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What Are the Requirements for Becoming a Licensed CPA?

written by: Sylvia Cochran•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 7/26/2011

Becoming a certified public accountant is only the first step in achieving the profession’s highest credential. Fulfilling state-specific CPA license requirements is the second. What do you have to do to add licensure to your resume?

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    Education matters

    “Hipoteca The Bureau of Labor Statistics explains that a CPA candidate presents with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting or business administration (with an emphasis in accounting). The next step is hands-on training as a junior accountant or bookkeeper. A seasoned accountant will evaluate the trainee’s aptitude and correct any deviations from established accounting practices.

    When the professional desires to obtain the position of a senior accountant -- or wants to take on a career with a Security and Exchange Commission-registered company -- it is imperative to earn the CPA designation. Data from 2009 supports the finding that the majority of states -- except Vermont, New Hampshire, California and Colorado -- require a minimum of “150 semester hours of college coursework"-- an additional 30 hours beyond the usual four-year bachelor's degree" to become a CPA candidate.

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    Steps to Licensure

    Once the professional has met the basic educational requirements, tackling the licensure track takes a bit of finesse. Choose the state of licensure with care. The state where the professional will take the CPA exam determines the requirements for the designation. There are subtle differences -- frequently with respect to the makeup of the previously mentioned 150 semester hours of coursework. For example:

    California: The candidate must provide the licensing board with a valid social security number and pass the Professional Ethics for CPAs (PETH) exam. The candidate must further file a criminal conviction disclosure form that includes expunged records and submit to live scan fingerprinting.

    Florida: Florida CPA candidates are required to pass each of the four examination aspects within 18 months; the cumulative score must be 75 percent. The candidate must show at least one year of work experience in the field of accountancy while under the direct supervision of an already licensed CPA. With respect to education, 36 semester hours -- of the aforementioned 150 -- must involve auditing, taxation, cost/managerial accounting, financial coursework and information systems. Six semester hours must cover business law.

    Guam: The Board of Accountancy specifies that candidates for licensure do not have to have passed the CPA exam in its jurisdiction. However, to qualify for a Guam-issued license to practice accountancy, the candidate must either show a track-record 4,000 hours of hands-on professional experience or one year’s worth of experience and 150 education hours. The time-frame for showing this experience must be more than one year but less than five.

    Illinois: The State of Illinois sets a one-year work experience record as one prerequisite for the receipt of a professional license. It is interesting to note that the Illinois Board of Examiners administers the CPA examination, yet it is the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation that governs the issuance of the practice license and the registration license.

    Texas: Licensure requirements in Texas enumerate the need for “good moral character." Of the 150 semester hours, 30 must include accounting courses of an upper-level nature. A board-approved three-semester-hour ethics course is another requirement.

    The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy offers direct links to the various states’ examination and licensure requirements. Once these prerequisites are met, the candidate will sit for the uniform CPA examination in the state of choice. Upon passing the exam -- once again, there are state-specific requirements for a minimum score or time frame -- the professional applies for the license in the state where she plans to practice.

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    Next Steps: Certifications

    It is interesting to note that while the CPA designation is the highest professional license an accountant can achieve -- there are several organizational certifications that go beyond the exam. Although they are not required to legally practice as a certified public accountant, earning one or more of these certifications sets apart one professional from another.

    Examples include the certified management accountant (CMA) certification that the Institute of Management Accountants offers to suitable candidates; there is also the certified internal auditor (CIA) designation from the Institute of Internal Auditors. In states -- or within professional specializations where competition is fierce -- these optional certifications are a must-have after a state license.

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    Research CPA license requirements with great care! Best practices would suggest that doing so before going too far with the education is a good idea. This eliminates the possibility of wasted educational funds for courses that do not actually meet the state-specific requirements of the locale where the future professional wants to practice. The initial research also enables a candidate to locate the most candidate-friendly requirements for licensure, which can make it easier to qualify for this professional accreditation in the first place.

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    Sources

    • Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos001.htm
    • California Board of Accountancy, http://www.dca.ca.gov/cba/faqs/faqlic.shtml#lic
    • Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation, http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/cpa/licensure.html
    • Guam Board of Accountancy, http://www.guamboa.org/pdf/GU_InitCert.pdf
    • Illinois Board of Examiners, http://www.ilboa.org/cpa-designation
    • Texas State Board of Public Accountancy, http://www.tsbpa.state.tx.us/exam-qualification/examination-requirements.html
    • National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, http://www.nasba.org/exams/cpaexam/
    • Image Credit: “Hipoteca" by Albian19/Wikimedia Commons via GNU Free Documentation License