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What is the difference in an Accountant and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)?

As the terms “bookkeeper, accountant and CPA” are often used interchangeably, it can get a little confusing. Perhaps you have some questions about the differences and what educational degree is required of each.

To begin, a bookkeeper does not necessarily need a degree. They are often referred to as accounting clerks and are responsible for the day-to-day operations of financial matters such as, accounts payables and receivables, billing, inventory, posting payments and most likely, handling payroll and tax deposits. Bookkeepers are most often found in smaller businesses who need help with daily financial recordkeeping. As a lower-level accounting position, bookkeepers typically report to the accountant in charge.

The next step up is the position of the accountant. The accountant position will require an online Bachelor’s degree in Accounting. Large businesses or corporations usually have an accountant on their payroll, in addition to, the accounting clerks or bookkeepers. Although qualified to perform the duties of the bookkeeper, the accountant usually oversees the bookkeeper’s duties as they have more advanced work that is required of them. An accountant will review the information provided by the clerk to generate all detailed financial statements and prepares tax reports, however, they are not qualified to represent clients during tax audits with the IRS. As a mid-level position, the accountant will generally report to the accounting manager or CPA within the business or financial firm hired to assist.

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) has additional responsibilities over that of the bookkeeper or accountant. Although they are trained to do the basics, they primarily are tasked with performing audits, in addition to, preparing tax returns and providing other financial services. A CPA is allowed to represent their clients in an IRS audit. Clientele may include individuals, government agencies, small businesses, large corporations or, as a CPA, you may choose to establish your own accounting firm.

To be a CPA, you must obtain an online Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, in addition to, successfully passing the Uniform Certified Public Accounting examination administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). This exam is computer generated and consists of four sections and takes about four hours per section to complete with all four portions to be completed within an eighteen-month period.

The four sections will test your knowledge in Auditing and Attestation, which covers the entire process of auditing and a section that covers Business Environment and Concepts, which includes financial management, economics, information technology, as well as, operations and strategic management.

The other two sections will include Financial Accounting and Reporting, which will test your abilities regarding financial statements and other general accounting practices and in the topic of Regulations, which will test your expertise in federal taxation and business law to include confidentiality and ethics responsibilities.

Your test will consist of multiple choice questions, task-based simulations using actual work situations, in addition to, written communication questions. You must pass all four sections to successfully gain certification. Depending on your state’s requirements, you typically must be re-certified every two years.

As all three positions are a valued component to an accounting system, the CPA will take the most time and commitment to attain. Your online Bachelor’s degree in Accounting will prepare you for passing your CPA exam and landing you that dream job.

We have compiled a list of our choices of the Best Online Schools for Bachelor’s in Accounting degree programs to help you in your endeavors!

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