While earning your Certified Professional Accountant certification is a huge accomplishment, it doesn’t mean you’re all done studying! That’s because CPAs are required to obtain Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits after earning their accreditation to ensure they keep their finger on the pulse of best practices in the accountancy profession.

In this article, we’ll walk you through exactly what a CPE is, how CPE requirements and rules work, and the most critical part… how to earn them!

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What is CPE

What is Continuing Professional Education (CPE)?

Before we dive in, let’s take a quick look at precisely what CPE is, or can be!

According to The Statement on Standards for Continuing Professional Education, Continuing Professional Education (CPE) is “an integral part of the lifelong learning required to provide competent service to the public.” Essentially, CPE encompasses a set of learning activities that enable CPAs to maintain and improve their professional credentials.

CPE is broken down and measured by a credit system where One CPE credit equals fifty minutes of learning.

As we know, there are many professional skills required to be a capable professional accountant. Therefore, a CPE credit can build on any of those professional skills, leaving the interpretation of relevant continuing education purposely broad.

Accordingly, a list of relevant fields of study published and overseen by the National Registry of CPE Sponsors is available as a guide for CPE credit opportunities. Let’s look at a quick overview!

CPE Fields of Study

CPE Fields of Study

To collect CPE credits, you can find courses or educational opportunities in the following technical subjects:

  •     Accounting
  •     Auditing
  •     Business Law
  •     Economics
  •     Finance & Financial Planning
  •     Governmental Accounting
  •     Governmental Auditing
  •     Information Technology
  •     Management Services
  •     Regulatory Ethics
  •     Specialized Knowledge
  •     Statistics
  •     Taxes

 You can also take CPE courses in the following professional subjects:

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

Alternatively, if you participate in a learning opportunity that isn’t listed in the field of study or doesn’t meet all the requirements, you’ll still have the chance to make a case for it!

Retain all relevant documentation from the course or event and submit it to your state board for review. Exceptions are granted on a case-by-case basis!

Speaking of state boards, let’s dive into the regulating bodies for CPE credits, as well as some hard and fast rules for collecting those credit hours!

CPE Rules and Requirements

The standards for requirements that we mentioned above are published jointly by two major CPA organizations – the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and the American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA).

These two organizations have created the process for selecting, reporting, and reviewing CPE credits. Furthermore, these institutions outline standards that each education provider must meet to qualify as a CPE Sponsor.

The actual number of CPE credit hours you’ll need varies on the state where you’re licensed to practice accountancy. These can range anywhere from 40 hours (Alabama) to 120 (AICPA membership), and are subject to additional specifications.

A complete listing of state requirements is available on the NASBA website. You’ll also see how long the period for accumulating these credits are. It could be anywhere from 1 year to 3 years, depending on your state.

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How to Report CPE Hours

How to Report CPE Hours

To accurately report your hours and get the credits you deserve, hang onto any supporting documentation for your CPE courses for as long as possible! NASBA recommends a minimum of five years, to be on the safe side.

Here are a few examples of the type of documentation you should keep:

  •     Certificate or verification from CPE program sponsor for independent study or group learning
  •     Records or transcripts of grades for university or college courses
  •     Certificate of attendance for noncredit classes
  •     Copy of publication naming CPA as an author or contributor
  •     Course Development documentation naming CPA as a contributor

Additional examples of documentation are available in the Standards for CPE programs.

Now let’s take a look at ways you can earn CPE credits to satisfy your state requirements:

How to Earn CPE Credits

How to Earn CPE Credits

There are a ton of different CPE programs available to participate in, as well as ways to collect credit hours. Since you’re probably incredibly busy as a CPA, tons of long-distance and self-study courses are also available for your convenience!

Keep reading to learn a few ways to earn those credit hours and satisfy the requirement. Before choosing a method below, make sure it meets your specific state requirements:

College Courses

1. College Courses for Continuing Professional Education

If you have a college campus nearby, or the opportunity to take an online course at a university in one of the fields of study outlined above, this is a great way to earn CPE. Depending on the length of the individual courses you choose, most semester-long classes (16 weeks) can be converted into 15 credits, with quarter classes (8 weeks) being equal to 10 CPE credits.

2. Teaching Material

You know what they say: to master a subject, you must teach it! Most state boards of accountancy will recognize credits for delivering a lecture on a profession-related topic. You can also potentially earn credits on writing an article or contributing a book for publication. Check to see if this is allowed in your state, and what limits (if any) there are on credits you can claim for your work.

3. Live Webinars Can Count as CPE

Live webinars from accredited CPE sponsors are more popular than ever; for example, providers like Becker CPA offer unlimited CPE credits. Topics range from auditing to tax reform and yearly tax updates. Typically, you can earn as many as eight credits depending on the webinar you choose.

Self-study webcasts are also available on-demand if you can’t attend a scheduled session.

4. CPA CPE Courses

Many sponsors also offer CPE update courses for several topics. These include accountancy & audit, government and not-for-profit, and tax updates. These continuing education courses keep you up to date on new changes in regulations and guidelines, helping you in your professional journey and performance.

Main Takeaways

Main Takeaways

Continuing Professional Education is a universal requirement to keep your Certified Public Accountant (CPA) professional status current. However, the specific requirements vary from state to state. Remember when you’re selecting your chosen method of study that your local state board of accountancy has the final say in whether your credits will count towards CPE.

Best Ways for CPAs to Earn CPE

To collect your CPEs efficiently, follow these tips:

  •     Check your State Board of Accountancy CPE requirements before making your CPE study plan.
  •     Register for CPA courses, webinars, and webcasts to earn your credit hours.
  •     Collect as much documentation to support the CPE credits you’ll claim.
  •     Keep your documentation for five years minimum.
  •     Submit your documentation to satisfy your CPE requirement and keep your CPA status active!

To see a side-by-side comparison of the top CPE courses available, Click Here!