Certified Public Accountant

Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is the title of qualified accountants in numerous countries in the English-speaking world. In the United States, the CPA is a license to provide accounting services to the public. It is awarded by each of the 50 states for practice in that state. Additionally, almost every state (49 out of 50) has passed mobility laws to allow CPAs from other states to practice in their state. State licensing requirements vary, but the minimum standard requirements include passing the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination, 150 semester units of college education, and one year of accounting related experience.

Continuing professional education (CPE) is also required to maintain licensure. Individuals who have been awarded the CPA but have lapsed in the fulfillment of the required CPE or who have requested conversion to inactive status are in many states permitted to use the designation "CPA Inactive" or an equivalent phrase. In most U.S. states, only CPAs are legally able to provide attestation (including auditing) opinions on financial statements. Many CPAs are members of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and their state CPA society.

State laws vary widely regarding whether a non-CPA is even allowed to use the title "accountant." For example, Texas prohibits the use of the designations "accountant" and "auditor" by a person not certified as a Texas CPA, unless that person is a CPA in another state, is a non-resident of Texas, and otherwise meets the requirements for practice in Texas by out-of-state CPA firms and practitioners.[1]

Many other countries also use the title CPA to designate local public accountants.

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
Qualified accountants
IndustryAccounting and finance
FoundedUnited States
HeadquartersUnited States

Services provided

One important function performed by CPAs relates to assurance services. The most commonly performed assurance services are financial audit services where CPAs attest to the reasonableness of disclosures, the freedom from material misstatement, and the adherence to the applicable generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in financial statements. CPAs can also be employed within corporations (termed "the private sector" or "industry") in finance or operations positions such as financial analyst, finance manager, controller, chief financial officer (CFO), or chief executive officer (CEO). These CPAs do not provide services directly to the public.

Although some CPA firms serve as business consultants, the consulting role has been under scrutiny following the Enron scandal where Arthur Andersen simultaneously provided audit and consulting services which affected its ability to maintain independence in its audit duties. This incident resulted in many accounting firms divesting their consulting divisions, but this trend has since reversed. In audit engagements, CPAs are (and have always been) required by professional standards and Federal and State laws to maintain independence (both in fact and in appearance) from the entity for which they are conducting an attestation (audit and review) engagement. Although most individual CPAs who work as consultants do not also work as auditors, if the CPA firm is auditing the same company that the firm also does consulting work for, then there is a conflict of interest. This conflict voids the CPA firm's independence for multiple reasons, including: (1) the CPA firm would be auditing its own work or the work the firm suggested, and (2) the CPA firm may be pressured into unduly giving a positive (unmodified) audit opinion so as not to jeopardize the consulting revenue the firm receives from the client.

CPAs also have a niche within the income tax return preparation industry. Many small to mid-sized firms have both a tax and an auditing department. Along with attorneys and Enrolled Agents, CPAs may represent taxpayers in matters before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Although the IRS regulates the practice of tax representation, it has no authority to regulate tax return preparers.[2]

Many states also allow unlicensed accountants to work as public accountants. For example, California allows unlicensed accountants to work as public accountants if they work under the control and supervision of a CPA.[3] However, the California Board of Accountancy itself has determined that the terms "accountant" and "accounting" are misleading to members of the public, many of whom believe that a person who uses these terms must be licensed. As part of the California Poll, survey research showed that 55 percent of Californians believe that a person who advertises as an "accountant" must be licensed, 26 percent did not believe a license was required, and 19 percent did not know.[4]

Whether providing services directly to the public or employed by corporations or associations, CPAs can operate in virtually any area of finance including:

CPA exam

To become a CPA in the United States, the candidate must sit for and pass the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination (Uniform CPA Exam), which is set by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and administered by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). The CPA designation was first established in law in New York State on April 17, 1896.[5]

Eligibility to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam is determined by individual state boards of accountancy. Many states have adopted what is known as the "150 hour rule" (150 college semester units or the equivalent), which usually requires an additional year of education past a regular 4 year college degree, or a master's degree. Some universities offer a 5-year combined bachelor's/master's degree program, allowing a student to earn both degrees while receiving the 150 hours needed for exam eligibility.

The Uniform CPA Exam tests general principles of state law such as the laws of contracts and agency (questions not tailored to the variances of any particular state) and some federal laws as well.[6]

Other licensing and certification requirements

Although the CPA exam is uniform, licensing and certification requirements are imposed separately by each state's laws and therefore vary from state to state.

State requirements for the CPA qualification can be summed up as the Three Es—Education, Examination and Experience. The education requirement normally must be fulfilled as part of the eligibility criteria to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam. The examination component is the Uniform CPA Exam itself. Some states have a two-tier system whereby an individual would first become certified—usually by passing the Uniform CPA Exam. That individual would then later be eligible to be licensed once a certain amount of work experience is accomplished. Other states have a one-tier system whereby an individual would be certified and licensed at the same time when both the CPA exam is passed and the work experience requirement has been met.

Two-tier states include Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Montana, and Nebraska. The trend is for two-tier states to gradually move towards a one-tier system. Since 2002, the state boards of accountancy in Washington and South Dakota have ceased issuing CPA "certificates" and instead issue CPA "licenses." Illinois planned to follow suit in 2012.[7]

A number of states are two-tiered, but require work experience for the CPA certificate, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Work experience requirement

The experience component varies from state to state:

  • The two-tier states generally do not require that the individual have work experience to receive a CPA certificate. (Work experience is required, however, to receive a license to practice.)
  • Some states, such as Massachusetts, waive the work experience requirement for those with a higher academic qualification compared to the state's requirement to appear for the Uniform CPA.
  • The majority of states still require work experience to be of a public accounting nature, namely two years audit or tax experience, or a combination of both. An increasing number of states, however, including Oregon, Virginia, Georgia and Kentucky, accept experience of a more general nature in the accounting area. In Texas, only one year of experience in accounting under the supervision of a CPA is required; such experience does not have to be in public accounting. This allows persons to obtain the CPA designation while working for a corporation's finance function.
  • The majority of states require an applicant's work experience to be verified by someone who is already licensed as a CPA. This requirement can cause difficulties for applicants based outside the United States. However, some states such as Colorado and Oregon also accept work experience certified by a Chartered Accountant.


Over 40 of the state boards now require applicants for CPA status to complete a special examination on ethics, which is effectively a fifth exam in terms of requirements to become a CPA. The majority of these accept the AICPA self-study Professional Ethics for CPAs CPE course or another course in general professional ethics. Many states, however, require that the ethics course include a review of that state's specific rules for professional practice.

Continuing professional education

Like other professionals, CPAs are required to take continuing education courses toward continuing professional development (continuing professional education [CPE]) to renew their license. Requirements vary by state (Wisconsin does not require any CPE for CPAs[8][9]) but the vast majority require an average of 40 hours of CPE every year with a minimum of 20 hours per calendar year. The requirement can be fulfilled through attending live seminars, webcast seminars, or through self-study (textbooks, videos, online courses, all of which require a test to receive credit).[10] In general, state boards accept group live and group internet-based credits for all credit requirements, while some states cap the number of credits obtained through the self-study format. All CPAs are encouraged to periodically review their state requirements.[11] As part of the CPE requirement, most states require their CPAs to take an ethics course at some frequency (such as every or every other renewal period). Ethics requirements vary by state and the courses range from 2–8 hours. AICPA guidelines (which are adopted by many state boards) grant licensees 1 hour of CPE credit for every 50 minutes of instruction.[12][13]

Loss of licensure

A CPA license may be suspended or revoked for various reasons. Common reasons include these:

  • Allowing the license to lapse without renewing in a timely manner.
  • Performing attestation services under an unlicensed/unregistered CPA firm or under a CPA firm permit which has expired.
  • Continuing to hold out as an active CPA on an expired license, which includes continued use of the CPA title on business cards, letterhead, office signage, correspondence, etc. after the license has expired.
  • Using fraud or deceit in obtaining or renewing the CPA license, the most common occurrence being misrepresenting or falsifying compliance with or completion of the continuing education requirements as a condition for renewal.
  • "Discreditable acts", which can include 1) failure to follow applicable standards (such as auditing standards when examining financial statements, or tax code when preparing tax returns) or 2) violation of felony or serious misdemeanor criminal laws (which may or not be related to the practice of accountancy; a notable example of a CPA whose license was revoked for non-financial related criminal activity is John Battaglia, convicted of the capital murders of his children)[14]

Other accounting designations sometimes confused with CPA

Many states had (although a few still do) a second tier of accountant qualification in addition to that of CPA, usually entitled "Public Accountant" or "Licensed Public Accountant" (with designatory letters "PA" or "LPA"), although other titles have included "Registered Public Accountant" (RPA), "Accounting Practitioner" (AP), and "Registered Accounting Practitioner" (RAP). Such designations served to help regulate the practice of public accounting in that state by grandfathering through licensure non-CPA accountants who were already practicing public accounting before a regulatory state accountancy law was enacted. The majority of states have closed the designation "Public Accountant" (PA) to new entrants, with only five states continuing to offer the designation. Many PAs belong to the National Society of Accountants.

Many states prohibit the use of the designations "Public Accountant" or "Licensed Public Accountant" (or the abbreviations "PA" or "LPA") by a person who is not certified as a PA in that state.

In Australia the designation "Public Accountant" is used by members of the Institute of Public Accountants of Australia.

Practice mobility

An accountant is required to meet the legal requirements of any state in which the accountant wishes to practice.

In recent years, practice mobility for CPAs has become a major business concern for CPAs and their clients. Practice mobility for CPAs is the general ability of a licensee in good standing from a substantially equivalent state to gain practice privilege outside of their home state without getting an additional license in the state where the CPA will serve a client or an employer. In today's digital age, many organizations requiring the professional services of CPAs conduct business on an interstate and international basis and have compliance responsibilities in multiple jurisdictions. As a result, the practice of CPAs often extends across state lines and international boundaries.[15]

Differing requirements for CPA certification, reciprocity, temporary practice and other aspects of state accountancy legislation in the 55 U.S. licensing jurisdictions (the 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) make the interstate practice and mobility of CPAs more complicated. By removing boundaries to practice in the U.S., CPAs are able to more readily serve individuals and businesses in need of their expertise. At the same time, the state board of accountancy's ability to discipline is enhanced by being based on a CPA and the CPA firm's performance of services (either physically, electronically or otherwise within a state), rather than being based on whether a state license is held.[15]

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) have analyzed the current system for gaining practice privileges across state lines and have endorsed a uniform mobility system. This model approach is detailed through the substantial equivalency provision (Section 23) of the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA). The UAA is an "evergreen" model licensing law co-developed, maintained, reviewed and updated by the AICPA and NASBA. The model provides a uniform approach to regulation of the accounting profession.[15]

Under Section 23 of the UAA, a CPA with a license in good standing from a jurisdiction with CPA licensing requirements essentially equivalent to those outlined in the UAA is deemed to be “substantially equivalent,” or a licensee who individually meets the requirements of:

  • Obtaining 150 credit hours (150 college semester units or the equivalent) with a baccalaureate degree
  • Minimum one year of CPA experience
  • Passing the Uniform CPA Examination

Uniform adoption of the UAA's substantial equivalency provision creates a system similar to the nation's driver's license program by providing CPAs with mobility while retaining and strengthening state boards’ ability to protect the public interest. The system enables consumers to receive timely services from the CPA best suited to the job, regardless of location, and without the hindrances of unnecessary filings, forms and increased costs that do not protect the public interest.[15]

As of October 2012, a total of 49 out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have passed mobility laws and are now in the implementation and navigation phases.[16] Only the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Guam have not passed mobility laws. On September 20, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that permits cross-border mobility for CPAs. The law went into effect July 1, 2013.[17] The District of Columbia passed mobility laws that went into effect on October 1, 2012.[18]

AICPA membership

The CPA designation is granted by individual state boards, not the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Membership in the AICPA is not obligatory for CPAs, although some CPAs do join. To become a full member of AICPA, the applicant must hold a valid CPA certificate or license from at least one of the fifty-five U.S. state/territory boards of accountancy; some additional requirements apply.

AICPA members approved a proposed bylaw amendment to make eligible for voting membership individuals who previously held a CPA[19] certificate/license or have met all the requirements for CPA certification in accordance with the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA). The AICPA announced its plan to accept applications from individuals meeting these criteria, beginning no later than January 1, 2011.

State CPA association membership

CPAs may also choose to become members of their local state association or society (also optional). Benefits of membership in a state CPA association range from deep discounts on seminars that qualify for continuing education credits to protecting the public and profession's interests by tracking and lobbying legislative issues that affect local state tax and financial planning issues.

CPAs who maintain state CPA society memberships are required to follow a society professional code of conduct (in addition to any code enforced by the state regulatory authority), further reassuring clients that the CPA is an ethical business professional conducting a legitimate business who can be trusted to handle confidential personal and business financial matters. State CPA associations also serve the community by providing information and resources about the CPA profession and welcome inquiries from students, business professionals and the public-at-large.

CPAs are not normally restricted to membership in the state CPA society in which they reside or hold a license or certificate. Many CPAs who live near state borders or who hold CPA status in more than one state may join more than one state CPA society.

State Associations

See also


  1. ^ "Texas OC. Code Ann. Sec. 901.453". Codes.lp.findlaw.com. Retrieved 2011-11-26.
  2. ^ Loving v. IRS (US Court of Appeals, for the District of Columbia 2014). Text
  3. ^ "Cal Bus. & Prof. Code Section 5053". Missing or empty |url= (help)
  4. ^ Moore v. California State Board of Accountancy, 2 Cal.4th 999 (1992).
  5. ^ Flesher, D.L.; Previts, G.J. & Flesher, T.K. "Profiling the New Industrial Professionals: The First CPAs of 1896–97" (PDF). Business & Economic History, volume 25, 1996. Retrieved 2013-10-18.
  6. ^ "See generally Uniform CPA Examination: Examination Content Specifications, American Inst. of Certified Public Accountants, p. 11-12 (orig. issued June 14, 2002; references updated October 19, 2005)" (PDF). Cpa-exam.org. Retrieved 2013-10-18.
  7. ^ "Legislative sunset provision for two-tier designation of CPAs in Illinois (Illinois General Assembly)". Ilga.gov. Retrieved 2013-10-18.
  8. ^ "Wisconsin CPA CPE Requirements". Continuing Education Requirements. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  9. ^ "State Requirements". Professional Education Services CPE. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  10. ^ "Statement of Standards for CPE Programs" (PDF). AICPA. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  11. ^ "2015 Continuing Professional Education Snapshot". McDevitt & Kline, LLC. Retrieved 2015-08-18.
  12. ^ "CPE State Accreditation Information". Professional Education Services CPE. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  13. ^ "CPE Requirements". AICPA. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  14. ^ "Texas State Board of Public Accountancy Individual Detail". Tsbpa.texas.gov. Retrieved 2017-02-17.
  15. ^ a b c d "August 2011 : We are pleased to announce that the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA), Sixth Edition, August 2011, is now available" (PDF). AICPA. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 8, 2013.
  16. ^ "AICPA : CPA Mobility Map" (PDF). Aicpa.org. Retrieved 2013-10-18.
  17. ^ "California becomes 49th state to pass CPA mobility law". Journalofaccountancy.com. 2012-09-21. Retrieved 2012-12-12.
  18. ^ "CPA mobility law takes effect in Washington". Journalofaccountancy.com. Retrieved 2012-12-12.
  19. ^ "Bisk CPA Review". CPA Exam. Retrieved 2013-10-18.

External links


An accountant is a practitioner of accounting or accountancy, which is the measurement, disclosure or provision of assurance about financial information that helps managers, investors, tax authorities and others make decisions about allocating resource(s).

In many jurisdictions, professional accounting bodies maintain standards of practice and evaluations for professionals. Accountants who have demonstrated competency through their professional associations' certification exams are certified to use titles such as Chartered Accountant, Chartered Certified Accountant or Certified Public Accountant. Such professionals are granted certain responsibilities by statute, such as the ability to certify an organization's financial statements, and may be held liable for professional misconduct. Non-qualified accountants may be employed by a qualified accountant, or may work independently without statutory privileges and obligations.

Cahan & Sun (2015) used archival study to find out that accountants’ personal characteristics may exert a very significant impact during the audit process and further influence audit fees and audit quality.

The Big Four auditors are the largest employers of accountants worldwide. However, most accountants are employed in commerce, industry and the public sector.

Catherine Byrne (Nevada politician)

Catherine Byrne (born March 27, 1964) is an American politician from the state of Nevada. She was elected Controller of Nevada on November 6, 2018, defeating Republican incumbent Ron Knecht with 50.58% of the votes. She is a certified public accountant and graduated from California Lutheran University.

Cindy Byrd

Cindy Byrd is an American accountant and politician. She is the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector.

Byrd is from Coalgate, Oklahoma. She graduated from East Central University in 1997, earning a Bachelor of Science in accounting. In 2003, she became a certified public accountant. Byrd became the deputy state auditor under Gary Jones. She was elected Oklahoma State Auditor in the 2018 elections.2018 Campaign

Cindy Byrd received 49.5% of the vote on the primary held on June 26th, 2018. Byrd advanced to the runoff with Charlie Prater. On the runoff held on August 28th, 2018 Byrd defeated Prater with 50.2% of the vote. She moved on to the general election where she faced Libertarian Candidate, John Yeutter. Byrd received the most votes for a state official in Oklahoma in history, with 818,851 votes.

Denny Hoskins

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In recognition of his legislative service, Senator Hoskins has received several awards, including Legislator of the Year from Missouri Community Colleges Association, County Advocate Award from Missouri Association of Counties, Guardian of Small Business- NFIB, VFW Legislator of the Year, and Farm Bureau's Friend of Agriculture.

Frank Ryan (politician)

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Howard Marklein

Howard Marklein (born October 3, 1954) is a Wisconsin politician and legislator.

Born in Madison, Wisconsin, Marklein graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater in 1976. He is a Republican politician from Wisconsin. He was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2010. Raised on a dairy farm in Spring Green, he spent his career working as a Certified Public Accountant. On April 7, 2013 he announced that he would challenge incumbent state senator Dale Schultz in a Republican primary to be held on August 12, 2014. On November 4, 2014, Marklein was elected to the Wisconsin State Senate.

John Frullo

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Greiner graduated from Conestoga Valley High School and received a bachelor's degree in accounting from Penn State University. He has worked for over 25 years as a certified public accountant. Greiner entered electoral politics by successfully running for the Upper Leacock Township Board of Supervisors. At the time of his election to Harrisburg, he was the incumbent Lancaster County Controller.

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Michael Peifer

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Pat Browne

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Browne has served as Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman since November 2014. He is also a member of the Communications & Technology, Education, Finance and Transportation Committees.

Browne is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Temple University Law School. He is a graduate of Allentown Central Catholic High School.

Prior to his election to the State Senate, Browne worked as Certified Public Accountant and attorney. He also was a tax manager for Coopers and Lybrand from 1990 to 1994 and a tax supervisor for Price Waterhouse from 1986 to 1990.

Browne was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1994 to 2005. In 2005, he won a special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by Charlie Dent who resigned to take a seat in the United States House of Representatives.

Browne was accepted into first-time offenders program following arrest for DUI.

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Qualification is either the process of qualifying for an achievement, or a credential attesting to that achievement, and may refer to:

Qualification badge, a decoration of People's Liberation Army Type 07 indicating military rank or length of service

Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS), a competitive contract procurement process established by the United States Congress

Qualifications for professional social work, professional degrees in social work in various nations

Qualification problem, the impossibility of listing all the preconditions required for an action to have its intended effect

Qualification principle, in programming language theory, the statement that syntactic classes may admit local definitions

Qualification types in the United Kingdom, different levels of academic, vocational or skills-related education achievements

International Qualification Examination, taken by foreign accountants to become a Certified Public Accountant in the United States

Pre-qualification (lending), a process by which a lending institution estimates how much it is willing to lend to a borrower

School leaving qualification, academic qualification awarded for the completion of high school in various times and countries

Scottish Vocational Qualification, certificate of vocational education in Scotland

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Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination

The Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination (CPA Exam) is the examination administered to people who wish to become U.S. Certified Public Accountants. The CPA Exam is used by the regulatory bodies of all fifty states plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The CPA Exam is developed, maintained and scored by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and administered at Prometric test centers in partnership with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).

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Wayne Larry Niederhauser (born October 1, 1959) is an American politician and certified public accountant from Utah. A Republican, he is a member of the Utah State Senate, representing the state's 9th senate district in Salt Lake County including the cities of Sandy and Draper. He currently serves as the Utah Senate President.

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