What are the Continuing Professional Education Requirements for CPAs?

In order to provide quality professional services and ensure up-to-date knowledge within their field, many of today’s professionals are required to continue their education through post-graduate programs. Certified public accountants, or CPAs, enroll in Continuing Professional Education programs to maintain and expand their skills, and to stay relevant to the latest changes in such dynamic professional worlds as business, accounting, and finance. Individual professional associations and state accounting boards all have CPE requirements which need to be met in order for member CPAs to maintain their accreditation.

Here are some of the core essentials for a CPA to meet their Continuing Professional Education requirements:

Minimum Required CPE Hours

This is a point where many new CPAs become confused. In order to calculate your CPE hours, multiply your semester hours by 15, or your quarter hours by 10. Some of the largest professional organizations in existence for certified public accountants maintain requirements of between 100 and 120 CPE hours per cycle. A cycle generally runs in 3-year periods relative to an individual’s membership, with a new cycle beginning on the first of January every three years. CPE requirements may be met over the course of a cycle, with a 2-3 month grace period following the start of a new reporting period set aside for the last-minute completion of any missing requirements.

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Adhere to Strict Documentation Requirements

A CPA is responsible for filing all documentation, relative to their meeting CPE requirements, in a proper and timely fashion. Required information and formatting will vary from one organization to another; generally speaking, it includes sponsorship, document titles, description or table of contents, any relevant dates regarding completed work, the member’s location, and the number of CPE hours which they have completed. Please note that most organizations will have more specific requirements particular to their way of doing things, beyond the general overview provided here.

State Requirements are Usually Minimal

State requirements for CPE program completion are usually relatively light in comparison to those maintained by professional associations. For example, a CPA may be required to complete 20-40 CPE hours, with a few specific subjects included therein (such as 5-10 hours in accounting and auditing; some states may have additional subject requirements). One important thing to keep track of, however, is the way a state’s cycle runs. Not every state operates from January 1st to December 31st; they might operate from October 1st to September 30th instead, or along another accepted rubric of annual turnover. States also tend to break down their requirements into annual obligations, rather than 2-4 year cycles.

CPE Requirement Exceptions

CPAs who do not offer their services to third parties, such as due to retirement, unemployment or having willfully left the workforce due to medical reasons, are automatically exempted from many organizations’ CPE requirements. In addition, there are circumstantial concerns which can temporarily exempt a person from meeting CPE requirements, including medical incapacitation, military service and natural disasters. Requests for exemption, in such cases, may have to be submitted by the CPA or a legal representative in writing, by mail or fax.

By maintaining Continuing Professional Education requirements, certified professionals ensure that their skills and knowledge are up to current standards. They maintain accreditation through the government, and through some of the most respected professional organizations in the country, allowing them to do business in a trusted capacity involving highly sensitive information.