The decision to become a CPA can be the first step towards a very promising and rewarding career. The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a highly educated professional in the accounting and business world. Becoming a CPA requires education, training, and a commitment to maintaining the required certification so that the CPA can continue to help individuals and businesses save money and be as profitable as possible. Here are the steps towards becoming a CPA.
What is a CPA?
A CPA is an individual who has completed the educational requirements required to become an accountant, obtained experience working as an accountant, and has passed the CPA certification exam. CPAs work in accounting firms or independently as freelance accountants. The credential says it all. The individual is an accountant certified to work for the public. The CPA prepares tax forms, prepares financial documents, and ensures the company is in compliance with government and company laws. He or she also monitors the company’s financial status and looks for discrepancies in the accounts.
Individuals who wish to become CPAs must have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting. While some may pursue a master’s degree, the baccalaureate degree is the minimum educational requirement. Because of the additional credits beyond the bachelor’s degree that are required to become CPAs, some of the students pursue a master’s degree. A typical bachelor’s degree program offers about 120 credits.
To be eligible to take the CPA exam, the candidate must complete 150 credits, and 30 of those credits should be college graduate credits. Some colleges offer a 5-year bachelor/master degree combination program that satisfies the CPA requirements. Each state has its own requirements regarding the credits and exams. This state-specific information can be found on the American Institute of Certified Accountants website.
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The CPA exam is a four-part exam that must be passed before an accountant can earn the credential of CPA. The candidate does not need to pass all four exams at one time, but they must all be completed within 18 months of when the first test was taken. The student has four and a half hours to complete each of the four parts. The four exams cover the following areas.
- Auditing and Attestation
- Business Environment and Concepts
- Financial Accounting and Reporting
Each of the above sections is broken down into five smaller parts, which include both task-based simulations and multiple-choice questions. Students must also complete three communication tasks and correctly answer one research question. Each test is different in regards to the number of each type of question or task.
CPAs are required to complete continuing education courses to main their certification. Failure to complete the courses in the required time can result in the individual losing the CPA credential. The amount that each state requires can vary. It seems that every year the laws are changing for the financial and accounting industries. Information regarding the continuing education requirements can also be found on the AICPA website.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that accountants should experience employment growth of 10% during the 2016-2026 decade. The BLS also reports that accountants earn an average annual wage of $77,920. The accountant who has “gone the extra mile” and earned the CPA credential should see the best career and wage opportunities.