Are you considering pursuing a CFA or CPA certification and you are unsure which one to choose? What is the best one? What is the most difficult? In this article, we will go over some of the main differences between CFA vs CPA, and see which one is right for you. 

What is a CFA? 

CFA stands for chartered financial analyst designation. They are responsible for providing analysis of investments and making recommendations to their clients. 

For example, they may analyze a company's financial statements and make recommendations on whether or not to invest in the stock. 

The CFA designation remains the most important certification any financial professional can get. It is common for financial analysts, portfolio managers, and even accredited investors to pursue a CFA designation. 

It gives finance professionals a deep knowledge foundation, and it is also a great way to rise in your career path, and even sometimes increase your salary. Most companies will often look for analysts, portfolio managers, and other professionals with a CFA designation. 

It shows that the person knows the industry, and can work in several different roles with distinct responsibilities. The Chartered Financial Analyst designation(CFA) is granted by the CFA Institute, a global not-for-profit organization with over 160,000 members in 164 different markets. 

What is the process to get a CFA certification? 

To earn the CFA credential, candidates must complete a rigorous three-level exam process that covers topics such as ethical and professional standards, quantitative methods, economics, financial reporting and analysis, corporate finance, portfolio management, and equity and fixed-income investments. 

Once they have successfully completed all three levels of the exam, candidates must also commit to following the CFA Institute's Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct. The CFA credential is globally recognized as a symbol of excellence in the financial industry. 

It is a designation that is earned by passing a series of exams. The exams are focused on investment analysis and portfolio management. To be eligible to take the exams, you must have a four-year degree or be in the final year of your undergraduate program. 

The CFA is a prestigious certification, and it can be a great way to differentiate yourself from other job applicants. 

Is a CFA difficult to get? 

A CFA certificate is extremely difficult to get, due to its difficulty, and because it encompasses so many different aspects. For example, some of the aspects that are required to know are: 

  • Ethical and professional standards 
  • Quantitative methods 
  • Economics 
  • Financial reporting and analysis 
  • Corporate finance 
  • Portfolio management 
  • Equity and fixed-income investments 

All of these topics are difficult on their own and require a lot of knowledge to even understand the basics. Furthermore, the CFA exams are extremely difficult and have a low pass rate. 

In fact, the average pass rate for all three levels is around 50%. Only about 41% pass the first level. On average, 250-350 hours of study are needed to understand the concepts in enough detail to pass. 

Of course, everyone learns differently, and some people may be able to get by with fewer hours. However, it still goes to show that the CFA is a difficult certification to obtain. It is not a casual weekend course but rather a significant time investment. 

If you are passionate about the topics mentioned above and/or have a background in these fields of study, you may find it challenging but not too difficult. If you couldn't care less about finances and just want a prestigious-sounding title, then you will likely find difficulties achieving a passing grade. 

Although the multiple-choice format does make it less difficult, it should not be taken as a game of probability because there are monetary costs. For some, it can be difficult to save up enough money to even take the exams. 

How much does a CFA cost? 

There are three levels to the CFA exam and each one costs $1000. You can receive a slight reduction in fees if you register to enroll early. If you do, you can expect to pay around $2,450. As you can see, the cost can be a burden for some non-affluent students. 

However, the return on this educational investment can offset this cost later in life. The financial, time and effort sacrificed to become a CFA are substantial, but the return on investment is usually high. 

What is a CPA? 

A CPA is a certified public accountant who has proven to have the necessary skills and knowledge to provide financial services to clients. CPAs are licensed by their state's board of accountancy and must adhere to a strict code of conduct. The CPA credential is one of the most sought-after and respected professional certifications in the accounting industry. 

What is the process to get a CPA certification? 

The CPA is a certification that is offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). It is a designation that is earned by passing an exam. The exam focuses on accounting and financial statement analysis. 

To be eligible to take the exam, you must have a four-year degree in accounting or business. The CPA is also a prestigious certification, and it can be a great way to differentiate yourself from other job applicants. 

The CPA certification can seem like an unattainable goal for many people who are looking into accountancy careers. To earn this designation, you need at least four years of education in your field from a university that offers courses on accounting or business-related subjects before taking the test which focuses heavily on these topics.

This makes it difficult if one wants to enter any related field such as finance because most companies require their employees to hold either Certified Public Accountants (CPA) status or Chartered Accounting Professional(CA). 

Is a CPA difficult to get? 

As mentioned, the CPA is a difficult certification to obtain because it requires four years of education in accounting or business from an accredited university. The exam focuses heavily on accounting and financial statement analysis. If you are not proficient in skills such as these, you will likely find it difficult to pass the exam. 

However, if you have a strong background in accounting and finance, you may find the CPA to be a challenge but not an impossibility. Overall, it is one of the most challenging exams for attaining professional status. Similar to the CFA, it has about a 50% fail rate. From a statistical point of view, it is difficult to pass. And for good reason. 

If incompetent people became CPAs, they could easily commit fraud or make critical errors that could cost their clients millions of dollars. Although it can be difficult, it does not mean you won't be a part of the 50% that is successful. 

As an individual, you may find it to be the perfect level of difficulty. This difficulty will challenge you to become a better service to your community. Taxes are hard, but they're also very important! 

How much does a CPA cost? 

Approximately $12,500 is required to complete the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP). There may also be additional costs for prerequisite courses. Examination fees can add to this cost (approx $1,500). 

Each jurisdiction and academy may offer different coursework, so it is best to check with your chosen academy for a more accurate estimate. In general, it should be noted that it is not a cheap endeavor. 

However, the return on this investment can be lucrative as tax advice from a certified professional will likely always be in demand. This certification will also allow for profitable opportunities to work with high-profile clients. 

What is the best certification CFA vs CPA? 

So, which one is right for you? Well, that depends on your qualifications and your goals. If you are already a certified public accountant, the CFA may not be worth it for you. However, if you are interested in a career in investment management, the CFA is a great certification to pursue. 

The CPA is better suited for someone who wants to work in accounting or financial statement analysis. If you are looking for a prestigious certification that will differentiate you from other job applicants, the CFA is a great option. 

If you are interested in working in accounting or financial statement analysis, the CPA is a better choice. If you are not sure which one is right for you, talk to a career counselor or consult with the professionals at your school’s career center. 

They can help you determine which certification is best suited for your goals and your qualifications. The CFA and the CPA are both great options and highly sought after. However, it is important to remember that these certifications are not one-size-fits-all. 

Each certification has its own unique benefits and drawbacks that should be considered before making a decision. 

What is the most difficult? 

Out of the two options, the most difficult option would be the CFA. The reason being is that the CFA requires you to pass a series of exams. The exams are very challenging, and most people require several years of preparation before they are ready to take them. 

In contrast, the process to get a CPA is less difficult. You only need to pass one exam, and there are many study materials available to help you prepare. If you are better at specializing, a CFA would be more difficult to get. 

This is because it is required to know a broad range of topics, from investment management to ethics. Overall, both certifications are difficult. It depends on your learning style as to which one would be more difficult for you. 


As someone that is looking to earn professional credentials in the financial industry, two of the most popular options are the CFA and CPA. Both certifications have their own unique benefits and drawbacks, so it is important to choose the one that is best suited for your personal strengths and goals.