What is the Difference Between an Accountant and a CPA?

Are you looking for professional financial help for your business or organization? If so, you may be considering hiring an accountant or a CPA. This raises a common question: What is the difference between an accountant and a CPA? There is an important distinction. Although all CPAs are accountants, not every accountant is a CPA. In this article, our business accounting and consulting team explains the most important things you need to know about the difference between an accountant and a CPA. 

Accountants vs. CPAs: Know the Difference

Broadly defined, an accountant is a professional whose job it is to prepare, keep, and review financial documents and records. Accountants help to make sure that the numbers actually add up. Although you will sometimes hear them used interchangeably, the terms ‘accountant’ and ‘CPA’ are not synonymous. ‘CPA’ stands for Certified Public Accountant. A Certified Public Accountant is a financial accounting professional who has met specific state licensing and educational requirements. For example, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) lays out the following requirements for CPAs in Georgia: 

  • Completion of 120 hours of undergraduate coursework;
  • Completion of additional advanced accounting coursework; 
  • Passage of the state’s four-part CPA exam, with sections on Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Regulation (REG), and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC); and
  • At least one year of experience as an accounting professional at a qualifying private firm, nonprofit organization, or government entity. 

In other words, a CPA is a specialized type of accounting professional who has completed advanced coursework and obtained a state license. CPAs are recognized by government licensing authorities and credible, qualified experts in their field. Their license also gives them the professional authority to handle certain complex financial tasks on behalf of clients. 

Accountants and CPAs Do Similar Work—But Some Tasks Require a CPA

In practice, accountants and CPAs work on many of the same tasks. Both accountants and CPAs can review and analyze financial statements, prepare business reports, offer financial guidance, and help file your state or federal tax return. However, there are few important things that only Certified Public Accountants can do. Specifically, you or your business needs a CPA if: 

  • You need to prepare audited/reviewed financial statements; or
  • You need to file a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  

The most important thing is to hire an accounting professional that you can trust to get the job done the right way. Williams & Accounting & Consulting has two Certified Public Accountants, a payroll specialist, and other dedicated financial professionals on staff, ready to get started working for your business or organization. 

Get Help From Our Accounting and Consulting Team

At Williams Accounting & Consulting, we are committed to providing accounting and tax preparation solutions for our clients. To find out more about how we can help, please contact our business & accounting team today. With offices in Atlanta and New Orleans, we provide business accounting services to companies, organizations, and professionals throughout both regions. 


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