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What Is a CPA? Your Guide

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Most of the accountants in the United States are CPAs. About 30% to 45% of currently-licensed accountants have their CPA certification.

But, what is a CPA and why is the position so popular?

Well, CPAs (certified public accountants) have the ability to practice in several different areas of accounting. That’s why they take up a great amount of the accounting jobs out there.

CPAs have the education and training to do a number of things for individuals, companies, and other entities. 

Keep reading to learn more about what work as a CPA looks like.

What Is a CPA?

CPA stands for certified public accountant. Financial professionals with the education, training, and certification to become a CPA have a wide range of important skills.

You may know CPAs as the financial geniuses that help individuals and organizations record and interpret their financial data. Most often, this is for tax-related reasons. However, certified public accountants can also help when it comes to financial planning, too.

Because of their wide depth of financial knowledge, CPAs have the ability to hold several different job titles across the United States:

  • Tax consultant
  • Business advisor
  • Auditor
  • Accounting consultant
  • General accountant

Certified public accountants even have the business expertise necessary to work their way up in different company settings. So, they could become managers, CEOs, and even owners.

How to Become a CPA

Because of the high standards set forth by financial institutions, becoming a CPA isn’t easy. There are several steps that you need to follow.

And, once you’ve finished your formal education, it doesn’t stop there. You have to get your license and retain your license throughout your career.

Keep in mind that the specific requirements for each state differ slightly. However, the general idea of education, training, and certification remains the same.

Let’s look at each step on the journey to becoming a CPA.

1. Complete Your Formal College Education

All candidates that want to get their CPA licensure must complete a formal accounting program at the collegiate level. Usually, these programs lie at around 150 hours:

  • At least 30 semester hours in accounting above an elementary level
  • At least 24 semester hours in business-related courses

Keep in mind that the first two accounting classes that you take will fall under the elementary level. So, these will not count towards your 150 hours.

At the end of your formal education, you should receive at least a Bachelor’s degree with a major or concentration in accounting.

2. Get Your Required Hours of Experience

In order to qualify for your CPA license, you must complete supervised work experience in accounting. Usually, you have to get 2,000 hours of supervised accounting experience over the course of at least one year.

You could work in business, academia, government, or some other sector. All of the work that you do, except for work in a government position or college teaching, must be supervised by a currently-licensed certified public accountant.

During this work experience, you may perform a series of jobs:

  • Accounting
  • Attestations
  • Compilations
  • Management
  • Business advising
  • Financial advising
  • Tax advising
  • Consulting

Getting this experience is crucial to ensuring that you have the experience necessary to do this kind of job on your own in the future. Plus, it’s a great way to network for potential jobs in the future.

3. Take and Pass the CPA Exam

In order to take the CPA exam, you must register online with the National Association of the State Board of Accountancy (NASBA). You have to apply to take the national CPA certification exam, which is known as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Uniform CPA Exam.

After they review your application, you’ll receive a Notice to Schedule your exam.

In order to pass, you must receive a score of 75 or higher on all four sections. And, you must do this within an 18-month period.

4. Apply for a CPA License

The NASBA is the organization that processes all CPA certificates.

In order to get your CPA license, you have to provide proof of your school hours, work experience, and examination completion.

5. Receive a CPA License

After filling out the CPA licensure application and sending all of the required items to NASBA, you’ll receive an acknowledgment email once NASBA reviews everything.

It may take them two to three weeks to process the application completely.

Once they approve your application, you’ll get a notification in the mail. Along with this, you’ll get a wall certificate and an official license card.

CPA License Renewal and Continuing Education

Once you get your certified public accounting license, you have to complete continuing education credits during your renewal period. Usually, the CPA reviewal comes after every two years.

So, you’d have to complete 80 hours of continuing education credits within two years. However, you have to have at least 20 credits during each one of these years. You can’t cram all 80 hours into one year.

At least 16 of these continuing education hours much be in accounting and auditing.

Where to Find CPA Jobs

You can get a job as a certified public accountant anywhere. Every single business needs someone managing its finances. And, there are people who are willing to pay big bucks for someone to organize their finances for them.

Where to Find Other Accounting Jobs

If you’d rather work in a business capacity or in another sector, you can do so with your CPA license. Just make sure that you have the necessary experience to do the things that you’re looking to do.

If you’d like to transition from one position to another, you can use your continuing education credits to learn about another sector more in-depth.

Work As a CPA

So, what is a CPA? Well, CPAs are financial experts. They’re the ones that help individuals, families, and businesses figure out their finances during the good and the bad times.

If you’re interested in becoming a CPA, get started as soon as possible.

To look into other interesting careers, check out the rest of our blog.

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