The CPA license requirements consist of a handful of tasks that you must complete to become a licensed practicing professional.
Many think that merely passing the CPA exam can get you a CPA license. False. Although qualifying and preparing for and then passing the CPA exam are arguably the most challenging parts of the process, passing the exam is the first step in obtaining the actual CPA license.
There are three CPA license requirements that I will discuss in this article, the exam itself, professional work requirements as well as the lingering ethics exam.
Passing the Prometric CPA Exam
Needless to say that you must pass the CPA exam if you want to become a CPA. Becoming eligible to take the CPA exam, preparing for the actual exam, taking it and then passing it is perhaps the most challenging, but rewarding part of the process of becoming a CPA. I say rewarding because most everything else will feel like cakewalk after the exam.
Once one passes the exam, they are already a CPA in their own minds, and maybe rightfully so? After all, you are the best CPA you can be the day immediately before, and the day immediately after the exam. Trust me. I will likely fail the CPA exam if I were to take it today without much preparation.
The exam used to be offered in fixed periodic increments back when it was a pen and paper exam. However, with the new Prometric CPA exam the exam is now offered up to six days each week from January, February, April, May, July, August, October and November. Don't ask why they have it spread out like this.
Each two month period is referred to as a "window" where you schedule testing appointments during the window to take a particular part(s) of the exam. You may begin scheduling tests as soon as you receive your "Notice to Schedule" (NTS), which is issued by your State Board of Accountancy once they determine you are eligible to take the CPA exam.
Passing the exam is just one of the CPA license requirements. Let's have a look at a couple others below.
Professional Work Requirements
One of the CPA license requirements is also to accumulate a certain number of profession related working hours. After passing the exam, you typically need to send a form to your State Board of Accountancy indicating that you have completed at least 2,000 of relevant work under the supervision of another active CPA. The supervising CPA must sign the form and provide their CPA number on it.
Your work experience doesn't have to come after you pass the exam. Many professionals already have the necessary work experience before they take and pass the exam. I know I did. However, you must fill out and submit the form or you will not be granted your CPA license.
The CPA Ethics Exam
I won't go into why we have the CPA Ethics exam in place to begin with. Just pick up any accounting journal or publication and you will see the role ethics plays in our profession. The ethics exam is another one of the CPA license requirements, and one that is not nearly as challenging to prepare for and pass as the CPA exam, but equally as important. I believe all States today require that you pass the CPA Ethics Exam before you are granted the CPA license.
You may take the Ethics exam anytime after you pass the CPA exam. Unlike the Prometric CPA exam, you do not have to go to a testing center to take the Ethics exam. This is one that you can order and take online up to a year from the time you ordered it.
When you order the ethics exam, you are also provided with a CPA course to help you prepare for it. You need a 90% to pass the exam (out of 40 total questions). Although this is steeper than the 75% required to pass the CPA exam, the ethics exam is much easier to pass.
Concluding Thoughts on the CPA License Requirements
To clarify, merely passing the CPA exam doesn't give you the CPA title. Nor does it allow you to professionally sign on relevant documents such as an audit opinion or someone's personal tax returns. Passing the exam is the first step to meeting the CPA license requirements.
Understanding these requirements is important, and now that you have hopefully understood them, go out and execute them and earn your CPA title.
Curt Matsen, CPA is the author of The CPA Requirements Headquarters, a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about becoming a CPA, including the exam requirements, licensing requirements, the prometric CPA exam and the CPA ethics exam.
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