As an accounting student in college or a young professional working in an accounting firm, you may want to learn more about your options for taking your accounting career to the next level. And, you might also want to know how to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), the gold standard certificate in the accounting profession that provides accountants with a diverse range of career path options. Below are the steps to take if you are ready to work towards becoming a CPA in 2021.
While specific requirements to become a CPA differ across state lines, applicants typically need at least 150 postsecondary credits, which means you should have a bachelor’s degree with extra hours or obtain a master’s degree. If you live in a state where CPA applicants need 120 credits, you need only a bachelor’s degree. It’s fine if you don’t have a degree in finance or accounting, but you must at least minor in accounting or have at least 24 credits in accounting or a related focus. In some states, those who don’t have a degree in accounting can qualify to become a CPA with adequate experience in the field. Furthermore, some CPA candidates need experience working with a CPA.
Did you recently move to a new state? If so, you would need to wait until you pass the six-month mark in your current location before applying to become a CPA in that state. Check your state’s latest requirements to know for sure. On a related note, you may live in a state where CPA candidates must have U.S. citizenship. If so, you must provide your state licensing board and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) with your Social Security Number.
The CPA exam comprises four sections: Auditing and Attestation, Business Environment and Concepts, Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Regulation. The CPA Exam is a computer-based exam consisting of simulations, multiple-choice questions, and written communication questions. You don’t have to pass all parts of the exam at once. That said, most states require candidates to pass the entire exam within 18 months of passing their first section of the exam. In order to pass, you must achieve a score of 75 or higher on each section of the CPA Exam.
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Even after you earn your license and become a CPA, you must complete continuing education requirements to maintain your licensure. Usually, CPAs must complete 40 hours of continuing education every year. Types of continuing education include classroom learning, computer-based learning, and group learning. Whichever course type you must complete maintaining your license depends on your geographic location. Besides standard continuing education hours, you may also need to complete CPA compliance and ethics education. Make sure you check with your state board of Accountancy for the specific CPA requirements necessary in your state.
You don’t have to stop at becoming a CPA. If you prefer, you can work toward a special industry designation or certification, such as Accredited in Business Valuation, Certified Information Technology Professional, Certified Financial Forensics, and Personal Financial Specialist. For each area of expertise, you need continuing education and relevant experience, and you must pass an exam.