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Understanding CPE for CPAs


Constant changes in the regulations around accounting mean CPAs must frequently update their skills. To ensure that consumers get high-quality service from licensed professionals, continuing professional education (CPE) is a requirement for maintaining and renewing a license to practice. Fortunately, there are a variety of services offering CPE for CPAs, which means that programs can be tailored around schedules and learning preferences.

Many CPAs elect to participate in online CPE coursework, which offers the flexibility of learning anytime, anywhere. For example, leading CPE provider Surgent has a long list of self-study modules, webinars, and comprehensive packages designed to meet the needs of busy professionals.


CPE Credit Requirements

Each state has discretion in the number of CPE credits required for license renewal. For example, Alabama requires only 40 CPE credits, while Massachusetts requires 80 credits and Rhode Island requires 120 credits over varying time periods. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) maintains detailed information by state, including state-specific restrictions on what portion of credits can be earned by teaching and whether there is a requirement to earn a number of credits in a given subject area.


CPE Fields of Study

Participants can customize their CPE learning programs around topics of interest, though states typically require a specific percentage of credits in technical topics. These include the following subject areas:

  • Accounting/Accounting (Governmental)
  • Auditing/Auditing (Governmental)
  • Business Law
  • Economics
  • Finance
  • Information Technology
  • Management Services
  • Regulatory Ethics
  • Specialized Knowledge
  • Statistics
  • Taxes

Most states provide for some non-technical CPE credits in subjects that directly relate to the work of a CPA. Non-technical subjects include the following:

  • Behavioral Ethics
  • Business Management and Organization
  • Communications and Marketing
  • Computer Software and Applications
  • Personal Development
  • Personnel/Human Resources
  • Production

Standards for CPE Providers

In an effort to ensure that CPE is effective in providing CPAs with the information needed to keep skills current, the NASBA and AICPA partnered to create a set of standards. These are regularly updated to take changes in technology and delivery methods into consideration, and the newest requirements were effective on Sept. 1, 2016.

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