal controls
  • 15% – Technology and analytics

CMA Part 2: Strategic Financial Management

  • 20% – Financial statement analysis
  • 20% – Corporate finance
  • 25% – Decision analysis
  • 10% – Risk management
  • 10% – Investment decisions
  • 15% – Professional ethics

Each exam part is 4 hours long, for a total of 8 hours for the whole exam. Furthermore, each exam part has 100 multiple-choice questions (75% of your score) and 2 essays (25% of your score). You answer the multiple-choice questions first. Then, if you get at least 50% of them correct, you can advance to the essays.

The Time Commitment

If you are committed to getting your CMA, then the IMA management accounting institute recommends giving yourself at least 12-18 months to pass both parts of the CMA Exam. Nevertheless, you have up to 3 years to pass them both. IMA also recommends that you study for at least 150-170 hours per exam part.

Benefits of Becoming a CMA

Here’s a short list of the benefits you can receive after you have your CMA certificate.

  1. Increased likelihood of career opportunities
  2. Better job security in an increasingly unstable business world
  3. More respect from your peers and potential employers
  4. Increased knowledge, skills, and abilities
  5. Certified management accountant jobs = higher salaries

The CMA certificate could help your career

As you can see from this list, once you receive your CMA certificate, you can expect many benefits. After all, you’ll have more chances for career advancement. Plus, you are likely to earn a higher salary.

Additionally, most CMAs report increased job satisfaction after they receive their credential because they usually have more decision-making input in their organization. In fact, according to the IMA Global Salary Survey, about 70% of CMAs think the CMA title gave them more career opportunities.

Besides, the CMA certification is recognized around the globe. Therefore, it might lead to careers in foreign countries or with large international companies.

If your career goal is to reach certain upper-level positions in the Big 4 firms, you may need a CMA. The CMA certificate means that you have the business and financial skills to help lead major organizations.

CMA Salaries

Websites like payscale.com and the IMA collect data from CMAs across the globe and tracks their salaries.

Across the globe, CMAs can expect to make an average salary of $59,750. The average salary for CMAs in the US is much higher at $88,703, according to payscale.com. However, according to the IMA Global Salary Survey, the US average CMA salary is closer to $100,000. The IMA also points out that CMAs make an incredible 63% more than their non-credentialed peers.

Even for young accountants, the CMA certificate might be worth pursuing. According to the IMA Global Salary Survey, young CMAs (ages 20-29) make 33-34% more than their non-CMA peers.

In addition, younger accountants in senior management positions earned 100%-107% more than their non-certified peers.

But remember, once you reach a position with a high salary, you also might have more job-related stress. So before you start studying for your CMA certification exam, it’s important to consider your potential work-life balance.

Finding a Good Certified Management Accountant Course

If you’re going to take the CMA exam, it’s really important that you study with a CMA exam review course. The exam’s pass rate is low—about 45%. And since the exam comes with substantial CMA fees, you don’t want to have to pay them twice. Therefore, I have a full review of the best 2022 CMA Exam review courses in this article.

CMA Jobs

Professionals with the CMA certificate often work with accounting, finance, and strategy teams in an organization or business. Moreover, CMAs are valued in all sizes of businesses, from small family-run businesses to large publicly listed and multi-national corporations. CMAs can even work for non-profits and governmental and academic institutions.

Day-to-day activities for CMAs often include general accounting, financial decisions, corporate management, and budgeting and planning. Furthermore, CMAs are often major decision-makers in their organization and may hold high-level executive positions. They also understand how to look at data and analyze it. And then they can use that data to increase performance.

CMAs are often asked to find new opportunities for investment management. For example, they might prepare corporate financial statements and supervise other accountants who formulate financial reports. Since CMAs understand a range of business concepts, they are often asked to present financial information to high-level executives. Plus, they break down complicated financial concepts into easier-to-understand concepts to help executives plan business decisions.

Where do CMAs work?

According to the IMA, over half of CMAs work in the sectors of finance, manufacturing, or business services. Other industries need certified management accounting professionals, too. For example, CMAs work in construction, education, insurance, medical and health-related services, real estate, and transportation. CMAs often hold leadership positions. Plus, they can analyze financial statements to improve their company’s overall operations.

What are some specific accounting CMA titles?

CMAs often hold the following titles:

  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Corporate Controller
  • Director of Financial Planning and Analysis
  • Financial Controller
  • Cost accountant
  • Corporate accountant
  • Financial strategist
  • Risk manager
  • Senior Financial Analyst
  • Other executive-level decision-makers


If you are wondering if you should pursue both the CMA and CPA, you’re not alone. After all, many of my readers contacted me to ask about this combination. So, let’s go over some of the pros and cons.


  • I’m always pro-education. If you have the time, the desire, and the financial funds to pursue both designations, why not? As you study, you’ll learn. Specifically, you’ll learn about specific accounting concepts and how to apply them in management settings.
  • Knowledge is power. So with both designations, you’ll signal to potential employers that you are dedicated to your career. Plus, you’ll also be able to demonstrate your high level of skills.
  • Specifically, you can fill niche positions requiring candidates to understand accounting practices and translate balance sheet numbers.


  • The time. You have to pass both CPA Exam and the CMA Exam. That’s a major investment in your time. After all, the average candidate spends hundreds of hours studying for each exam. I’m not saying this to discourage you. However, I do want you to understand this time commitment.
  • The cost. The path to gaining both credentials is not inexpensive. Altogether, you’ll have the expenses of review courses, exam fees, and licensing fees (for the CPA). And afterward, you must complete continuing education for both.


What is the IMA?

The IMA, or Institute of Certified Management Accountants, is a global membership organization advancing management accounting. Specifically, the IMA grants the CMA designation.

What is a CMA certification?

You can receive your CMA certificate after meeting certain benchmarks established by the IMA. First, you must hold a bachelor’s degree, join the IMA, and apply to the CMA certificate program. Next, you must pass the CMA Exam. And finally, you’ll need at least 2 years of qualified work experience. Once you meet those requirements, you will receive your CMA certification.

Is there a CMA license?

If you are familiar with the process of getting your CPA license, you might wonder if there is a comparable CMA “license.” The quick answer is no. The CPA designation is a state license. Therefore, candidates apply to their state’s Board of Accountancy to obtain that license. The CMA, on the other hand, is a certification. The CMA is not a license like the CPA.

CMA USA vs international CMA designation

Some of my readers ask me if there are different qualifications to get your CMA certification in the United States versus in other countries. The CMA is a globally recognized designation. Therefore, all candidates must meet the same qualifications as outlined by the IMA.

Is there a CMA school?

No colleges or universities currently offer a specific CMA program at the undergraduate or graduate level. Rather, students who are interested in the CMA credential should pursue degrees in accounting or a related degree. Then, you’ll need to study for the CMA exam using a CMA prep course.

About the Author Susan L.

Susan is an esteemed member of the I Pass the CMA Exam team. Even better, she's (almost) as excited about the CMA exam as you!

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