CPA Exam 150 Credit Hours: Requirement, Rules and Updates

CPA exam 150 credit hoursPeople often talk about the “150-hour rule” when it comes to the US CPA exam qualification.

What is it, does it apply to you, and what to do if you don’t have enough credits?

An Overview

Let’s start with a bit of the background. Unlike most other accounting professional qualifications around the world, the US CPA title is granted by the 55 US jurisdictions instead of one centralized agency at the federal level.

Each state has its own state board of accounting responsible for the rules and regulation of the accounting industry within its territory — it’s complicated!

As you can imagine, the exam requirements can be quite different and this has caused confusion among candidates and regulators.

In the last 10 years, two accounting associations, the AICPA and NASBA worked hard to standardize the requirements across the states. They came up with a general rule known as the  “3E”s: Education, Exam and Experience.

Within the Education criteria:

  • 4-year bachelor degree (the standard degree in the US)
  • 150 credit hour worth of courses from regional accredited educational institutions.

Since July 2015, all states have adopted the 150 credit hour rule for their full license.

CPA Exam 150 Credit Hours: What Exactly is the Requirement?

150 credit hours is equivalent to 5 years of higher education. It can be accumulated in different ways:

  • 4 years of bachelor + 1 year of master’s degree, typically in accounting.
  • 4 years of bachelor with accelerated program covering 150 credit hours.
  • 4 years  of bachelor + 30 credit hours of non-degree courses.

If you enroll in an accounting program in a US university, the school makes sure you get enough credit hours and meet the requirement of its state. However, if you are:

  • graduated a long time ago (when the 150 hour rule was not in place);
  • a non-accounting major; or
  • educated outside of the US

You might need something extra to get qualified for the exam.

How to Make Sure I Fulfill the Educational Requirements?

Here is a check list:

Do you have enough accounting and/or business credit hours?

All state boards ask for a minimum number of accounting and business courses. Some states have general requirements, while others request specific courses e.g. US GAAS course in the case of Colorado.

If you need to make up for courses anyway, make sure the new courses cover whatever is required here.

Is the CPA exam 150 credit hours an exam or licensing requirement in your state?

Roughly half of the state boards allow candidates to sit for the exam with 120 credit hours only. They can fulfill the rest of the requirements (30 credit hours) after passing the exam.

In this case, you can choose to take the CPA exam first, but bear in mind that extra courses are mandatory to get the license.

Are online courses accepted?

Most states are fine with online courses as long as the school is regionally accredited. In other words, if your school is not regionally accredited, e.g. it operates outside of the US, there are some risks.

There are correspondence courses outside of the US that have been counted in the past. I can’t give you a general answer as everyone’s case is different, but you can check with your state board directly by emailing them your own personal situation and see if they can give you a specific answer.

Can diploma courses be part of the CPA exam 150 credit hours?

Diplomas are defined differently in different countries. The rule of thumb is that courses shown in an official transcript by regionally accredited educational institutions are accepted.

You will only know for sure if you request a report from the foreign credential evaluation agencies.

I have a 3-year degree but I have more than 150 credit hours. Do I qualify?

This is a common misconception among international candidates. The degree requirement (4-year bachelor degree or above) is separate from the 150-hour rule.

Even if you have 200+ credit hours, if you don’t have a 4 years or more of higher education, I am afraid you cannot get qualified.

Is there a state that allows 120 credit hour holders? I just want a certificate for credentials only.

The vast majority of state boards have stopped issuing CPA certificates. International candidates can stop thinking about this as the few remaining two-tier states strictly require social security number.

If you don’t want to fulfill the 150 credit hours and experience requirement, Guam has an inactive license for accounting majors with 120 credit hours only. Please find out beforehand the restriction and resulting implication of getting this license.

Impact of 150 Credit Hours in Job Hunting

Lastly, I would like to point out the additional benefits if you spend the time getting this done:

If you aspire to work in a CPA firm, or a position that requires a CPA title in the near future, it’s best to get done with the 150 credit hour before job hunting starts.

For most of the top CPA firms, their new tax and audit staff are required to meet the educational requirement for licensure BEFORE they start. If you have aspirations of working for a Big 4, national, or large regional firm, then you need your 150 credit hours before the interviews.

Many recruiters want to know whether you are “ready” to get the license (i.e. fulfill all requirements except the experience) before giving out the offer.

Conclusion

Getting the full 150 credit hours for the CPA exam is the big trend — you may still find ways to get around it, but I no longer recommend readers doing that. Besides fulfilling the exam and licensing requirement, complying to the 150-hour rule can also help you get jobs in CPA firms.

If you have a 4-year degree, getting the extra 30 credit hours is a hassle, but definitely doable. Here are some suggestions to get it done:

1. For US candidates, take courses in local community colleges or through CLEP. This is the most affordable way.

2. Take accounting, auditing and taxation courses designed to fulfill the CPA exam requirements e.g. UNA program in collaboration with CPAexcel.

Check out my complete list of suggestions.

For Your Further Reading

If you have questions, feel free to drop a note in the comment section below.

About the Author Stephanie Ng

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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  • Shadab says:

    I live in Canada, I found one distance learn university in USA, WGU (Western Governors University) they are offering degree program Do you know about their program is it acceptable for CPA in any state?

    Thanks

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Shadab, quite possibly, but I have no idea (there are tens of thousands of such institutions in the US). As long as they are regionally accredited you should be fine. They should be able to give you the answer. Regards, Stephanie

      • farhan says:

        Hi Stephanie,
        I have got a bachelor degree(2014) in business and MBA(2016) degree from UK.Now I came back to my home country(Bangladesh) and got married to a US citizen.I hope to move to US within a year.I want to do CPA from Michigan state-as my wife lives there.My questions are
        (1) Would I be able to give the exam without having 1 year work experience from Michigan state?
        (2)Can I sit for the exam before I come to US?
        I will highly appreciate your answers.
        Thank you!

  • Corinne Dsa says:

    Hello

    I am an Indian student and I live in Indiana with my husband. I have completed my graduation from India nd my CA. Can I enroll for CPA in INDIANA STATE.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Corinne, am I correct that you are a BCOM graduate + CA? If so, it is best to ask for Leslie-Anne’s advice. I explain the details here: https://ipassthecpaexam.com/indian-bcom-ca-holders-for-us-cpa-exam/

      • Vignesh says:

        Hi Stephanie,

        I am from India. I have completed B.com and registered for M.Com now. Will the B.Com and first year of M.com contribute 150 credit hours? Am i eligible for CPA exam with (B.com +1 year M.com). Or I can write the exams and only at the time of application of license i need the M.Com mark list?

        Please advise.

        • Stephanie Ng says:

          Hi Vignesh, 1 year approx equals to 30 credit hours. Assuming your BCOM is 3 years, it means 3+1 = 4 years = 120 credit hours. In terms of hours many states will let you take the exam, but I am not sure if you will be fine with the degree requirement. Regards, Stephanie

  • Joan says:

    I only have a two-year bachelor degree which I got from China, and I have two master degree from US( one is accounting). Do you think it is qualified to set a CPA exam?

  • Sandra Ngo says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I graduated in 2000 and applied to sit for CPA exam that year, however I sat once and didn’t get back on it until recently. I now passed all 4 parts. Do you know if they still grandfather for those who graduated long time ago with 150 hours credit requirements?

    Also, I’ve worked as various company include internal audit position, am I eligible for experience wise?

    If you could help explain the requirements or direct me to whom I should contact to find out about this.

    Thanks,
    Sandra

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Sandra, I am afraid I don’t cover the changes dating back 15 years ago… but you can easily get your questions answered by emailing your state board. Sometimes it takes a few days for them to reply, or occasionally need a follow up email or two, but they do have reps answering candidate’s queries. Best of luck! Stephanie

  • Jatin Dixit says:

    Hello Stephaine,

    What is the quickest way to get 150 credits. I am a B.Sc with an MBA.

    Pl. advice.

    Thanks

    Jatin

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Jatin, you should have enough credits with Bachelor + MBA (unless your bachelor is 3 years and MBA is 1 year)? Stephanie

      • Jatin Dixit says:

        Thanks Stephanie
        If you can help me to evaluate my education.
        My email is jatindixit[@]yahoo.com
        Thanks
        Jatin

        • Stephanie Ng says:

          Hi Jatin, sorry I don’t offer consultation service, but once you narrow down your choices I am happy to help you out. Regards, Stephanie

  • Ara says:

    Dear Stephanie,

    I have finished bacelor`s degree in economics (Full 4 year study) and furthered my education with master`s degree in international economics (full 2 years study).
    Also I am an ACCA member – passed all 14 exams, without exemptions.
    Could you please advise, whether I meet the requirements to take the exams in California.

    Kind Regards,
    Ara

  • ninjachop says:

    Hi!

    I have a BBA degree in Accountancy for undergrad so i definitely meet 120 hr credit. I had a total of 132.5 when i graduated because i took extra liberal arts courses. I also went for MS program in taxation but after taking 6 courses, completing 13 credits, my GPA took a dive downwards and i was on probation and didn’t continue. It’s too late to complete the program and i found out that i only needed 4.5 credits to meet the 150 hour rule. I am planning to register as a non-degree student to earn those remaining credits. However I realized that one of the mandatory taxation graduate courses might be duplicate to the one i took in undergrad. Both are Federal Income Taxation and they are 4 credits each. I am not sure whether this is considered a duplicate course. They were required classes for both undergrad and graduate so i have friends who say they are not duplicate. Any advice and knowledge on this aspect would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Ninjachop, yes, I understand your concern and to me, it is more likely than not that it is considered a duplicate class (I hope I am wrong though). But you can still go ahead to register anyway and the state board will tell you whether it is a duplicate, in which case you can take any (non-degree) class to make up for it.

      I am not sure which state you are looking into, but some have pre-evaluation service that tells you whether you need extra classes. You can send a quick email and see if it is available. You may also send an email to the state board anyway — if you are lucky the state board rep may just tell you the answer without going through the pre-evaluation process.

      Good luck! Stephanie

  • Abrar AlSaegh says:

    Hi,

    I am an international candidate registered with the state of New Hampshire and I have completed my CPA Exam requirements earlier on 31st August 2015, however, I only have completed a baccalaureate degree which includes 126 semester hours of education, which doesn’t allow me to apply for a CPA license.
    My questions are as follows:
    Would my CPA exams expire if I don’t get my license any time soon?
    If yes, would you please recommend me some universities and online programs (other than Masters degree) that would allow complete the 150 semester hours of education?

    Would I be better off by getting a Masters degree, as it might be almost the same in matters of cost and effort?

    Regards,
    Abrar

  • Nina says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I am living in New York City and just obtained my bachelor degree in accountancy. I graduated with a total of 141 credits since I have took some extra credits on liberal arts and economics. Can I just take another 9 credits on non-degree course to meet the 150 credit rule if all my undergraduate credits were applicable.

    Thanks!
    Nina

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Yes, non-degree courses are fine. Just to make sure you DO NOT go for UNA because from what I heard, NY state board doesn’t recognize UNA for some reason. Courses from community colleges are great. Good luck! Stephanie

  • Zubair says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I have 2 years B.COM and 2-Years Master in Accounting & Finance from online accredited university by higher education commission of Pakistan . Will it satisfy the 4 years bachelor degree and credit hours requirements if I get evaluation done?

    Can I sit in Guam and Ilion’s?

    Thanks,
    Zubair

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      hi Zubair,
      Likely ok since your BCOM and Master’s are related and progressive, but you can make sure by getting an evaluation report.
      For Guam, likely ok for inactive license but they do require US taxation course which you may not have (you can simply take an online course for that).

      For Illinois, they do require 150 credit hours. You can also make it up for that. Regards, Stephanie

  • MUhamamd Zubair says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    One more quick question. If I send my education transcripts for evaluation and FACS tells me that I am short of some courses e.g taxation then after completing the course will I have to send my transcript for another evaluation to FACS or I can send directly to state board?

    Regards,
    Zubair

  • Zubair says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    Any comment on my above query please?

    Regards,
    Zubair

  • USMAN says:

    I have passed all four section in 2010, I have four years of graduation and post graduation but FACS evaluated it as 124 hours and graduate. Where and how can I get license. I am not USA national and not studied in USA.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi USMAN, it’s hard for me to comment on the credit hours without further info, but you can always get ad hoc / non-degree courses to reach 150 hours. You don’t need to be a US resident nor do you need to study / work in the US to get the license, but generally it could be harder to fulfill the experience requirements. Regards, Stephanie

  • ALI says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I did my 3 yrs bachelor degree (Bachelor of banking management ) in 2003 from India then recently i have opted for EPGDM (18 months ) specialize in Finance from Officially accredited/recognized by the University Grants Commission, India, Have completed the course successfully partially (That is one subject have failed and need to re attempt)

    Can I qualify for 150 hours

    Can i apply further for CPA further evaluation

    Need your suggestions pls advise how do i proceed further

  • M.B.Shah says:

    I done with Bcom nd pursuing CA final so m inter CA..!! Ceriticate of Inter CA can count in Credit hours ?? M eligible or not wid credit hours..?? Or I can do only aftr my CA..???

  • Cirilo Camargo Rodriguez says:

    Cirilo Camargo Rodriguez

    Thanks for this section. It was very helpful to understand the 150 units.

    Thanks again.

  • Ravi Agarwal says:

    hi,
    i have completed my 3 yearsbcom ( graduation in commerce) from a reputed college in mumbai, India.
    Am i elligible for CPA if i do my 2 years masters in commerce (MCOM) through a distance learning university( mumbai university) i.e online corespondence MCOM.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Ravi, most state boards would be fine but I have come across a few that don’t recognize non-US distance learning degrees. If you have a few states in mind, you might want to double check in advance.

  • Susan says:

    Hi I have a MAsters in civil engineering 2yr. and bachelors in Architecture. 4yrs. Plus core classes so 7yrs total. What requirements do I need to fulfill to sit for the CPA exam.

  • Bill says:

    I have completed Combined Double Bachelor Degrees (two degrees) which requires a total study of 5 years full time. The degrees are Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting major) and Bachelor of Laws from an Australian university. The total duration of this double degree is 5 years of full time study and I have graduate with two degrees at once (not separately). I had an accounting major in my commerce degree. For my case, will this make me eligible for CPA’s 150 hours and accounting hours requirements? Please let me know with detailed explanations.

  • Feras Nassar says:

    I am outside of the United States, i.e., international, and I need to know which of the states below accept the following for the CPA Exam (considering that I am evaluating my certificate/transcript by an independent evaluator):

    1. No 150 hours requirement to sit for exam (i.e., 120 hours),
    2. No citizenship requirements,
    3. No residency requirements, and
    4. No U.S. Social Security Number.

    Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

  • Amogh says:

    I am from india and have done 4 year Engineering in India from an accredited school. Engineering didn’t include any accounting course. In this case I need to complete just 30 credit hours of accounting courses, correct? You don’t need the entire 150 credit hours of accounting?

  • Ahsan says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I have Got my B.COM (2 Years) as regular candidate and now I am going to get my Master (2 Years) in Accounting & Finance online from university accredited by Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. This Online University has federal charter. My question is that am I fine with this online degree to fulfill the requirement of Bachelor degree in Guam?

    Regards,
    Ahsan

  • RH says:

    Hi Stephanie

    If im an international student. i cannot apply to New Hampshire because i dont have social security number?

  • MM says:

    Hello, for international candidates, passed all exams before 2015 but didn’t get the license due to the 150 hours rule. Is there any state that has adopted the 150 hours rule in 2015 and would give the license if a candidate passed all exams before the new rule adoption? (Grandfather rule)

  • Tayo says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    Please I am an international student with a Bsc in science and technology, it ‘s a 5 year course. l also have my MBA in financial management and CA from my country. Am i eligible to do the CPA exams. in New York,cos this is where i live now. The auditing course i did is from my CA. If not which state will accept it. Please advice me.

  • Yuan says:

    Hi,

    How long would I be given to complete the 150 credit hour (given that I have passed the CPA exam) to obtain the licensure?

  • esha says:

    hello!
    i am a chartered accountant from India and have been working for the last 4 years now.i have completed my Bcom(3years) and Mcom(1year) along with chartered accountancy course of 4 years. how many hours does this account for? are 4 years of my chartered accountancy counted here??i would want to appear for cpa exam for michigan state.
    thanks

  • Noor says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I am a BCom (which was a 3 years degree course) and then I have done MBA (2 years course) from a distance learning university which is AICTE, UGC and NAAC accredited one. Am I eligible to appear for CPA.

    Thanks!

  • Erik says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I have been taking classes through Straighterline.com in hopes of transferring them to an accredited university. If I was able to transfer them to an accredited University and prove that they are comparable to classes that they offer, could they count as accredited credits?

  • Anshika says:

    Hi Stephanie.
    i am a b.com (3yrs ) + m.ba finance (2yrs) from India .
    Can i appear for CPA from New York?
    Thanks

  • Th says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I just found this website and think that it offers great information regarding the CPA exam.
    I’d like to ask you if I’d still be qualified for the 150 hours of education if I graduated in 2012 with double concentrations in accounting and finance. Do you think I should send my transcript to the AICPA for them to determine that requirement?
    Also, should I focus on studying and passing the exam first then take care of the remaining of 150 hours of education?

    Thank you for your time and advice.

  • Jeff says:

    I am taking a course at my local community college. (BMCC pat of the CUNY system in NY). that is worth 3 credits and “4 hours”. Does that mean I have satisfied 3 or 4 of “semester hours”? I’m totally confused on whether the 150 hour rule is based off credits or “hours”. Help please! 🙂

  • Kruti says:

    Hi I am Kruti from India
    I graduated in this year (3 years)
    I want to apply for CPA in USA
    Is it requirement of 4 years bechlor ?
    Can I apply for CPA from Georgia ?
    If not
    Whats the requirements for that ?

  • Sherry says:

    Hi, I live in Chicago and currently I have 120 hours completed (BS Accounting). Can I take the exams first then finish the rest 30 hours or do I have to finish the 30 hours first?

  • William says:

    Hello, I spent 2 years and took some of the classes in community college , some of the units were transferred to a 4 years college later on. Then, I spent another 3 years to complete my accounting bachelor degree in that 4 years college. Does it qualify as “the 4 years of bachelor” ? Thank you

  • RLEJ says:

    Is there anyway I can tentatively calculate on on my own whether my 4-year Bachelor in Accountancy had 150 credit hours? In short, how do they calculate the 150 credit hours based on my transcript since my transcript shows only credit(e.g. my Account 1 subject “Fundamentals of Accounting” taken on the first semester of my first year says 6 credits.

  • Sophie says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I have a question relevant to a point you raised in this blog topic.
    Since I did my bachelor’s in the US, though I’m a non- citizen, I do have an SSN. Can I still get a license though those states that dont require 150 hours and how do I find out which those States are?
    I plan to work for big 4 outside of the States and they are unlikely to insist on 150 hours as they accept ACCA and other qualifications.

  • abdu says:

    hello Stephanie
    I hold Ba (years) in Accounting and I am CMA are these enough to get 150 credit hours?
    thanks

  • Dexter says:

    Hello Stephanie,

    I passed the CPA exam over 10 years ago, have a 130 credit
    hour degree. I have met the experience requirement. Is there a State
    that will grant me a license?

    Thanks

    • Meghan D says:

      Nearly every state requires you to earn 150 hours in order to obtain your license. It may be possible to sit in Guam, but learn about the Guam CPA Requirementshere. Additionally, you could return to school or seek online classes to earn the additional 20 credit hours you need.

      Regards,
      Meghan
      I Pass the CPA Exam

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