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Facts: How to Become a CMA in 2021

If you want to become a CMA, it’s important to learn all the information you can before you begin. This will help you plan the steps that will be involved in preparing for and passing the exam, getting certified, and maintaining your certification over time. In this post, I’m going to give you a full how-to guide to help you get your CMA.

To take your accounting career to the next level, it all begins with getting your CMA, which stands for the Certified Management Accountant credential. This globally recognized certification sets you apart as a professional in the field. It’s granted by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and is therefore respected in the industry.

Your CMA certification will look great on job applications. Having a CMA will show that you did the work and invested the time and money to get your certification. You’ll have benefits and opportunities within the financial and accounting management fields to do things you wouldn’t have been able to do without the CMA. So in the long run, you’ll probably have access to better jobs that pay bigger salaries.

So, let’s look at how you can become a CMA in this complete guide.

What is a CMA?

First, let’s explore what a CMA actually is. CMA stands for Certified Management Accountant. Basically, it is a designation awarded to accountants who have passed the CMA exam and have met certain other qualifications. CMA-certified professionals usually work in financial planning and analysis positions such as budgeting and forecasting. Plus, some CMAs work in control and professional ethics.

A CMA may hold the title of a corporate accountant, cost accountant, management accountant, risk manager, financial strategist, FP&A manager, or a similar job title in this field.

What’s more, CMAs can leverage their unique skills to perform various tasks such as crunching numbers, preparing financial statements, arranging funding, and more. Usually, CMAs work within corporate finance teams in the public or private sectors of those companies. Or, CMAs can work with the government.

There are many opportunities available if you get your CMA. So, how do you do it?

Become a CMA – The Steps

Let’s look at the steps to achieving this certification. First, to get your CMA, you need to meet all of the qualification requirements. But to get started, the IMA has two basic qualifications you must meet to apply to the CMA program and eventually take the CMA exam. What’s more, after you pass the exam, you have education and experience requirements to meet, too.

Enrolling in the CMA program

The CMA requirements

After you join the CMA program, you must meet several CMA requirements:

  • Exam: Pass the 2-part CMA exam within 3 years of gaining admission into the CMA program
  • Education: Obtain either a bachelor’s degree or another qualifying accounting certification within 7 years of passing the CMA exam
  • Work: Gain 2 years of full-time work experience in management accounting or financial management
  • Ethics: Agree to the IMA’s Statement of Ethical Professional Practice when you apply for your CMA credential after meeting all other requirements
  • CPE: To keep your CMA certificate, you’ll need to gain at least 30 hours of continuing professional education each year

Let’s review each step in more detail.

Step 1: Joining the IMA

First, before you can start to tackle the exam, you need to join the IMA and be in good standing. While this does require an IMA membership fee, there are other benefits to it as well.

For example, the IMA membership can provide you with many opportunities through networking via the myIMA Network. Plus, it can give you the tools and information needed to help enhance your career as a CMA. For example, IMA members can access free continuing education courses and webinars. And even more, members also receive several monthly publications like Management Accountant Quarterly and Strategic Finance.

The IMA also has different types of memberships available. Therefore, what you pay will depend on your membership level. In fact, qualified students (6 credits or more per semester) will pay only $39 per year for their membership. Professionals, however, pay $245 for their annual IMA membership fees.

IMA Membership Fee

  • $245 – professionals
  • $39 – students

Step 2: Joining the CMA Program

Now, as mentioned above, you also have to join the CMA program. In a way, joining the program is like an application stating that you intend to become CMA certified. However, this step is different from joining the IMA. After all, you need to join both—the IMA and the CMA program.

The CMA program fee is not refundable. So, don’t join and pay until you are ready to take the CMA exam and you know this is what you are going for. Once you’ve made that decision, here are the fees for the CMA program:

CMA Program Fee

  • $250 – professionals
  • $188 – students

Next, after you are accepted into the CMA program, you will be required to sit for and pass the exam within 12 months. And then, you must complete the CMA program in its entirety within 3 years of enrolling.

Step 3: Take the CMA Exam

Next, after you join the IMA and the CMA program, you need to take the CMA exam. But first, you should study. After all, by studying, you can greatly increase your chances of passing the CMA exam parts on the first try. And in the long run, you’ll save time and money when getting your CMA. Besides, you have to pay to retake a failed section, so it pays to study.

CMA exam pass rate

While free CMA study materials and free CMA practice questions are available online, it’s best to study with a comprehensive review course, too. Why? Well, the pass rate for CMA Exam Part 1 is only 35%. And although more candidates ace Part 2, the pass rate is still at 50%. Basically, this means that the CMA pass rate is actually a little lower than accounting credential exams consider to be “hard,” such as the CPA and CFA exams.

Consider a CMA review course

A good study review course will help you pass the CMA on your first try. Investing in a quality CMA course is the best way to ensure you pass the exam. Plus, it will help you save money in re-take fees because you didn’t properly prepare. Although some up-front costs are involved, investing in the right study materials for your learning style could greatly help you in the long run. Additionally, you can save a lot of money with CMA course discounts (e.g., Becker CMA coupon), which are available on our partner site, IPasstheCMAExam.com.

Register for the CMA exam

When you have sufficiently studied and you’re ready to take the exam, you will need to register to take each part. However, keep in mind that your CMA exam fees are non-refundable. Therefore, be sure you pick your date and time carefully and don’t miss it.

The CMA exam is given in two parts. Moreover, you can register for, pay for, and take each exam part separately. Or, if you want, you can register for both parts at the same time. The exam fee for each part is:

CMA Exam Registration Fee (per part)

  • $415 – professionals (for a total of $830 for both parts)
  • $311 – students (or a total of $622 for both parts)

Two Parts of the CMA Exam

The two parts of the CMA exam are as follows:

  • Part 1 – Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics
  • Part 2 – Strategic Financial Management

Each part contains 100 multiple-choice questions, which you will have 3 hours to complete. In addition, both parts include two essay questions that you have an hour to complete.

So in total, you have 4 hours to complete each part of the CMA exam. And while waiting for your CMA exam results, you can be sure to meet the education and work requirements. Afterward, you will be able to apply for your CMA credential.

Step 4: Meet the Educational Requirements for CMA

In order to get your CMA credential, you must have certain levels of education and work experience. Specifically, you need to meet the following educational requirements:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited post-secondary educational institute.
  • Meet the education requirements within 7 years of passing both parts of the CMA exam.

However, your degree does not have to specifically be in accounting. Of course, if you study accounting or a related field in college, passing the CMA exam could be a little easier.

In addition, you may take the exam before you complete your degree if you are registered for at least 6 credits per semester (as an active student). But keep in mind that once you start the CMA program, you need to finish the program—and meet all of the requirements like getting your degree—within 3 years. Therefore, you should plan to enter the CMA program until you have at least part of your bachelor’s degree finished.

Education Exemption

What’s more, it’s also possible to qualify for an education exemption if you already have certain other approved professional certificates. The IMA has a complete list of qualifying credentials online. However, the list includes the CA from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, the CPA from the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, the CFA from the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute, and the CIA from the Institute of Internal Auditors, among others.

Furthermore, you will need to request an original transcript or an official letter from your qualifying organization. Then, you should have it sent to the IMA for review and approval of the educational requirements.

Step 5: Meeting the Work Requirement

In addition to passing the 2-part CMA exam and meeting the education requirement, you must also gain some practical experience before obtaining your CMA certificate. Specifically, you need:

  • 2 years of continuous full-time work in management accounting and/or financial management
  • Or, you can substitute 4 continuous years of part-time experience

Plus, you need to gain this experience within 7 years of passing the CMA exam.

Step 6: Maintain Your CMA Credential

Once you have completed all of these steps, you can apply for your CMA certification. However, it’s also important to know the requirements to keep your credential active. In fact, the IMA expects all CMA holders to gain annual CPE, or continuing professional education.

To do this, you first must:

  • Pay your IMA Membership fee to make sure your IMA membership remains active
  • Pay your annual CMA maintenance fee

Next, you should meet these continuing education requirements:

  • 30 hours of continuing education per year
  • 2 of these 30 hours must be in the area of ethics and comply with the IMA Statement of Ethics for practitioners

Final Thoughts

Therefore, as you can see, the process to get your CMA certification involves many steps. However, they are fairly straightforward. This highly respected credential could help you gain an edge over the competition in a very prolific field. While it will take a hefty investment of money and time to achieve your certification, you can easily see that the benefits are very much worth it.

Having your CMA certification puts you in a great position for better jobs and higher-paying positions. Are you ready to get your CMA? If so, check out this free CMA course from our partner site.

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