Passing the US CPA Exam is one of the greatest career accomplishments for accountants, and you certainly don’t want your CPA credits to expire. But after passing the exam, the CPA journey is not over—you’ll have to fulfill the licensing requirements to claim the CPA certification.
In addition to passing the CPA Exam, almost all states require at least 1-2 years of relevant and verifiable experience. Plus, most education benchmarks require 150 hours of college-level courses. So, for these state boards that require additional educational requirements (for example, states with the “150-hour rule”), you’ll need to complete additional courses as well. While it’s true that many states allow you to sit for the CPA Exam once you have earned 120 credit hours, nearly every jurisdiction requires 150 credits for licensure.
Even after meeting these requirements, your CPA journey might not be over if you let a certain amount of time pass between passing the CPA Exam and applying for your license. I don’t want you to go through these headaches, so I’m here to offer some insight into the expiration of CPA Exam credits.
Before we get too deep into this discussion, let’s go over the difference between a CPA Exam “credit” and a CPA Exam “score.” Some CPA blogs don’t differentiate between the terms or use them interchangeably. That drives me crazy because it leads to a lot of confusion among CPA candidates. Therefore, these are important distinctions that you should understand.
Your CPA Exam score is just that—it’s the score that you received on the four sections of your CPA Exam. Think of your “score” as your “grade” on a section that you’ve sat for. Passing scores range from 75-99 per section. Most CPA candidates can check their scores on the NASBA Candidate Portal. However, candidates living in California, Illinois, and Maryland receive their scores from their State Board of Accountancy.
When you pass a section of the CPA Exam, you’ll get both a score and a credit. Note that a CPA Exam credit expiration date will be listed with your results. (You won’t find a CPA Exam score expiration date.)
Do CPA Exams expire after you pass all 4 sections? Well, here’s where the confusion comes in for some candidates: your score technically doesn’t expire. However, your credits can. Let’s go over all of the instances when that could happen to you and how to avoid that situation.
In most jurisdictions, the simple answer is “no.” This is great because you can take all the time you need to fulfill the licensing requirement, like finishing your education or gaining a certain number of hours of experience.
A few states, however, do set a time limit between passing the CPA Exam and the licensing application. So, in those states, yes—your CPA Exam credits do expire in those jurisdictions. Examples include:
Note: This is not a complete list. State boards of accountancy can change their requirements without much notice, so it’s important to double-check with your state board for the most up-to-date information. You don’t want to let your CPA score expiration date pass if you plan to practice in one of these states.
If you foresee difficulties completing the licensing requirements within 3 years, ask your state board whether such deadlines exist in your state.
You might be asking yourself why some jurisdictions want to limit the amount of time that passes between when you pass the CPA Exam and when you apply for your license. The answer is quite simple and logical. Jurisdictions want their CPAs to be prepared for the current business environment. However, if too much time lapses after you pass your exam, it is possible that enough regulations and practices have changed that you are no longer prepared enough to practice higher-level accounting.
There are several instances in which you might have to re-take one or more sections of the CPA Exam. Let’s briefly review them and cover ways to avoid these CPA Exam expiration situations.
Keep in mind that once you pass your first section, you have 18 months to pass the other three sections. When you receive your notice about passing your first section, the notice will state when your credit expires. Therefore, this notice is letting you know that you now have 18 months to pass those other sections. So pay attention to your CPA Exam score expiration date; you don’t want to let those 18 months fly by.
About half of the CPA candidates who sit for the CPA Exam fail at least one section. I’m not telling you this to scare you, but it is a warning to a) study with a good CPA Exam review course and b) not wait until the very end of your 18-month window to squeeze in your last section.
Consequently, when you wait until the last minute, you’re more likely to feel stressed, which won’t help you on exam day. If you fail to pass the other sections within your 18-month period, you will have to re-take sections until you can pass them in that timeframe. So, you’ll want to re-schedule the CPA Exam section(s) you failed quickly, as you don’t have any time to waste.
As I mentioned above, your credits don’t expire in most jurisdictions, but there are a few exceptions. If your Board of Accountancy is one of the few that requires you to meet all of your education and experience requirements and apply for your CPA license within a certain period after passing the exam, take note. If you let that period pass, you will have to re-take the exam.
So, if you plan to apply for a CPA license in a jurisdiction that does allow credits to expire after a certain amount of time, you need to plan ahead.
If you take the CPA Exam in any international testing locations, you are supposed to complete the licensing requirements within 3 years.
Since it is often difficult to find supervisors and verifiers who are active and licensed U.S. CPAs in these countries, candidates must plan ahead to make sure their exam credits don’t expire.
Therefore, if you haven’t applied for the CPA Exam, it is best to pick a state with flexible experience requirements.
And you may have already passed the CPA Exam and are considering transferring your exam credit to a more “favorable” state to avoid expiration.
For international candidates taking the exam within U.S. jurisdictions, this 3-year limit does not apply to you. If you are an international candidate, you can learn more about the process in my free e-course.
Some states do not have an expiration date on CPA Exam credits, but candidates must take certain CPE (continuing professional education) courses if they do not apply for the license within a reasonable time frame.
This time frame is defined differently in different states. For example:
Please check with your state board for the latest rules.
Most jurisdictions require CPAs to renew their licenses every few years and require CPAs to complete continuing education training. NASBA has more information about CPE standards that are used by most Boards of Accountancy.
Once you pass a section of the CPA Exam, you have to pass the other three sections within an 18-month period. You can think of this window as your “CPA expiration date” of sorts.
After you pass all four sections, you might need to apply for your CPA license within a certain timeframe, depending on your jurisdiction.
And remember, if you took your exam at an international testing location, you’ll need to meet all of the licensing requirements and apply for your license within 3 years of passing the CPA Exam. If you miss this 3-year benchmark, you’ll have to re-take the exam.
Your scores are valid throughout your career and do not expire. Also, please remember that scores and credits are not the same.
I would like to give you one last piece of advice. In this article, you’ve probably noticed that the CPA requirements from one jurisdiction to another can widely vary. And if you aren’t staying on top of changes, your state board could change their policies and you might be stuck in an unwanted situation.
So please consider this advice: apply for your CPA license as soon as you have passed your CPA Exam and have met your education and work requirements. That way, you’ll have fewer headaches if the licensing requirements in your jurisdiction change.
Additionally, your question is always welcome in the comment section below.
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!