CPA License Requirements

Sep 10, 2019

Most CPAs are required to have at least an undergraduate degree in accounting or business. Many of these bachelor's degree programs prepare CPAs for the uniform CPA licensing exam after graduation. Optional certifications for CPAs are also available for those wishing to improve their job possibilities.

Essential Information

A CPA may work for a public or private accounting firm. Common duties include preparing, analyzing and verifying financial documents for clients. CPAs must be licensed in the state where they wish to practice, qualifying through education and an examination. A CPA license, also referred to as certification in some states, denotes competency in the field and ensures that professional standards have been met. Continuing education is needed to maintain the CPA credential.

Required Education Most states call for 150 semester hours of business and accounting courses for initial licensure; continuing education courses usually required for renewal
Required Experience General accounting experience under the supervision of a licensed CPA
Examinations Uniform CPA Examination; ethics examination required in some states
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 6% (for all accountants and auditors)
Median Salary (2018)* $70,500 (for all accountants and auditors)

Sources: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

CPA License Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants who file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are required to hold a CPA license. The State Board of Accountancy where a candidate plans to practice confers this license once the candidate has met all requirements. Most states require aspiring CPAs to compete 150 semester-hours of business and accounting courses, and then acquire general accounting experience under the supervision of a licensed CPA. Sample courses include cost accounting, advanced taxation, economic analysis, accounting theory and federal income tax accounting. Ethics education is at the forefront of CPA license requirements, and many states require candidates to pass an ethics exam.

All states also require individuals to pass the Uniform CPA Examination administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). This 4-part exam covers financial accounting and reporting, business environment and concepts, auditing and attestation, and regulation.

Licensure Renewal

Requirements for renewing a CPA license vary by state, and may be required annually or every three years. Renewal candidates typically must complete 120 hours of continuing professional education within a specified timeframe. Sample courses include computerized accounting, internal auditing, forensic accounting, payroll administration and not-for-profit accounting.

Education Requirements

Most CPA jobs require applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree in business or accounting; some require a master's degree. College degree programs prepare individuals to take the Uniform CPA Examination, which enables those who pass to seek licensure or certification. By demonstrating knowledge of both accounting principles and business topics, CPAs are able to increase employment and advancement opportunities. Optional accountant certifications include the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) - conferred by the Institute of Management Accountants - and the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) from the Institute of Internal Auditors.

A CPA's education and work experience are their foundation for pursuing a CPA license. A license is obtained from the State Board of Accountancy once a CPA has passed a core exam and, in many cases, an ethics exam as well.

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