Difference Between CPA Certificate vs CPA License

I’d like to answer a frequently asked question on the difference between a CPA certificate and CPA license. In most states, the term “CPA certificate” and “CPA license” is interchangeable. However, for two-tier states there is a distinction between the two: CPA certificate In two-tier states, a candidate can apply for a CPA certificate after passing the exam. Work experience is often not required. Continuous professional education hours, also known as CPE hours are normally not required. Scope of work is limited as a certificate holder cannot own a CPA firm, or sign an audit report. Also, certificate holders cannot normally hold themselves out as a CPA. Depending on the state, this can be applied within the jurisdiction, in the US, or even worldwide.

CPA license Typically requires 1-2 years of experience, supervised and/or verified by a CPA license holder. CPE hours are required every reporting years, typically 120 hours every 3 years. Can use CPA title in business cards, or own CPA firm, or sign audit reports. Implications to international candidates Because the certificate is easier to get, one can consider the certificate as the first level. The license, or permit to practice, is the second level. In fact, many international students aim for certificates only because the CPA qualification is used to enhance their credentials. Please note that due to confusion to the public and some abuses in the system, most jurisdictions have switched from two-tier states to one-tier states in the last 5 to 10 years.

In other words, CPA certificates are becoming virtually irrelevant because most state boards stopped issuing them. I strongly recommend that candidates regardless of origin to go for the full license. If you have difficulties fulfilling the educational or experience requirements, there are ways to resolve them.