shutterstock 336098849If you have a background in business or accounting, you might be thinking about making a career change to become a CPA.

One of the most common questions about CPA requirements is whether or not different states have different rules for becoming a CPA.

Furthermore, you might wonder what the exam requirements are to become a CPA

The short answer is yes, there are some differences depending on the state. But there are many similarities from state to state as well.

Let’s explore these CPA requirements and exam requirements in more detail so you can start your pursuit of a career as a CPA off on the right foot.

What are the Basic CPA Requirements?

The Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA) is a licensing law that standardized the regulation of CPAs. Moreover, it helps protect consumers by regulating public accounting services.

According to the UAA, each state’s licensing board must work within the same general framework, which is often called the “Three Es”:

  • Education
  • Exam
  • Experience

Note that these CPA requirements cover the broad details. Individual state licensing boards have further requirements that may vary greatly from one state to the next.

As far as the Three Es go, people that apply for a CPA license must:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree with at least 150 semester hours of education
  • Get a passing score on the Uniform CPA Exam
  • Have job supervised job experience (typically at least one year)

This is a good framework from which to begin to assess what you need to do to become a CPA. But it’s also necessary to examine the differences in state-level requirements, that way you know what you need to do to satisfy licensure requirements in the state in which you intend to work.

What are the Different Rules for Becoming a CPA?

As noted above, the supervision component of the Three Es does have some variation.

In most cases, applicants must have at least one year of supervised work experience to be eligible for licensure. In some states, though, the time requirement is more. In others, it’s less.

But this isn’t the only state-by-state difference. The education requirements also vary from one state to the next.

The primary difference here is how many credit hours are needed in the core subjects of accounting, business, law, and ethics.

For example, to be eligible for licensure in Colorado, one must have 150 non-duplicative semester hours of coursework with at least 33 semester hours of accounting courses, not including introductory-level classes. Twenty-seven semester hours must cover common topics like those listed above.

In New York, applicants that did not get their degree from a qualified registered in-state accounting program must have a bachelor’s degree, 150 credit hours of coursework, and at least 33 credit hours of accounting coursework. Applicants must also complete 36 credit hours of general business electives.

So, as you can see, there is a lot of similarity in these requirements for Colorado and New York, but there are subtle differences that make getting licensed in each state a slightly different process.

Additionally, states have different exam requirements for taking the Uniform CPA Exam.

For example, in some states, like Arizona and Connecticut, applicants are permitted to take the exam after graduating with their bachelor’s degree. However, the more common practice is for applicants to complete an additional 30 semester credit hour requirement to meet the 150 credit hour threshold before sitting for the exam.

Furthermore, some states – Tennessee and California as just two examples – require applicants to take an ethics exam in addition to the Uniform CPA Exam. These ethics exams might be devised by the state itself, as is the case in California, or they might be the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ Comprehensive Course ethics exam, as is the case in Tennessee.

Additional CPA Requirements

Beyond the differences from state to state with the Three Es, there are additional CPA requirements you might have to meet to become a CPA in a particular state.

Some states, like Alabama and Hawaii, require that CPAs must be a citizen of the United States. Others, like Idaho and Arkansas, do not.

Another common CPA requirement is age. Many states set the age restriction at a minimum of 18 or 19 years old while others require CPAs to be at least 21. Many other states have no such age requirement.

A handful of states – Kansas, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C., to name a few – have a residency requirement as well. However, it is far more common for states to not have this CPA requirement.

To become a CPA in the vast majority of states and territories, you must have a valid Social Security number. In fact, the only states and territories that do not have this requirement are Illinois, Montana, the Northern Mariana Islands, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

CPA Requirements and Exam Requirements Review

To recap, some broad rules apply to all 55 CPA districts.

First, you must be licensed as a CPA in the state or territory in which you practice. To become licensed, you must have documented work experience under the supervision of a CPA. You must also pass the Uniform CPA Exam.

To sit for the exam, you must have a bachelor’s degree at the very least. But as we’ve discussed, the requirements you must meet to sit for the exam vary from state to state.

The primary differences in CPA requirements from one state to the next come in the “small” details – the number of credit hours of education you have, the years of experience you have in supervision, and the exam requirements you must meet to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam.

If you’re interested in becoming a CPA, your first step should be to visit the website of your state’s licensing board or calling the licensing board to inquire about the specific requirements in your state or the state in which you wish to practice.

Once you’re educated about the benchmarks you must fulfill, then you can set about getting your CPA and enjoying a rewarding career.

DQ Staff

February 2020

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