Once you become a licensed CPA, you will need to take continuing professional education (CPE) courses upon license renewal every 1-3 years.
The following post includes a general overview of CPA CPE requirements for CPAs across the U.S. Please click on the links below for specific rules for each state.
If you need to complete CPE, we highly recommend checking out the available Becker CPE discounts. Becker CPE is top-notch, and Becker also offers webcasts in addition to on-demand CPE completion. You have several other CPE package options, too.
All states require an equivalent of 40 CPE hours per year, but the flexibility of completing the requirements can vary. For instance, the reporting period can be 1, 2 or 3 years. And some states have specific requirements about topics of CPE courses, too. So it’s always best to check the specific guidelines of your state board of accountancy.
In the past, state boards often had a list of pre-approved CPE providers. But now, that has changed. As a result, most boards rely on the National Registry of CPE Sponsors from NASBA. CPE courses on this approved list should have an ID that can easily be tracked on NASBA’s Registry site.
However, some states have their own rosters of approved CPE sponsors, including Arkansas, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
Most state boards also ask for your own discretion as to which CPE courses are appropriate. Some have a few guidelines regarding the minimum number of technical courses in accounting and auditing. In the same vein, boards can limit the number of “soft” courses, notably personal development and behavioral courses.
Since 2011 and 2012, many state boards have started including ethics as mandatory CPA CPE requirements. The number of hours required varies, but in general, you are asked to take 2 or more hours of ethics CPE every year.
Furthermore, some states only recognize ethics courses approved by their own state board. Therefore, make sure you read the instructions from your state board carefully. If you’re not sure, you can always get the information online or contact your board by email.
Some states have a limitation on self-study classes. For instance, boards can insist that a self-study course end with a graded test in order to get accepted for CPE. However, the rules can vary from state to state. So read your board’s administrative rules carefully or consult your CPE course provider.
Unlike self-study courses, live webinars are generally fully accepted for CPE hours by most states. Why? Well, it’s because they are interactive in nature. As a result, several companies have started offering live webinars that cover a variety of CPE topics. For example, Becker CPE now offers live webcasts as a way to meet your CPA CPE requirements.
In most states, you can get CPE credits by writing a published article or book or by being a speaker, lecturer, or presenter on CPA-relevant subjects in your field.
In most cases, state boards have restrictions on this rule, though. For example, according to some state rules, you can only claim the credit up to a certain amount (for example, only up to 30 CPE hours). Or, some states make you discount the credit. To put it another way, if you give a 2-hour lecture, only 1 hour of CPE credit can be counted.
Oftentimes, CPAs can enroll in college classes to earn their CPE hours, too. The number of credits earned is normally based on the total meeting time of the course.
Rule of thumb:
So for example, a typical college-level course that meets for 3 hours a week during a semester is considered to be a 3-hour course. In that case, it could count for 45 CPE credits.
By default, state boards ask licensees to submit and report CPE credits in each renewal cycle. What’s more, an increasing number of state boards are asking CPAs to keep the documentation themselves without the need to report. Basically, state boards are starting to adopt an honor system. Still, boards can also conduct CPE audits and ask you for documentation of your annual CPE hours. As a result, you should keep all supporting documents on file for at least 4 to 5 years (or as specified by your state board).
Some states ask licensees to report CPE credits once a year. Others, though, only request CPAs to report once every 2 or 3 years.
Other states may ask CPAs to report on a “rolling basis.” What does it mean? For example, let’s say the renewal date is June and compliance is based on 3-year rolling period. On June 30, 2023, you need to have 120 or more credits from July 1, 2020 to June 2023 (3 years of time). Each year, the previous third total drops off.
Most CPE courses offer a certificate, which is your proof of attendance. A reputable CPE provider will include information on your certificate that a state board might request, such as the CPE topic and total hours of the class. If not, make sure that the following info is included:
As I mentioned before, you should definitely confirm the specific CPA CPE requirements in your state.
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!