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To become a CPA in California, you needn’t be either a resident of the state or a United States citizen. You can also be of any age. However, to receive your license you must have either a Social Security number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. California also has specific educational, experience and ethics requirements—these on top of passing all four parts of the state CPA examination.
The educational requirements for California CPAs includes a minimum of 150 semester hours of undergraduate work that culminate in a bachelor’s degree. As part of these 150 hours, you must have 24 hours of accounting subjects, 24 hours of business subjects, 20 hours of accounting study subjects, and 10 units of ethics.
The 24 hours of accounting subjects include these areas of study:
- External or Internal Reporting
- Financial Reporting
- Financial Statement Analysis
If those specific terms are not part of your course descriptions, the following also qualify under the California Board’s rubric:
- CPA Review—from accredited institutions only
When you submit your transcripts, your coursework will be reviewed to ensure that it meets the exacting standards of the Board. If you are a current student, you might want to discuss this issue with your advisor to be certain that your work will qualify. Most accounting departments are aware of state requirements, particularly those in either of the California public university systems.
To satisfy the business subject requirement, your coursework needs to have included these areas:
- Business Administration
- Business Law
- Computer Science/Information Systems
- Business Communications
To satisfy California’s accounting study requirements, you can count only three credit hours from any of these areas:
- Physical, Life or Social Sciences
- Foreign Languages
- Engineering, Architecture or Real Estate
If you have completed a Master of Accounting, Taxation or Laws in Taxation degree it will satisfy the accounting study rubric.
The CBA will need to receive official, sealed transcripts from every educational institution you have attended. Prior to sending the transcripts, review your record with your advisor and make sure that you have completed all of the required coursework. If you are attending a California institution, your academic advisor should be familiar with the Board’s requirements. No matter what state you are in, your college or university must be fully accredited by a regional or national accrediting agency.
The CPA Exam
The CPA exam is a prerequisite by the Board for applying for full licensure. This is a standardized test administered through the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and includes four parts:
- Financial Accounting and Reporting
- Auditing and Attestation
- Business Environment and Concepts
You can take each part separately and over a wide span of time, allowing you to prepare for each portion individually. Keep in mind that many people need to retake the test, so take time to prepare and don’t worry if you need to try again.
To be fully licensed as a CPA, the CBA also requires that you have verifiable work experience. You must have 12 full months of experience in accounting, attest, compilation, management advisory, financial advisory, taxes or consultation. Your experience may take place in any type of accounting firm, whether public, private or governmental.
The Board will need a Certificate of General Experience (CGE) form filled out by your supervisor. There are separate forms for either public or private accounting. For the non-public form, if your signatory is not the owner of the firm then his or her supervisor must also sign.
Your first year of qualifying experience must include 500 hours of attest. This work must include:
- Planning an audit
- Application of auditing procedures to the transactions on the financial statements
- Preparation of written explanations of the work and conclusions
- Preparation and reporting of full disclosure financial statements
To document your attest experience, the Board needs a Certificate of Attest Experience (CAE). This form, like the CGE, has both a public and a non-public version. Your signatory for this form must be licensed and have the authority to perform attest services.
Most states are requiring candidates to take the AICPA uniform ethics exam, but California has decided to make their own exam. This exam is very similar to the AICPA test. It consists of 50 multiple-choice questions and must be completed within two years of passing the CPA exam and purchasing the ethics exam.
The CA ethics exam costs $150 and is taken online. You can get a 20% discount if you sign up as a member of the CALCPA. You can even become a member of the CALCPA for free if you just graduated with an accounting degree
You have to pass the ethics exam to meet the CPA license requirements. Although it is open book, you must get a 90% or higher to pass and you only have three chances to pass it before you are required to purchase it again. If you do happen to fail it three times in a row, you can call the state board and either get a free copy or a discounted copy.
California only accepts scores from the PETH (Professional Ethics for CPAs) exam to fulfill the ethics requirement for CPA licensees. This test must be completed and passed within two years of your application for a license. The exam is administered by the California CPA (CALCPA) Education Foundation and includes items covering these topics:
- Business ethics
- Philosophy of professional conduct
- Code of Professional Conduct
- Independence, integrity and objectivity
- Commissions and fees
- Tax services
- Accountancy Act and CBA Regulations
Submit all the required paperwork to the state board usually includes transcripts, license application, and proof of work experience.
CA is unique in that they require your fingerprints. You must have them taken, notarized, and submitted with your application paperwork.
Pay the $250 certification/application fee and $120 annual license fee when you send in your initial license application.
Q: What is a CPA? A: A CPA is a Certified Public Accountant. This is a professional designation for accountants who have met certain education and experience requirements and have passed the Uniform CPA Exam.
Q: What are the requirements to become a CPA in California? A: In California, the requirements to become a CPA include:
- Completion of a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited college or university.
- Completion of 150 semester units of college education, including 24 semester units in accounting courses and 24 semester units in business-related courses.
- Pass the Uniform CPA Exam.
- Complete one year of experience working in accounting under the supervision of a licensed CPA.
- Pass an ethics exam.
Q: What is the Uniform CPA Exam, and how do I prepare for it? A: The Uniform CPA Exam is a standardized test that measures the knowledge and skills required of a CPA. It is administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). To prepare for the exam, you may take a review course offered by a college or university, private companies or through online course. The California Board of Accountancy has a list of approved providers on their website.
Q: How do I apply to take the Uniform CPA Exam in California? A: To apply to take the Uniform CPA Exam in California, you must first meet the education and experience requirements listed above. Then, you can apply online through the California Board of Accountancy website and submit the required application fees.
Q: How long does it take to become a CPA in California? A: The time it takes to become a CPA in California varies depending on individual circumstances, but it typically takes a minimum of four years to complete the educational and experience requirements and pass the Uniform CPA Exam.
Q: Do I need to have a job as an accountant to become a CPA in California? A: Yes, you need to have at least one year of experience working in accounting under the supervision of a licensed CPA to become a CPA in California.
Q: What is the ethics exam, and how do I take it? A: The ethics exam is a test of professional ethics and responsibilities that CPAs are required to pass. The exam is offered by the AICPA and can be taken online or in-person.
Q: How much does it cost to become a CPA in California? A: The cost of becoming a CPA in California includes the application fees for the Uniform CPA Exam and the ethics exam, the cost of review courses and study materials, and the cost of continuing education courses to maintain your CPA license. Expect to spend several thousand dollars to cover all the necessary expenses.
Q: What is the salary for a CPA in California? A: The salary for a CPA in California varies depending on factors such as experience, location, and industry. However, the average salary for a CPA in California is around $80,000 to $100,000 per year.