Historically, California has the most CPA Exam candidates of any jurisdiction, at times representing approximately 15% of the annual CPA candidate cohort. Therefore, because the California Board of Accountancy (CBA) is so popular, you should learn what the California CPA requirements are so you can determine if California is the state board for you. This information about the CPA California requirements will answer all of your questions about how to become a CPA in CA.
To earn the CPA license in California, you must meet the following requirements:
You will also need to pay CPA Exam fees and CPA licensure fees.
California strictly requires CPA candidates to have a Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) in order to earn the CPA license. For those who are not familiar with an SSN, it is ID the U.S. government only issues to U.S. citizens, residents, and individuals allowed to study or work in the U.S. Therefore, California’s identification requirement is very important for international candidates to note.
California expects CPA candidates to have an SSN for licensure, but the state board also allows candidates without an SSN to sit for the CPA Exam. So, technically, candidates without an SSN can apply to the CBA to take the exam and then consider transferring exam credits to another state. However, I strongly recommend you just try another state for the entire CPA process because transferring exam credits is risky. You may find a better option on my list of best state boards for international candidates.
The CBA welcomes both non-US citizens and residents to apply. Furthermore, California does not impose a minimum age requirement.
In order to receive the CPA license from the state of California, you must pass the Uniform CPA Examination in its entirety. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) creates the CPA Exam, which covers a wide range of accounting topics over 4 exam sections:
You can only sit for the CPA Exam during these 4 annual testing windows:
The passing score for the CPA Exam is 75 or higher.
Furthermore, once you pass your first CPA Exam section, you must pass the remaining 3 sections within 18 months. If you do not pass the other 3 sections during this time, you will lose credit for the first section you passed, and the start of your 18-month window will shift back to the date you passed your second CPA Exam section. This process will continue until you pass all 4 exam sections within 18 months.
The process of sitting for the CPA Exam in California involves slightly different requirements than the process of earning the CPA license does. So, you need to know both the CPA Exam eligibility education requirements and the CPA license education requirements when you’re considering California as your CPA state board.
Candidates must hold a 4-year bachelor’s degree or above in order to sit for the CPA Exam in California.
As of January 1, 2017, candidates applying for the CPA license in California must have earned at least 150 credit hours of higher education. These credit hours must include:
If you are enrolled in a master’s degree or a program that enables you to fulfill the 150-hour rule upon graduation, you may take the CPA Exam before graduation by seeking prior approval from the CA state board.
To receive the CBA’s approval for taking the CPA Exam before graduations, you must ask your school to send (1) your current transcript and (2) a letter from the registrar stating that you are enrolled in a master’s/150-credit-hour program, that you have already fulfilled the bachelor portion of this program, and the date by which you expect to complete all the courses.
For CPA candidates with a bachelor’s degree of 120 credit hours, you can make up for the remaining 30 credit hours by doing the following:
You can complete these non-degree courses either online or in a classroom setting and follow these suggestions to do so.
The California state board does not have a pre-evaluation service, but they do provide a self-assessment worksheet to help you determine your eligibility for the California CPA license.
The California state board does NOT consider ACCA membership (and professional qualifications other than these) equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. However, the CBA may count some ACCA coursework towards the 150 credit hour requirement. Many factors influence the CBA’s decision to approve ACCA coursework, including when you took the ACCA courses.
When I emailed the CBA back in August 2012, they were kind enough to clarify the situation:
“We will consider coursework from the ACCA to the extent that the ACCA program is equivalent to coursework for academic credit at a U.S. nationally or regionally accredited degree-granting institution. However, the ACCA syllabus itself is subject to change over time.”
So, the only way to know if the CBA will approve your ACCA coursework is to obtain a foreign credential evaluation report from a CBA-approved agency.
Regarding my question about the CA certificate, the CBA replied:
“In response to your question, the evaluation of foreign education is conducted on a case-by-case basis, and the CBA relies heavily on the U.S. equivalency determinations made by the CBA-approved foreign credential evaluation services. If a candidate has a question regarding the U.S. equivalency of specific education, they should be advised to contact one of the CBA-approved services. The CBA does not provide a blanket acceptance of any education.”
In other words, you have to go through the evaluation agencies to find out whether the CBA will accept your specific situation. So, for the next step, you have 2 choices:
If you are an Indian candidate, you can get even more advice about how to meet the CPA education requirements.
As of January 1, 2014, you must have 1 year of experience to get the CPA license in California. This 1 year of experience must include accounting, attest, compilation, management advisory, financial advisory, tax, or consulting skills.
Your academic experience may qualify if it meets the standards outlined in CBA Regulations section 12.1. The courses could include accounting, auditing, financial reporting, external or internal reporting, financial statement analysis, or taxation. Refer to CBA Regulations section 9.2(b) for more details.
If you want to sign attest reports, you need to accumulate 500+ attest hours.
Furthermore, the CBA will accept part-time work as long as you have acquired the equivalent of at least 1 year of experience. In order to calculate your part-time work, know that the CBA considers 170 hours equivalent to 1 month of full-time employment.
According to the CBA, “an individual who holds a valid active license, or comparable authority to practice public accountancy in any state or country” must supervise and verify your work experience.
So, my interpretation is that your supervisor can be a CPA and CA from another country. Given that this language is quite vague, you should email the state board for confirmation if your boss is not a U.S. CPA.
Candidates who acquired experience outside of the U.S. can benefit from this useful information provided by our reader Natasha:
“The only other thing that I noticed is that when the licensing procedure is proceeding, at a certain point of time, the Board will require the candidate to present in front of the board (I think they use the words “appearance before the CPA Qualification Committee (QC)”) if the working experience is acquired outside of the US.”
Again, a U.S. CPA must supervise and verify your work. If this person is not the owner of the company, then you need to acquire a second signature from their boss, who does not necessarily need to be a CPA.
If you obtain your experience outside of California, the state board requires written verification from the out-of-state licensing body. And, the supervisor needs to hold a valid, active license to practice public accountancy.
To earn the CPA license, you must satisfy the California CPA ethics course requirement. And the only course the CBA accepts is the Professional Ethics for CPAs (PETH) from the California CPA Education Foundation.
The ethics exam within this course contains 50 multiple-choice questions, and there is no time limit on the exam. The course includes 3 attempts to pass the exam with a grade of 90% or better (5 missed questions). However, if you don’t pass within those 3 attempts, you can contact CalCPA Customer Service to receive 3 more attempts for free.
You must complete the California ethics exam within 1 year of the date you purchased the course. And, your exam scores are valid for 2 years while you meet the other CPA license requirements.
Applicants must submit their fingerprints to the CBA in order to undergo a criminal history check by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The CBA considers applications incomplete until this investigation occurs.
California residents must submit their fingerprints via a Live Scan service. Locations of Live Scan locations can be found at www.oag.ca.gov. You will pay the fees for this service at the Live Scan location.
Non-California residents must submit their hardcopy fingerprints on cards provided exclusively by the CBA. You can request fingerprint cards by contacting email@example.com or by calling (916) 561-1701. The CBA advises applicants to submit their hardcopy fingerprints 4 months in advance of their CPA license applications.
To apply to take the CPA Exam and receive the CPA license in California, you must pay the following fees:
Once the CBA approves your application, you must select which CPA Exam sections you want to take. Be sure to choose your exam sections within 1 year of applying to the CBA. If you don’t, the CBA will consider your application invalid and your fees forfeited.
After the CBA receives your exam section selections, they will submit an Authorization to Test (ATT) to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). Once NASBA processes your ATT, they will send you a Payment Coupon that is valid for 90 days. You must pay the fees due to NASBA within 90 days. Otherwise, your ATT and Payment Coupon will expire, and you will have to start the process with the CBA over again.
After you pay NASBA, you will receive your Notice to Schedule (NTS). Unlike most states in which an NTS is only valid for 6 months, a CBA-approved NTS is valid for 9 months starting from the date of NTS issuance. So, once again, make sure you sit for your chosen exam sections within 9 months, or you’ll forfeit all the fees you paid to the CBA and NASBA.
At this time, California adheres to NASBA’s fee schedule for the CPA Exam sections:
To account for these costs and develop your CPA budget, you must learn more about the CPA Exam fees.
The state of California requires CPAs to fulfill continuing professional education (CPE) requirements on a biannual basis in order to maintain the CPA license.
Once you earn the CPA license, you must accumulate the CPE credits by the last date of your birth month. The CBA counts how many credits you have every 2 years, and they will send you a reminder 90 days before your license expiration date. Within these 2 years, CPAs registered in California should fulfill at least 80 hours of accounting continuing education. If you want, you can earn all of these hours through self-study courses. Under the rule in California, the CBA grants self-study courses CE credit equal to the average completion time. Additionally, you must earn a minimum of 20 CPE each year, and 12 of those hours must focus on technical subject matter.
At least 40 hours of your CPE must address technical areas. The CBA specifies that technical areas address accounting, auditing, fraud, taxation, consulting, financial planning, ethics, computer and information technology, and specialized industry or government practices. You can refer to CBA Regulations section 87(a.2) for more details.
Furthermore, you must have at least 4 hours of ethics CPE. Accepted ethics courses include:
Courses that do not count for ethics CPE include:
Additionally, you have to complete at least 2 hours of regulatory review CPE. You must choose your regulatory review CPE from the CBA-approved list. Unlike other CPE requirements, you only have to take regulatory review courses once every 6 years. Refer to CBA Regulations section 87.8 for more details.
Depending on your role at work, you may also need to fulfill a minimum of 24 hours in these technical credits:
If subject to Section 87(d) of the CBA Regulations, you may need to take 4 hours of fraud CPE on detection and/or reporting of fraud in financial statements in addition to the 24-hour requirement stated above.
No more than 40 hours of your CPE can come from non-technical areas. Non-technical areas include communication skills, word processing, sales, marketing, motivational techniques, negotiation skills, office management, practice management, and personnel management.
The following areas will not count towards fulfilling your CPE requirements:
For more info on which courses you can take and how to ensure your California CPA CPE compliance, check out this video:
To earn the CPE credits you need to maintain your California CPA license, you can use Becker CPE courses.
The state board requirements change from time to time and without much notice. Therefore, to ensure that you can satisfy the most up-to-date CA CPA requirements, you should contact the CBA before you apply. You can use this information to do so:
2000 Evergreen Street, Suite 250
Sacramento, CA 95815-3832
Meeting all of the California CPA requirements can be overwhelming, especially if you are not a typical CPA candidate. However, learning more about the CPA educational requirements and the CPA experience requirements individually can help.
Taking my free CPA e-course can also help you prepare for the entire CPA process. My course walks you through each step to CPA certification and tells you how to pass the CPA Exam on your first attempt. I have designed 2 versions of my course to assist candidates with different backgrounds: one for domestic CPA candidates and one for international CPA candidates. Learn more about my courses today or sign up now!
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites
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