Once you become a professional certified public accountant you may think that all of your studying is behind you, but that’s not the case. If you are to keep your certification you must complete a certain number of continuing professional education credits as mandated by your professional organization. Otherwise you end up being decertified and can no longer call yourself a CPA. (REF 1, 3)
CPE credits take the form of various types of classes and other activities intended to insure that you stay abreast of current laws and trends; classes to expand your knowledge of related areas typically also count. CPE classes are offered through community colleges, universities and professional organizations such as the American Institute of CPAs. Credit can be obtained through home study or by attending regular college classes, programs at conventions, weekend seminars and workshops. Classes don’t require a grade and can be taken on a pass/fail basis if you wish.
Time to Complete the Credits
The time allocated for a CPA to complete a required number of credits varies by the certifying organization, but three years is commonly used. Your organization will tell you how many credits you must have during this time. For example, the American Institute of CPAs gives you three years to complete 120 credits, while the New York State Office of Public Accountancy mandates that some credits must be completed each year. It ends up being essentially the same number of credits, but when some credits have to be done every year it’s harder to get too far behind.
Exceptions to the Rules
The certification agencies recognize that there will be times when you might not be able to keep up with your continuing education credits, and they make some allowances for this. The AICPA will reduce or waive CPE requirements if a natural disaster, a serious health issue or military service affects you. You must request this waiver in writing and provide a complete explanation of your reasons for needing the waiver. If the impact is ongoing, you’ll need to reapply each year for the waiver.
Fulfilling the Requirements
It’s up to you to make sure that your CPE credits get reported properly to your certifying agency. While the class or workshop you take might report that you’ve done the hours, the only way to be sure you get proper credit is to turn in your hours yourself. Anything that contributes to your professional development counts, but you must keep track of how much time you spend to get proper credit. To figure the number of hours to report, multiply college semester credits by 15, college quarter credits by 10 or count the number of minutes spent in a workshop or other activity and divide by 50.
- American Institute of CPAs: AICPA Membership CPE Requirements
- American Institute of CPAs: CPA Requirements and Credits
- New York State Office of Public Accountancy: MCE Questions and Answers
- American Institute of CPAs: CPA CPE Requirements
- Virginia society of Certified Public Accountants: CPE Requirements FAQs