CPA Exam Requirements – How to Become a CPA in California

This article gives you an overview of the California CPA exam and licensing requirements.

California is the most popular state to register for the US CPA exam, representing 15% of total candidates. Since January 2014, the state board’s rules have changed such that 150 credit hours and accounting concentration are required to obtain the California CPA license. One Important Note for International Candidates California strictly requires a social security number for the CPA license. What’s confusing is that California does allow candidates without SSN to sit for the exam, so technically, non-SSN holders can still apply and think about transferring your exam credits to other states. However, I strongly recommend you try another state because there are risks in credit transfer. You can check out this page for state boards popular to international candidates.

California CPA Requirements: First, Exam Eligibility Let’s take a look at the general education requirement. Candidates are required to have: 4-year bachelor degree or above; 150 credit hours; If you are enrolling in a master’s degree or a program that would make you fulfil the 150-hour rule upon graduation, you may take the CPA exam before graduation by seeking prior approval from CA state board. For other bachelor degree holders with 120 credit hours, you can make up for the remaining 30 credit hours with: An additional master’s degree; Non-degree courses in community colleges, and other accredited educational institutions. It can be done either online or in a classroom setting. Here are some suggestions on how this can be done. Candidates are also required to fulfil minimum accounting courses. They need to fulfil: 24 credit hours; Qualifying courses include Accounting, Auditing, External or Internal Reporting, Financial Reporting, Financial Statement Analysis, and Taxation. Other accounting courses that can be counted include Assurance, Attestation, Bookkeeping, Cost meaning Cost Analysis and Costing, Peachtree, and QuickBooks CPA review courses can be counted but must be taken from regionally or nationally accredited institutions.

Please refer to CBA Regulations section 9.2(b) for details. Third, candidates need to fulfil at least 24 credit hours of business-related courses. Qualifying courses include Business Administration, Business Communications, Business Law, Business Management, Computer Science or Information System, Economics, Finance, Marketing, Mathematics, Statistics, Business, related law courses offered at an accredited law school. Please refer to CBA Regulations section 9.2(c) for details. Second, License Requirements The California state board does not give you certificates or other official documents after passing the exam. You must complete the licensing requirements to hold yourself out as a CPA. First, Education Apart from the 24 accounting credits and 24 business credits, you need the following additional courses for the license: Accounting Study Subjects, and you’ll need 20 credit hours. This is an addition to the 24 accounting credits mentioned above. The state board is essentially looking for an accounting concentration.

You can check out the detailed requirement under CBA Regulation Sections 11.1. You are automatically qualified if you have a master’s in Accounting, Taxation or Laws in Taxation. Ethics Study, and you’ll need 10 credit hours. Qualifying courses include Auditing, Legal Environment of Business, Business Leadership, Morals, Corporate Governance, Business Law, Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility, Human Resources Management Fraud, Management of Organizations, Business Government & Society, Organizational Behavior, Professional Responsibilities. Details can be found in BPC section 5094.3.

Question: This is all too complicated. Does California state board provide pre-evaluation service?

The state board does not have such service, but they provide this self-assessment worksheet on their website, for you to determine whether you are qualified for the California CPA license. Third, Experience Requirements 150 credit hours, plus 1 year of experience is the only way to get the license effective Jan 1, 2014. General requirements: 1 year of experience in accounting, attestation, compilation, management advisory, financial advisory, tax, or consulting skills. The experience acquired in the teaching of the above subjects does not qualify. 500 and plus attest hours are needed for those who want to sign attest reports. Part-time work is accepted. 170 hours is equivalent to one month of full-time employment. Experience from public accounting For those with experience in public accounting, you must be supervised and verified by an individual who holds a valid active license, or comparable authority to practice public accountancy in any state or country. My interpretation is that your supervisor can be a CPA or CA from other countries. Giving the language is quite vague here, it is best to double-check with the state board by email if your boss is not a US CPA. Experience from non-public accounting or private industries You’ll need to be supervised and verified by a US CPA. If this verifier is not the owner of the company, then a second signature from his boss (not necessarily a CPA) is required. Special Note to Out-of-State Supervisor License Verifications If your experience is obtained outside of California, the state board requires written verification from the out-of-state licensing body with which the supervisor holds a valid active license to practice public accountancy. Fourth, Ethics Exam Requirements The California State Board only accepts an ethics exam known as the Professional Ethics for CPAs, from the California CPA Education Foundation. The exam has to be taken within 2 years after the submission of the license application. Fifth, California CPA Requirements on Residency and Age Non-US citizens and residents are welcome to apply. There is no minimum age requirement. Social security number is not required to sit for the exam, but mandatory to obtain the license.