How to Become a CPA in California

For a state that is comparable in its economy to many nations in the world, California is a great place to become a CPA. The five largest sectors of output in California are financial services, and then transportation, government, manufacturing, and finally, education and health services. Finance is one of the biggest economic focal points in California, where, along with government, and real estate, 58% of the state’s income is covered in these three industries. Interestingly, at a rate of only 1.5% of the state’s economy, the agricultural industry has the highest production of any other state.

By far the greatest economic revenue source in the state comes from tech companies centered in the San Francisco Bay Area. Next to that is the entertainment industry which also garners California revenue and attention, mostly in the southern part of the state in Los Angeles. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics from the Department of Labor, the expected growth for CPAs and other financial advisors in California is 10% between now and 2026. In a state that already employs more than 143,500 CPAs, more than any other state in the country. Another great reason to be a CPA in California is that almost all of the top 50 accounting firms in the state are on the top 100 firms in the country, according to Accounting Today. That means many opportunities for California CPAs to make their mark and learn from the best.

CA Quick Facts

*Source: BLS Data

Accounting Programs in California

Certified Public Accounting requires a broad range of expertise, and therefore a certain amount and particular type of education regulated by the state where they hope to practice. Certainly, the job of a CPA is very similar in each state, but licensing is state-specific for the sake of being clear that the varied state tax laws and guidelines are covered completely and the consumer or company is protected completely. Almost all states have made it possible for CPAs practice locally, even if temporarily, regardless of where their license was obtained. The rules that govern this practice are called Mobility Legislation.

Some states only allow this temporary license to be valid for a certain number of working hours per month, or stipulate the amount of money a CPA can make outside of their licensing state, while others require that the CPA can only own property in their licensing state, for instance. These agreements vary from state to state, meaning California has agreements like these with some states, but not with others. The website CPAmobility.org is an easy way to find out where CPAs in California can practice, and what documentation they must submit, depending on where they wish to practice.

Nationally, people who are applying to become a CPA are required to take a minimum of 150-semester units of college education, in any concentration. They also must engage in accounting related work experience, and pass the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination. Once someone is licensed as a CPA in any state, interstate CPA licensing requirements (like those mentioned above) begin to apply, regardless of the type of client services performed, and regardless of how well the practitioner knows about the laws in the next state over.

CPA Certifications in California

To become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in California, specific eligibility requirements must be met beyond those of the national minimums. The California Board of Public Accountancy has a website describing these requirements, with links to the relevant statutes, contacts, and in many cases, downloadable and electronic submittable forms for CPA applicants.

In California, the person applying to become a CPA must have a bachelor’s degree in Accounting with 150 educational hours from an accredited post-secondary school. This means that in addition to the 120 hours a bachelor’s degree offers, applicants must obtain an additional thirty hours of upper-division coursework in accounting or business. Unique to California, an applicant must have completed 24-semester units in accounting subjects like Accounting, Auditing, Taxation, Financial Reporting, Financial Statement Analysis, or External & Internal Reporting.
They must also have completed 24-semester units in business courses like marketing, Statistics for Business, Business Administration, Business Management, Business Communications, Economics, Finance, or Business Law. They must also have completed 10-semester units in the study of ethics.

Anyone who wishes to become a CPA in the United States, must sit for and pass the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination (Uniform CPA Exam). The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is the body that creates and regulates the exam, and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) administers it in each state.

The Uniform CPA Exam is the same, or uniform, in every state, however, the requirements for being eligible to sit for the exam, and subsequently passing, determines if you can be licensed in your state.

CPA Licensure in California, Steps Toward Eligibility

To be eligible for CPA licensure in California, candidates must meet these following qualifications:

Source: California Board of Public Accountancy

In addition to the minimum national standards, CPAs in Cali (and everywhere) must complete continuing professional education (CPE) hours to maintain their CPA licensure. Specific to The Golden State, these must be earned throughout the year and reported once every two years. California CPAs must report at least 80 hours in general, 40 of these in technical subject areas of accounting, for the 2-year period that goes from the last day of the birth month in odd or even year, corresponding to odd or even year of birth. Four of these 80 hours must be in the area of ethics in accountancy, and 12 must be in technical subjects each year.

For those CPAs who are also instructors of Accounting, CPE credit is equal to actual presentation hours, plus up to two additional hours for actual preparation time for each hour taught. University/college students who are CPAs can also claim CPE credit that is limited to the following: 1 quarter hour equals 10 CE hours; 1 semester hour equals 15 CE hours, and 1-hour non-credit classroom presentation equals 1 CE hour.

Best Cities in California to Work as an Accountant (Based on Salary)

Source: BLS Data

In the year 2007, federal regulations were passed to allow CPA mobility, meaning if, for example, a CPA had been working with a client for years, and that client moved away or is working in a state they do not live in, that CPA could continue working with that client, even outside of the state the CPA is licensed in. The regulating bodies who govern accounting, and who passed this new regulation are The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).

The regulation itself is referred to as Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA) and the section dealing with mobility across state lines is section 23, or “no notice, no fee, no escape”. Section 23 is often compared to the driver’s license model. Any driver who is licensed in a U.S. state can, without penalty, drive across the country without applying for new driver’s licenses in each state she visits. If she were to disobey the traffic laws of the state she is visiting outside her licensing state, she can be disciplined by the state where the infraction occurred. The same applies to the UAA, and specifically section 23. The UUA in its entirety was developed and is maintained, reviewed and updated by the AICPA and NASBA. It provides a uniform approach to regulation of the accounting profession.