This is a question many people often ask. Going through the process of getting certified can be time consuming and costly. There are a few questions you should ask yourself and your employer prior to deciding to spend your valuable time and money going for a certification. Answering the questions below will help you to decide if a certification is right for you.

Question 1: What costs will my employer cover, if any?

Certifications and the study materials can get expensive. Find out if your employer will pay for the exam and study materials. In addition, will they pay for or provide the necessary continuing professional education (CPE) credits. If they cover all/or a majority of the costs, move right on to the next question. If you will have to cover the cost, make sure to research the following items:

  1. Examination cost
  2. Study materials including any live training courses/conferences
  3. Annual membership dues/renewal of certification (membership may be required to utilize the designation in some cases, e.g., CAMS)
  4. Annual cost of completing continuing professional education (CPE) credits (see CPE Calendar and Self-Study Listing for free CPE offerings)

Estimates of the current costs for a few certifications are included in the table below (membership cost is included when required or where it may save on exam cost/study materials). Click on the certification to find out the steps to becoming certified.

Certification Membership Cost Exam Cost* Study Cost** Total
CPA Varies $1,000 $900 – $3,400 $1,900 – $4,400
CIA $250 $750 $375 – $895 $1,375 – $1,895
CRCM N/A $725 $350 – $1,995 $1,075 – $2,725
CFE $200 $300 – $400 $219 – $1,995 $719 – $2,595
CAMS $295 $1,145 – $1,880 Included in exam cost $1,440 – $2,175
CISA $200 $415 $105 – $625 $720 – $1,240

*Exam costs may vary by state/country for some certifications; therefore, cost is approximate.

**There may be multiple options for study materials resulting in a wide range of costs.

Question 2: Will I have the time to dedicate studying for the examination(s)?

Obtaining a certification is not easy, it requires a diligent and focused effort to study and prepare for one or more examinations. It is especially difficult for those that have been away from school for a while as your study skills may be a little rusty. Not to mention all of the distractions we now face with smartphones, hundreds of channels on television, and the many personal obligations we all have. Look at a calendar to find out when (and where) the examination is held; some are held only certain times of the year while others allow you to schedule them at your convenience. Be sure you are able to dedicate the time necessary to prepare for the examination. Based on the cost examples in the prior question, you or your employer may not be happy to spend that money for a failed examination. Also, be prepared for what happens if you do not pass the exam; find out the timing for retaking the exam and if there are multiple exams (e.g., CPA), find out the window for passing them all.

Question 3: Will this help me receive a promotion/advance my career?

Some companies require certifications in certain fields (e.g., many companies want a financial analyst to be a CPA), or for promotion opportunities. At a former employer of mine, you needed to have a certification in order to be in a supervisory position. This is where it is important to think about your career goals and look at positions you want to see yourself in as your career progresses. If you are an Internal Auditor and plan on staying in Internal Audit, maybe the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) designation is appropriate for you. However, if you plan on moving to public accounting, or a finance/controller position, it may be better to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

From my personal experience in the banking industry, I have found that having a certification helps to distinguish you from other employees and often catches the eyes of hiring managers and human resources, which is crucial in determining whether or not you will be interviewed.

Question 4: What additional benefits will the certification provide me?

Once you become certified, there are often training, networking, and other benefits provided by the certifying organization. Both the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) and the Association of Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (CAMS) provide multiple free CPE webinars each year to their members. This is also a good time to research if there is a chapter of the organization nearby; they often have meetings, events, and training where you can network with others in your field, earn CPE credits, and expand your knowledge.

Question 5: What value will the certification provide me?

Based on the answers to the previous questions, you should be able to determine what value the certification will ultimately provide you. Is the time and money you will need to put in worth it for what you will get out of the certification?

I am a big proponent of certifications, as I believe it demonstrates a desire to learn more about your field and shows that you have the dedication and drive to prepare and pass a difficult examination.

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