Regardless of the jurisdiction (state, territory) in which a CPA is licensed, continuing professional education is an ongoing part of professional development and a requirement for license renewal. According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), continuing professional education (CPE) is required as a way to ensure CPAs provide quality professional services while maintaining their professional competence.
In order to maintain their licenses, CPAs must ensure they obey all pertinent CPE requirements set by the board of accountancy specific to the state in which they are licensed. Further, CPAs must ensure they meet the CPE requirements of membership associations and other professional organizations they belong to.
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CPA Continuing Professional Education Standards
The Boards of Directors for the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and the AICPA have created and maintained a Statement on Standards for Continuing Professional Education Programs, which serves as a framework for the presentation, development, reporting, and measurements of CPE programs throughout the United States.
To ensure that the Standards are current and accurate, in 2010 NASBA and the AICPA developed a task force designed to review, analyze, and implement suggestions and changes to the Standards. The task force is comprised of CPE Advisory Committee members, CPE program sponsors, educators, and state board of accountancy members. As a result, new Standards were created in 2011 and approved by both the AICPA and NASBA in 2012.
The Standards include the following:
General Guidelines for CPAs
Professional Competence: CPAs should partake in activities that improve or maintain professional competence. Learning activities should address a CPA’s professional plans, their skill level, and their current knowledge.
Compliance: CPAs must comply with all appropriate CPE requirements, which include the requirements, rules, and regulations of their state licensing body, membership associations, professional organizations, and governmental entities.
CPE Credits Record Documentation: CPAs must accurately report the number of CPE credits earned and must retain the information for appropriate documentation.
Reporting CPE Credits: CPAs can only claim credit for activities in which they maintained or improved their professional competence.
Independent Study: CPAs may engage in independent study under the direction of a CPE program sponsor who has met the applicable standards for CPE program sponsors.
Meeting CPE Requirements for CPA License Renewal
Each jurisdiction sets its own standards regarding CPE requirements for CPAs. Therefore, it is in the best interest of CPAs to study their jurisdiction’s requirements closely to ensure they successfully meet CPE requirements for renewal.
Although CPAs must meet the specific CPE requirements of their state accountancy board, there are a few things common among jurisdictions:
- Continuing education is due on the license renewal date
- Continuing education must contribute to a licensee’s professional competence
- CPAs must conform to NASBA/AICPA CPE standards, which include keeping appropriate documentation for CPE verification purposes
Specific requirements among jurisdictions, however, vary.
- CPAs in Ohio must complete at least 120 CPE credits over a three-year period, with the exception of new CPAs, who are required to report 40 credits over a two-year period. CPAs working on financial reporting must earn at least 24 CPE credits in accounting or auditing, while CPAs working on taxation engagements or those who provide tax advice to clients must earn 24 CPE credits in taxation. All CPAs must earn at least 3 credits in professional standards and responsibilities each reporting period.
- CPAs in Massachusetts are responsible for completing at least 80 hours of CPE credits every two years, which includes the completion of at least 4 CPE hours in professional ethics.
- CPAs in Tennessee must complete at least 80 approved CPE hours every two years, with a minimum of 20 hours each year. Of those 80 hours, at least 40 hours must be in technical subjects. CPAs must also complete at least 2 hours of state-specific ethics courses during every two-year licensing period.
- CPAs in Pennsylvania must complete at least 80 hours of CPE programs approved by the Board every two years, with at least 20 hours taken each year. Within the 80-hour requirement, CPAs must complete at least 16 CPE hours in accounting and attestation; 8 hours in tax; and 4 hours in ethics.
AICPA CPE Requirements
In addition to their jurisdiction’s specific CPE requirements, AICPA members must also meet CPE requirements, which include completing at least 120 CPE requirements during the three-year reporting period.
The reporting period begins the calendar year after joining the AICPA. Qualifying programs are formally structured and contribute to the member’s professional competence. No specific subject areas are required; therefore, examples of qualifying programs may include university classes, trade association conferences, and in-house training courses.