CPA Specifics: Licensing Is Just The Beginning

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Every industry has bits of insider knowledge that no one really talks about until you’re already employed. It might be details about a particular workplace, the scoop on industry hierarchies, or notes on how the work really gets done that you won’t find in any book. In the world of accounting, though, one of the little-known realities of being a CPA is that passing your CPA exam is hardly the most difficult part of the process. No, the hard part is staying certified, and finding an employer who is enthusiastic about supporting that. 

Why is it so hard to maintain your CPA license? The primary reason is that many accounting-related jobs don’t actually require a CPA license. And when the role doesn’t require that license, many adjacent employers won’t pay for the continuing professional education (CPE) required to maintain the license. 

The CPA Career Arc

Becoming a CPA is generally the culmination of a substantial period of study, and often a financial investment in preparation. That’s because those who wish to join the profession need to pass a four-part CPA exam during an eighteen-month period, and then need to take additional courses to retain that license and stay up to date on changes to accounting policy and related issues.

Though CPE isn’t difficult compared to passing the original CPA exam, it can be expensive, and not all CPE courses are created equal. That’s why it’s important to research CPA CPE providers, give yourself time to complete courses, and have clear goals regarding what you hope to gain from this additional study. Particularly if you don’t have an employer who will pay for your coursework, you’ll want to find CPE programs that cater to your interests.

Titles Matter

One major question that new CPAs have is this: if your job doesn’t require that you be a fully licensed CPA and your employer declines to cover your CPE coursework, should you take the classes anyway? That depends, but while CPE courses can be expensive, dealing with a lapsed license can be an even bigger problem. Furthermore, in many states, CPAs with lapsed licenses can’t use the title, and doing so can create legal trouble. If you do allow your license to lapse, then, it’s important to know exactly how your area requires you to note your current status.

The Experience Factor

There’s one other issue that CPAs should consider when addressing their license status, and that’s the question of experience. Having your CPA license can be a powerful mark on your resume as a young professional, while the value of a CPA license may matter less if you have more professional experience. Essentially, whether or not it’s important to ensure your license is active, then, depends as much on your role’s requirements as what other skills you can leverage on your resume.

CPE is an integral part of staying certified in just about any licensed profession, but these extra classes tend to play second fiddle to the challenge of becoming certified in the first place. Though understandable, it’s time to become more transparent about the nature of this work and what it takes to be competitive. There’s much to be said for holding a professional license, but as seasoned workers know, that’s just the beginning of the story.