How to Become a CPA in Colorado

Colorado's economy is routinely considered the best of all states in the country. Between the areas of Gross State Product (what the state manufactures and sells), employment rates, (low) healthcare costs, fiscal stability, and a few other metrics, Colorado scores high (or low) in desirable ways for the financial health and wealth of citizens and companies based there. Unique to Colorado and just a few other states, the state operates a flat income tax, which is 4.63% of federal taxable income, regardless of income level. With a flat tax, everyone from fast food workers to CEOs pays exactly their fair share. The exponential nature of that type of flat, percentage taxation more than covers for the infrastructural needs of the state.

With such a strong economy, CPAs in Colorado are essential to help companies and individuals to handle so much business. As of April 2018, Colorado reported only a very low 2.9% unemployment and a gross state product that consistently hovers around $325 million. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics from the Department of Labor, Colorado, the expected growth for CPAs and other financial advisors is 10% between now and 2026. In a state that already employs more than 35,000 CPAs, that means many opportunities for employment in the Centennial State in the coming years. Another great reason to be a CPA in Colorado is that all four of The Big Four accounting firms (PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Ernst & Young, and KPMG) have headquarters in Denver. An internship with one of these firms during or after college will set any accountant up with the skills they need for a lifetime.

CO Quick Facts

*Source: BLS Data

Accounting Programs in Colorado

Becoming a Certified Public Accounting requires those who practice completing a type and amount of financial, tax, and legal education that is state-specific before they are entitled to practice accounting. Many of the functions of CPAs are fairly uniform throughout the country, but licensing is state specific mainly to ensure that CPAs are equipped to handle the varied state tax laws and guidelines that are not transferable across state borders. Almost every state is amenable to CPAs practicing in other states. Some states cap the number of hours or 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.

The national requirements to become a CPA include a minimum standard of 150-semester units of post-secondary education, accounting related work experience, and passing the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination. The 150 hours can be made up of a 120 course hour bachelor's degree, and either a Master's degree in business and accounting, such as an MBA, or 30 hours of upper-level coursework through a certificate or continuing education program. Once you are licensed as a CPA in any state, interstate CPA licensing requirements begin to apply. This can create a hardship for some unassuming new CPAs. Licensed accountants who practice out of state without the proper credentials, while much easier to obtain since a 2007 regulation ensuring interstate practice rights, are subject to a fine. 

CPA Certifications in Colorado

To become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in Colorado, specific eligibility requirements must be met beyond those of the national minimums. The CO State Board of Certified Public Accountant Examiners 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. The person applying must have a bachelor's degree in Accounting with 150 educational hours from an accredited post-secondary school (with a few exceptions). This means that in addition to the 120 hours a Bachelor's degree in Accounting offers, applicants must obtain an additional thirty hours of upper-division coursework in accounting or business. Unique to Colorado, these hours must include a course on communications, a course on computer science, one on economics, ethics, finance, humanities, international environment, law, management, and finally, one on statistics. Most Colorado-based accounting programs embed these requirements into required coursework. Any person applying who has a Master's degree in accounting, tax law, finance, economics, or business administration is also eligible.

In Colorado, CPAs must also complete one of the following options of work experience before they can obtain their CPA; work for one year, 30 hours per week, under the supervision of a licensed CPA, work as a non-CPA accountant for four years, or spend four years teaching accounting specific courses, at least half of which must be teaching advanced accounting courses such as Auditing or Advanced Managerial Accounting. If the applicant chooses to work less than 30 hours per week, the number of required time doubles (2 years, 8 years, and 8 years respectively). 

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 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 Colorado, Steps Toward Eligibility

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

Source: Colorado State Board of CPA Examiners Website

In addition to these three minimum national standards, CPAs in Colorado (and everywhere) must complete continuing professional education (CPE) to maintain their CPA licensure. Specific to Colorado, these must be earned throughout the year, and CPAs must report at least 10 hours of CPE each quarter, as opposed to attending one conference for 40 hours once per year and being done. These hours can be accomplished through educational conferences held by the AICPA, or through specific coursework given in-person or online through the AICPA website. Four of these 40 must specifically be in the area of Accounting Ethics. CPAs can report to the state of Colorado about their professional development all year long.

For instance, if you are an accounting professor, you can apply the hours you spend teaching towards CPE, or if you publish educational material on accounting, you can apply the hours it took to plan and publish this as well. Verification of these hours can be submitted by a supervisor. The certificate holder must also submit a statement of how the activity maintained or improved their professional competence. If you become a CPA in Colorado and begin practicing, but neglect your CPE requirements in the first or any subsequent year, your CPA license will be placed on inactive status. CPAs with an inactive license may reinstate to active status by completing a form and submitting it to the Colorado CPA Board, pay the current certificate application fee, submit three certificates of good moral character and endorsements of eligibility, and furnishing the Board with documentation of the completion of the necessary hours of CPE, including the required course on the Colorado accountancy statutes and rules.

Best Cities in Colorado to Work as an Accountant (Salary)

Source: BLS Data

As alluded to earlier on this page, in 2007 Accounting regulating bodies have changed the laws for practicing out of your home state. A good analogy for what it changed from to what it changed to is the difference between practicing law and operating a car. Lawyers, with some exceptions, are restricted to practicing where they were licensed and where they hold a membership with the state bar. Drivers can operate a vehicle all over these great lands within no need for extra regulations to practice driving. There are restrictions, however, to where your car is registered. The concept in licensed accounting that correlates here is the process of applying for and receiving proper documentation from the state you are visiting before being able to fully practice there. To practice in Colorado from another state, you must file documentation with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and must have already completed 80 hours of CPE, passed the AICPA Ethics Exam, and have passed 2 hours worth of coursework on Colorado Rules & Regulations for accountants. These 2 hours must have been within two years of beginning visiting practice in CO. 

Source: BLS Data