Understanding CPE for CPAs
Nearly constant changes arising from new accounting standards, auditing standards, changes in taxation legislation such as the massive tax reform legislation of 2017 (the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act), and frequent court rulings mean that CPAs, accounting professionals, and tax preparers must frequently update their skills and knowledge.
In fact, nearly all state boards of CPAs require that licensed CPAs earn a significant number of credits via high-quality, NASBA (National Association of State Boards of Accountancy) approved continuing professional education (CPE) programs. These standards, which are among the most rigorous of any professional designation, help ensure that businesses, government entities, and taxpayers get high-quality, ethical, and accurate service from CPAs and other licensed accounting and tax professionals. In most states, the annual CPE requirement for CPAs is approximately 40 hours of CPE, though the number of credit hours, the specific reporting requirements, and timelines tend to vary by state. Fortunately, there are a variety of convenient options when it comes to CPE for CPAs, including programs that can be tailored around schedules and learning preferences.
For decades, CPAs earned most of their CPE by attending live seminars, either in conjunction with their state society of CPAs or as part of an in-house training event at their accounting firm. Today, many CPAs prefer to earn CPE credits online. Online courses can either be live, instructor led events that occur at a specific, scheduled time (called "webinars") or they can be available in one of several self-study formats. Self-study courses include text-based PDF courses and on-demand webcasts (which include recorded video featuring an instructor). Surgent, a longtime leader in the live seminar CPE business, was one of the first CPE providers in the industry to also develop a comprehensive catalog of online CPE courses. Today, Surgent has the largest offering of online CPE, including more than 7,500 CPE credit hours in all, available both individually in learning formats including webinars and self-study courses, and in money-saving, comprehensive packages designed to make it as convenient as possible for busy professionals to meet their annual CPE requirements.
CPE Credit Requirements
Each state has discretion in the number of CPE credits required for license renewal. For example, Alabama requires 40 CPE credits each year, while Massachusetts requires a total of 80 credits every other year, and Rhode Island requires 120 credits over a three-year period. Many states require CPAs to report their earned CPE annually, while others only require reporting once every three years. Some states that have a three-year cycle require at least 20 hours to be earned each year, where states like Illinois have no annual minimum. Many states, like Pennsylvania, require all CPAs to report their CPE on the same date (December 31st of every odd year), while some states, like California and Texas, tie CPA reporting cycles to their licensees' birth year or birth month. 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, whether there is a maximum number of credits that may be earned via self-study, and whether there is a requirement to earn a number of credits in a given subject area, such as ethics.
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:
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:
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.