My readers are often confused about CPA certificate vs license. I am going to highlight the difference below, but bear in mind that CPA certificates are becoming less relevant because most state boards stopped issuing them.
CPA Certificate vs License: An Overview
Each state has its own laws and rules governing the CPA profession, and each has its own Board of Accountancy that monitors the CPAs that it licenses.
For most states, the term “CPA certificate” and “CPA license” is inter-changeable. However, for “two-tier states” there is a distinction between the two:
- Work experience is often not required.
- No CPA CPE (continuous professional education) hours required.
- Scope of work is limited as certificate holder cannot own a CPA firm (either as sole owner or partner) or sign an audit report.
- Cannot normally hold yourself out as a CPA within the jurisdiction, i.e. cannot call yourself a CPA in the state where you get the CPA certificate.
- Typically require 1-2 years of working experience, supervised and/or verified by a CPA licensee.
- CPE hours required every reporting years (typically 120 hours every 3 years).
- Can use CPA title in business cards and own CPA firm/sign audit report.
Because certificate is easier to get, most candidates consider certificate as the “first level”. The license, or permit to practice, is the “second level”.
However, many international students aim for certificates only in their CPA application because the CPA qualification is used mainly for the enhancement of their credentials.
In this case, it’s a good idea to check with your state regarding the specific requirement for a CPA certificate vs license, and more importantly, any restriction on the use of CPA certificate.
For Your Further Reading
- Which are the remaining CPA exam two-tier states?
- What are CPA exam requirements by state?
- CPA exam application process for candidates with non-US background
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