Accounting Continuing Professional Education

Accounting continuing professional education (CPE) requirements are mandated by individual state boards of accountancy. CPAs in the United States are required to obtain an average of 40 hours of continuing professional education each year, one of the highest hourly requirements across all professions. For purposes of tracking credits, one hour of professional education equals one CPE credit. Additionally, many states consider 50 minutes to be an hour of education.

In order to partially relieve CPAs of the steep annual continuing professional education requirements, most states allow CPAs to carry over a certain number of credits that exceed minimum annual requirements. These “carry over” credits can then be used toward the next year’s requirements. For example, the state of North Carolina requires that CPAs obtain 40 hours of CPE credits annually; however, any hours over 40 (up to a maximum of 20 hours) can be carried over to the following year and used against the following year’s 40-hour requirement. This means that North Carolina essentially requires CPAs to earn 80 hours over a two-year period. A CPA could theoretically earn 60 credits in one year, then 20 the next, and still meet the minimum 40 hours required each year.

CPAs can only obtain Accounting continuing professional education from approved CPE providers. CPE providers are approved on a state-by-state basis; however, certain companies registered with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) meet the requirements of nearly 40 different states. To find a list of continuing professional education providers and the states that accept CPE credits from those providers, check out this link to NASBA:

CPAs can choose from a wide variety of educational topics that relate to the field of Accounting or are complementary to practicing Accounting

Sample Accounting Continuing Professional Education Topics Accounting (General or Governmental) Regulatory Ethics Administrative Practice
Social Environment of Business Auditing Business Law Business Management Finance Management Advisory Services Marketing Communications Personal Development
Mathematics Production Production Statistics
Specialized Knowledge and Application Computer Science Taxes Behavioral Ethics Governmental Auditing

The sample topics above are typically broken down into very specific subtopics. For example, a CPA interested in taking a CPE course on taxes would most likely take a very specific tax course versus a general course on taxes. An example of a specific course would be “Income Taxes for High Net Worth Individuals.”

Most states do not require that CPAs submit proof of credits claimed each year. They simply select a random sampling of all licensed CPAs each year to audit. Upon audit, a CPA must provide copies of CPE certificates (which should be provided by the CPE provider upon completion of a course) that support the number of CPE credits claimed in a year.

To learn more about a specific state’s continuing professional education requirements, check out this list of state boards of accountancy maintained by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA):

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