Alright, first question: This is AAPC or AHIMA certification. We have had this one before, actually we got this question two or three times this week alone so I thought maybe we had better revisit it again. So here is one of the sample questions:

“Hi, I have an associate’s degree for coding and billing but haven’t worked for the past two years and am looking to get certified. My question is this: What is the best certification to get, which one is preferred by companies, CPC or CTA?”

Let me take you to the answer:

AAPC or AHIMA Certification Video

Basically, what I jotted down here is hospitals tend to prefer the AHIMA credentials, the CPS, the RHIT and if you don’t know what those are you can go to I think it is and check them out but the junior coding credential is the CPA which is what this questioner was asking about. Physician’s offices, tend to prefer the AAPC credential but mainly I find physician’s offices – they just want to know that you are certified. So if you have a CPC or the CPST which is the Credential compared to AAPC, they are normally satisfied with that. The other thing you want to consider as far as which one is preferred is look in your local classified. What are the want ads asking for? Do you see more of one than the other? Location: If you are in a big city like Philadelphia, New York City, there are a lot of hospitals, so there might be more jobs in the hospital setting versus in a rural area like me, there isn’t, there are only two main hospitals. So you are probably going to have a better chance landing job as a new coder in a physician’s office. And of course, what do you like? Can you picture yourself working in a large hospital type environment like a little more kinda rank and file almost like military grades and things like that. There may be a smaller intimate physician office setting. You can probably tell by my answer which I prefer so I do have to preface this with – I am bias, I am a physician out-patient girl, I have worked in hospitals as an occupational therapist but not doing coding. it’s a whole different world and my comfort zone is a physician-based world. So take my advice with that in mind that I am a little bit bias and I do tend to steer prospective students toward the physician-based world because I feel it is easier to break into than in the hospital.

I also had on the slide AHIMA vs. AAPC comparison grid that I did when I covered this question before, let me see if I can enlarge this a little bit….So, what I have here is different variables and then the AAPC column and the AHIMA column. The first variable is the physician based exam. What is the credential for their physician based exam? So, for the AAPC it is the CPC, certified professional coder exam. For AHIMA, it is certified coding specialist physician based credential. If you are looking for outpatient hospital based exams, for the AAPC, that is going to be your CPCH and for AHIMA, the outpatient aspect is part of their CCS exam. For inpatient hospital base, the AAPC doesn’t have a credential for inpatient. They leave that to the AHIMA folk and this is the lead credential AHIMA for coding is CCS and this is your inpatient and outpatient it’s a comprehensive exam, very difficult in my opinion compared to the others. I think it’s the most difficult. I did want to emphasize that the CPCH – because “H” means hospital, throws a lot of people off, it only means outpatient hospital so be aware of that because I took my CPC first and then I took my CCSP And then I took a CPCH and I really put off taking the CPCH, I was like, “awww I have to do all that inpatient type coding and studying for it then when I took the exam I was like, “wow! This is a lot like the CPC exam”. So the difference between the two, you still need to know all the CPT coding, surgery coding and all of that, are covered in both exams but you do have outpatient reimbursement stuff being asked of you in the CPCH.

Entry level credentials, the AAPC has the CPCA for apprentice and AHIMA has the CCA.

Cost of the exam: AAPC charges $300 and you must be a member. AHIMA charges $299 for members, $399 for non-members so pretty much they are the same. What is different is that the number of exam attempts per fee. AAPC lets you have two whereas AHIMA you only get one shot. So if you don’t pass the first time, you have to pay another $300 to take it again. AAPC gives you two tries which is a good thing because a lot of people need you two tries and if that is your case, its ok.

Format: The AAPC is all multiple choice. it’s 150 multiple choice questions whereas AHIMA has 88 multiple choice questions, 18 are un-scored. If you look at their candidate handbook, they tell you that they actually put in some kind of throw-a-way questions that aren’t even going to get graded, just so you know that and then 8 multiple select, two of which are employed and 13 fill-in-the-blank. Majority of it is multiple choice. And that’s why I teach technique about process of elimination and multiple choice draw out two of the four answers because of them have a lot of multiple choice questions. The AAPC exam is proctored normally through local AAPC chapters so you have to go in-person where AHIMA uses a testing center.

Length: AAPC exam is 5 hours and 40 minutes and AHIMA is 4 hours.

Books allowed: Approved coding manuals only for the AAPC, AHIMA allows you to add a medical dictionary as well.. So hopefully that will help you as a little comparison to AAPC vs. AHIMA credentials.

Related AAPC or AHIMA Certification Content:

aapc or ahima certification

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About the Author:

Laureen Jandroep
CPC, COC, CPPM, CPC-I.,Sr. Instructor for Resides in southern New Jersey with her husband of over 20 years Anthony and four children. They are active parents and spend most of their time these days just being parents which they love.


  1. Melissa Freda April 10, 2013 at 11:26 am - Reply

    Hello, That was a very interesting article. The factor that I would stress to people is that I have found, more jobs want the CCS. Also, if you want to eventually work from home or be a remote coder, I have found that 95% of companies & hospitals want you to be a CCS & have the inpatient experience. That is why I am currently studying right now for my CCS. I enjoy physician coding since I am a CPC & I enjoy the coding I do ( CPT – surgery coding) My experience so far in seeing what other jobs are out there, the CCS is definetly required.

  2. Sheila Moore April 2, 2014 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    I went to school and got a certificate from the school, only to find out that I would then need to be certified by AHIMA. I bought the exam preparation for the CCA because you have to be a CCA before you can be anything else with AHIMA. I studied and studied until I could finally pay for the test and another book, took it and failed. I am currently wanting to take it again, but now I will need two more books, plus pay for the test, a course on ICD 10, and then a membership too. The test is not for people like me, who came from no medical background whatsoever, it’s for people who are already in the field and know all that goes on in a medical office or hospital. It’s very frustrating because I feel like I wasted all this time learning and I won’t be able to use it. I just don’t have the money to keep up with all the stuff.

    • shelia September 15, 2015 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      Hi Sheila, be encouraged. If you are willing to work hard enough, there is a very good chance that you can do this. start with your local library. Get one book on medical terminology. Study it. I worked as an instructor for remington college where I taught medical billing and coding students medical terminology and basic ICD-9 and CPT coding. We always started with medical terminology. Learn about prefixes, suffixes, word roots, and combining forms. Not hard at all. You just have to be willing to turn off the tv and study. make flash cards. buy 50 flash cards for less than 1.00 from your local dollar store. Library medical terminology book from the local library: free. Study. study. then study some more. All free. You can do it. I did. I am sure that if I can do it you can also. A million mile journey begins with one step. take the first step. change the way you think if you are one of those persons who approaches difficult things with a quick,hard and fast approach. Study hard and long for a short period of time (weeks, months) then give up. No, some things that are really valuable require long term comittment. I studied for the CPC, CPC-H, and the CCA with study guides after being out of the field for more than 2 years. It can be done. I learned about ICD-10 on my own, and the truth is I recently attened an ICD-10 class that begin at 9 and ended at 4. I can honestly say that I did not learn one thing that I did not already know. I am very confident, and I do not waste a lot of time whining. So, here is my final advice: Stop focusing on what you do not have: money/ Focus on what you do have: your health and strength, a sound mind, a brain that can learn new things if you work hard enough; a library that provides free medical terminology and coding books; discipline. Stop whining and get busy!!!

  3. Vishal B. Rathod January 21, 2015 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    I want to information about medical coding certificate course.

    Kindly guide me.

    • Laureen
      Laureen January 22, 2015 at 9:08 am - Reply

      Click on the “Help” button to the left and ask to schedule an appointment with me. –Laureen

  4. Vino C. Mody Jr. April 6, 2015 at 11:13 am - Reply

    I enjoyed your article about AHIMA vs. AAPC. I am a CPC. I will try for the AHIMA credentials as well.

  5. ShaNae May 13, 2015 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    hi< I'm getting ready to attend the CPC credential/course the cost is $2500.00 it prepares you for the CPC exam. however I would like to know is this worth the money? and also I want to work from home coding. now I'm wondering should I take a AHMIA course? which I have never seen a course that you can take that will prepare you for the exam. or do you still take the CPC credential course and take the exam for CPC and CCS?

    • Laureen
      Laureen May 14, 2015 at 8:01 am - Reply

      Hi ShaNae,

      I can only speak to the value of our CPC course and of course we feel it is worth it because we provide a lot of bonuses and support. As far as working from home I can give you some direction on that. Schedule a call with me and we can discuss 1:1.

      Schedule 20 Min Consultation –

  6. ShaNaè May 15, 2015 at 9:36 am - Reply

    Ok thank you, I will give you a call.

  7. Sherie May 21, 2015 at 8:42 am - Reply

    I have been interested in getting into the field of medical billing and coding. It has been very frustrating trying to pick the right school. I wanted to know if I wanted to do Medical billing is it best to start with coding first and then go into billing? Also looking at jobs, many require a few years in the field. So how does someone new get his/her foot into the door without the experience but with credentials.

  8. Dawn June 4, 2015 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    I previously purchased the CPT & ICD-9 manuals along with AHIMA’s exam prep to study for the CCA on my own, but feel I need interaction, support & guidance. Based on feedback obtained from the NCRA, who now offers AHIMA’s Coding Basics course, I would only be able to obtain technical support.
    It seems to me that offers the” complete program” geared at training individuals in all the basic requirements to become medical coders: which is exactly what I am looking for.
    You state on your site that this course will prepare one for the AAPC-CPC or AHIMA- CCS-P exam. Do you think that would apply for the AHIMA-CCA exam?

  9. Martha January 13, 2016 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    Hi may name is Martha I have icd-10 certification do i have to take other exam

    • Laureen
      Laureen January 13, 2016 at 10:59 pm - Reply

      Hi Martha – congratulations on passing your ICD 10 certification. What other exam are you referring to? The AAPC proficiency perhaps? If so you only needed to take that if you have a core credential from the AAPC.

  10. Maxine March 17, 2016 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    I had to chuckle at the reply to Sheila last September which said not to worry about the money (costs) involved . You’ve got to be kidding!!! You must be rich or very in debt! Not only do you have the pricey expense of the class, but then you have to buy books every year and spend money for pricey seminars to help you get your CEUs each year. Not every employer covers these expenses. And don’t forget the yearly cost for belonging to AAPC, AHIMA, etc. I’m considering taking the class again, but the money involved scares me…especially since most help wanted ads want experience. What a dilemma.

  11. Jeanne April 11, 2016 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    I have been working for the same Gastroenterologist for 32 years. I am not a certified coder. My boss recently became ill and has retired, unexpectedly. I am in the process of closing his practice. I will soon be looking for another job. With 32 years experience in billing and coding, as well as practice management, would it really benefit me to get my certifications?

    • Laureen
      Laureen April 11, 2016 at 2:18 pm - Reply

      Hi Jeanne,

      Sorry to hear about your situation. Your experience will be valued but most employers want certification as well.

  12. Meg August 17, 2016 at 6:17 pm - Reply

    Help,bout to start school and now I’m scared can this be done for free? Do u have to go to school or am I just paying a xxxx ton of money to do this there. Help

    • Laureen
      Laureen August 17, 2016 at 6:33 pm - Reply

      Hi Meg – we have a lot of free resources but having a course with a systematic program of study is what we recommend to prepare for a career as a medical coder to pass the national certification exam. Why don’t you schedule a call with me and I can go over your options

  13. Tina October 29, 2016 at 1:46 am - Reply

    Hello, I’m currently taking a course in ICD-10cm to upgrade my skills from ICD-9, my question is after 3 years of unemployment and trying to get back into the medical skills do i need these credentials

    • Laureen
      Laureen October 29, 2016 at 5:31 am - Reply

      Hi Tina – most prospective employers want certified coders. I usually reccomend getting the CPC credential first then one more credential in a specialty you’re interested in. Schedule a call with me and we can discuss your specific needs and best path to get to certification. –Laureen

  14. Pamella October 13, 2017 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Hello Lauren,
    I went to a University that offered an Associates degree in HIT/HIM and took the exam to get my RHIT certification after I graduated, in 2013. Shortly after graduating, they switched over to ICD10 so now I need to get trained in that… I am already in debt for 25k…. And now, in order to actually find a job where I can do Coding I have to take yet another course that costs an additional 2000 or more and take another exam that costs another 300? No matter how much money I make doing coding and billing I will be in debt for several years to come! All I want to do is make enough money to support myself and work from home.

    • Laureen
      Laureen October 31, 2017 at 6:08 pm - Reply

      Wow – so sorry to hear that Pamella – unfortunately many are in your shoes. They get put into lots of courses the don’t need in order to do the job of coding and get saddled with debt. You might be able to do well with our ICD-10-CM review videos instead of full course. If you already know ICD-9 these will get you up to speed and the cost is reasonable at $197 as of this reply. Do join our free forum to get other advice from our members too.

  15. Julie October 23, 2017 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    Hello Laureen,

    I am thinking about changing my career of bookkeeping and getting certified for medical billing. Where do you suggest I start?

    Thank you –

  16. Holly E November 20, 2017 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    Hi Laureen,
    I am thinking about breaking into medical coding. I have a business background and would like to find something to supplement income where I am able to eventually work from home.
    I am looking for a career where I can work solo, with only minimum contact with other people via email or text.
    Do you think medical coding would be a good fit for me? I would like to schedule a time we could talk to discuss my goals and the cost of your program.
    I have also been looking into another program. Career Step which is approved by the AHIMA. The reviews were mixed about the quality of the training, so I am still sitting on the fence about enrolling. Where did you get your training? I would probably feel more comfortable working in a hospital setting with more set rules and regulations. I tend to like the structure of rules and procedures that are to followed to the letter.

    • Laureen
      Laureen December 12, 2017 at 2:16 pm - Reply

      It sounds like a remote coding position would be a good fit. I’d check into Risk Adjustment coding to start as you learn one coding system (ICD-10-CM) and later you can add other coding system knowledge (CPT, HCPCS) if you want to get into other specialty areas. Feel free to schedule a call with me or Alicia –Laureen

  17. Stacey Glasser February 27, 2018 at 9:12 pm - Reply

    Hi Laureen, I have a bachelors of science in Biology with an Anatomy & Neurobiology minor (unfortunately it was obtained in 2003). I want to do medical coding, looked into the AAPC course, I liked the fact the books and unlimited tests were included. I don’t have a lot of money to go to a university to get a certificate, as most have suggested that and that is 15K. I looked at your course too, I know ultimately you cannot tell me which to take but I would love your expertise and advice! I come from a family of doctors and my mom did medical billing and coding while I was growing up, but times have changed.
    Thank you for your time

  18. Tracey ODonnell March 9, 2018 at 8:37 pm - Reply


    thank you for this helpful resource, its cleared some confusion up for me. I was wondering if you are still sharing your knowledge and providing guidance via Skype or other chat. I would be interested in making an appointment and need only a few minutes of your expertise.

    My need is guidance on which route to choose. I have 20 years experience as a CMA with icd9 and cpt coding exposure (no icd10). Currently working as a site data collector for chart reviews and would like to attain certification to work remote coding at my present employer. Of course they do have their preference of cert’s for a remote coder position but I’d like to ensure I choose the most diverse choice for future stability.

  19. Carolyn Killings March 17, 2018 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    Hi Laureen my name is Carolyn Killings I graduated from Grantham University with and AAS Medical Coding & Billing and every time I go for and interview I am told that I should be certified with a certificate I took all these’s classes for what just to be put down. I work in a nursing home and I have been here 21 years.What do I need to do to work from home.

    • Jesus
      Jesus March 19, 2018 at 10:32 am - Reply

      We’ve written quite a few blogs and posted various videos about working from home as a remote medical coder. Click here to see them all.

      Regarding the CPC Certification: Yes, some employers do request it. Passing the CPC Certification may suggest that a potential employee has the ability to…

      1. Work under pressure: The CPC exam has 150 questions that must be completed within 5 hours, 40 minutes. If a test-taker can complete this test, it’s a good indication they can handle work pressure well.
      2. Code Accurately: Regarding the point above, if the test-taker can also pass, it indicates they have relatively reliable accuracy and are a good potential candidate.
      3. Up To Date: The CPC Exam is updated every year and passing it suggests the candidate it relatively up to date with coding guidelines

      All of these qualities are important to healthcare companies so they use the CPC Exam as a way of filtering out candidates. Naturally, some companies are willing to set aside the CPC certification based on past medical coding work history. If you need additional help, please reach out to the help desk at

  20. Tita S. August 13, 2018 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    Hi Lauren,

    I am almost finished with my medical coding and billing course. Finally, after over a year of studying hard, before I leave for work and sometimes after I get home from work. Through the program I am currently taking, I have to take the CCA exam through AHIMA (free with the program) or take the CPC exam through AAPC (I have to pay for it). I would like to take the CCA but I am confused which Blitz bundle I should buy since you don’t have a review bundle specifically for CCA.

    Reading through multiple reviews, I think it is best to invest in the BHAT method (which is included in the Blitz bundle). I work full time with 2 mortgages to pay so I have to make sure I am investing my money wisely.

    I have been listening to your you-tube (on way to work and on way home from work) and learned a lot—Thank you for all your hard work!

    Tita S.

  21. Tita S August 14, 2018 at 1:39 am - Reply

    Thank you!

  22. Mary K November 30, 2018 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    Hello Lauren. Wondering where I should start with coding. I worked in Quality with healthplan- should I get the CPC and then the MRA or could I do just the MRA? I donot have a background in coding- only been exposed to codes and know few of them.

    • Jesus
      Jesus December 1, 2018 at 1:39 pm - Reply

      I asked Alicia about this and she said: “I would suggest you focus on the CPC credential first and this is why. No matter which area you enter having this knowledge is a base to work from. You will be dealing with coders and non-coders. Research and being able to speak with authority comes from having this in your background. There are so many changing happening in the next few years that you want to be able to build yourself up as a leader with the MRA. Also, there are more job opportunities with the coding credential under your belt.”

  23. Jennifer Quimby December 27, 2018 at 11:19 am - Reply

    I just Graduated from Bryant Stratton College with an associates in Medical Billing and Coding. I am now lost. I have inquired so many times about which certification I need to start with. Does anyone have any advice.

  24. Juanita Robinson December 27, 2018 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    Hello, I am a RN with 28 yrs of inpatient experience i am very interested in the Clinical Documentation Improvement certification what would I need to do to obtain this Thank you

    • Jesus
      Jesus January 4, 2019 at 12:57 pm - Reply

      We do not offer a course for this certification at this time. We recommend contacting the AAPC for assistance.

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