If you’re reading this, congratulations on becoming a CPA! All of your hard work has paid off; you can look forward to having a life again! Although most of the hard work is finally over, there is still one significant, ongoing matter that you will have to address each year throughout your career. You’ll need to keep up with Continuing Professional Education (CPE) in order to keep your CPA license active.
As a CPA exam tutor, my former students often come to me after they’ve become licensed CPAs to seek my guidance regarding aspects of their accounting careers. One issue I am often asked about is where can CPE resources be found, and which CPE resources do I recommend. What follows is a list of CPE information and resources that I often recommend to former students and colleagues.
The Lowdown -- Here’s What You Need To Know About CPE for Accountants
CPAs are required to obtain a certain number of CPE credits each year. Requirements are based on the state in which you are licensed, with most states requiring 40 hours per year. This is sometimes listed as 40 hours annually, 80 hours biennially, or 120 hours triennially. Most states with biennial and triennial periods require that CPAs obtain a certain number of CPE credits per individual year, thus avoiding CPAs loading up on credits in a single year.
There are additional requirements regarding the time period, ethics credits (most commonly 4 hours per credit period) and limits on the types of courses you may take. For example, in Florida, the requirement is to obtain 80 credit hours biennially with the two-year reporting period lasting from July 1st to June 30th. Additionally, those 80 hours must include 4 hours of ethics along with at least 20 hours of accounting credits and no more than 20 hours of behavioral credits. College courses may also count towards the total, and 1 semester hour is equivalent to 15 CPE hours. For more information on the requirements for your state, click here.
Ultimately, you are responsible for tracking your own credits and ensuring that you meet the requirements. Your state board of accountancy expects that you‘re meeting the requirements based on the honor system. Each state does random audits; if they audit your CPE and find that you are in violation, you may be subject to punishment in the form of fines, probation, or other forms of reprimand depending on the severity and jurisdiction.
Here’s How to Get CPE Credits
If you work full-time for a public accounting firm:
The Big 4 and other large accounting firms will provide you with most of the credits you need during normal working hours. They’ll send you to conferences and trainings as well as provide in-office and online courses. These firms typically track your credits for you and will tell you whether you are on track to meet your firm’s required CPE hours, your state’s required CPE hours, and (if you’re a member of the AICPA) whether you’re on track to meet their requirements as well. This helps greatly so you don’t have to track it yourself.
If you work full-time in the private sector:
This varies by company, but depending on where you work, the company may also provide you with enough training courses to cover your requirements. For example, a company with a large accounting department will be more likely to do this. A smaller company with only a few accounting staff may not.
If your company doesn’t provide you with all the courses you need, they may still reimburse you for the courses you take on your own. Alternatively, if your company doesn’t have a policy on this, it doesn’t hurt to ask! You may be surprised by how willing employers are to cover the costs. If your company is not willing to reimburse you for the costs, don’t worry – there are plenty of free courses available (more on that below).
If you are self-employed:
If you are self-employed or are an independent contractor, you’re on your own! You still have the same CPE hour requirements, but you’re responsible for finding them yourself. There are many options, ranging from free courses to paying annual membership fees, for all the courses you need. Basically, if you’re aiming to earn all your credits at no cost, you can most definitely make that happen. The only course that you may need to pay for would be ethics, as it’s extremely hard to come by a free ethics course.
Where Can I find CPE courses?
Below is a list of some great options when it comes to finding CPE courses on your own.
The AICPA has a full library and multiple options for CPE courses. The downfall is that none of these courses are free. However, if you’re a member of the AICPA, you are offered a discounted rate.
- Self Study Courses which can be purchased a la carte
- CPE Subscriptions which can be purchased for an annual fee
- CPExpress – this online subscription provides one year of unlimited access to CPE courses and includes a CPE tracking feature. The courses range from one to four hours.
- Annual Webcast Pass – this online subscription provides one year of unlimited CPE courses with no tests required to earn CPE credits. The courses range from one to eight hours.
- CPE Direct – this annual subscription mails you quarterly self-study publications each with a required exam. If the exam is completed, you can earn up to 12 credits per quarter.
This is a library of self-study courses for purchase along with annual subscriptions through a national registry of CPE sponsors.
Big 4 Firms
Each of the big 4 firms provide FREE online webcasts regularly. You can register for these courses as often as you’d like. These courses are great for CPAs who are self-employed or who are independent contractors.
- The CPE Store – This is a huge library of self-study courses across all industries for purchase. Courses vary by topic and number of credits.
- Sequoia CPE – Purchase a CPE membership for an annual fee for unlimited access to all courses (except for ethics, which must be purchased separately).
- Surgent CPE – You may recognize this name since Surgent also has a CPA prep course, among other things. They have three subscription packages for which you can pay an annual fee for unlimited access. The packages vary based on the amount of credits available, types of courses, and whether the courses are live or self-study.
Although it seems daunting, there are tons of great resources when it comes to finding the right CPE courses for you and your circumstances. Be sure to create a CPE tracking spreadsheet to keep track of your CPE credits from period to period.
Good luck, CPA!