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CALIFORNIA CPA EXAM & LICENSE REQUIREMENTS 2021
Learn how you can become a licensed CPA in the state of California.
Everyone in business regards the CPA with the highest esteem. The CPA exam is one of the most difficult professional tests, and those who pass it are rewarded throughout the world of business and finance. CPAs are found anywhere that money is changing hands. They consult with small, individually owned businesses, they work with government agencies, IT departments—and they are even CFOs of major corporations. To become a CPA, you must first satisfy the requirements of your state. The following will tell you how to satisfy the California Board of Accountancy (CBA) and become a CPA in California.
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.
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
To learn more about attaining your CPA credentials in California, please visit theCalifornia Board of Accountancy website.