How to Become a CPA in Pennsylvania

A Little Background About Penn’s Woods (AKA Pennsylvania)

The history of becoming a CPA in Pennsylvania must start at the beginning. The story goes that King Charles II of England gave a royal charter to William Penn in 1681, to establish a colony on Lenape land; this would become Pennsylvania. William Penn brought his Quaker values of religious tolerance to the region, and many Scots-Irish and German immigrants flocked to this part of the world. This religious influence coined the nickname of the Quaker State. Philadelphia became the first planned city and was the capital of the country for some of the 18th century. There are many stories about how the first United States flag came to be, though Betsy Ross is the face behind most of them. It is said that she approached President George Washington and convinced him to change the shape of the proposed stars on the flag from six-pointed to five, as it was easier to swiftly cut five-pointed stars. She then made the first American flag from her home in Philadelphia.

Quick Facts About Pennsylvania

Accounting Programs in Pennsylvania

For accounting and business programs in Pennsylvania, students have the fortune of choosing from three outstanding universities that have each gone through the process of becoming accredited by the AACSB. These three are Villanova University, Saint Joseph’s University, and Lehigh University, all of which are relatively close to the Philadelphia Metro area. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business is the cream of the crop when it comes to accounting and business professional accreditation. They have more than 100 years educating and advising in this capacity and are recognized internationally as being the leader in knowing what works and what must be improved. The process of becoming accredited by the AACSB includes rigorous peer-review and self-evaluation elements that many schools do not prioritize. The accreditation period lasts five years.

While Pennsylvania does not require an ethics course prior to obtaining licensure, as many states do, the role of Ethics in Accounting is omnipresent for those accounting professionals who wish to make a positive and progressive impact on the field. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has a Code of Professional Conduct, that is 191 pages long. Accountants are required to agree and adhere to it in order to gain membership in the organization, as well as to pass initial and periodic ethical examinations to maintain CPA licensure. General topics covered in the Code include blind trusts, campaign contributions, and disclosure of commissions. Each of these involves areas of accounting, the vulnerabilities of which are subject to exploitation by an unethical finance professional. For these reasons, the AICPA targets these subjects and others expressly, when speaking of ethical behavior in the profession.

BECOMING A CPA IN PENNSYLVANIA

The education requirements for CPAs in Pennsylvania includes a bachelors degree, plus 30 graduate degree credits for a total of 150 credit hours. To be eligible to sit for Uniform CPA Exam in Pennsylvania, 24 semester hours must be specifically in the areas of accounting, auditing, business law, finance, or tax subjects, although the undergraduate degree itself can come from any field. The remaining 30 hours beyond the 120 provided by the undergraduate degree must be in the area of accounting or business and must be at a graduate level.

To be eligible to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam in Pennsylvania the bachelor’s degree must be completed within 30 days of the first scheduled exam. The Exam itself is the same for every CPA across the country and in U.S. territories. It consists of four parts, Business Environment and Concepts, Auditing and Attestation, Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Regulation. Each portion must be passed with a 75% or higher, and all sections much be completed within 18 months of the initial section scheduled. For the exam, there is a window of time that testing can be scheduled, and while it is not advised, presumably all four sections could be completed within one, two-week window. Keep in mind if an applicant does not earn a 75% or greater on one attempted section, they must wait until the next window to retest in that subject area. What makes accounting licensure different from many professional fields is that the licensure exam is not the final licensing step.

In Pennsylvania, CPAs are required to work for two years, or 3,200 full-time hours before their licensing requirements are completed. This experience can take place in any type of service or advice in the accounting or finance field, that involves the use of accounting, attest, compilation, management advisory, financial advisory, tax, or consulting. These skills can be gained through employment in government, industry, academia, or public practice. Unique to Pennsylvania, if the CPA has completed a Master’s degree in accounting or business, the experience requirement is shortened to 1 year or 1,600 full-time hours.

Post Licensure Requirements for CPAs

Responsible CPAs take the job of continuing their professional education very seriously. While there are requirements in place in Pennsylvania, and the consequence for not getting them done is not being able to renew the CPA license; some clever professionals phone it in. With the changes in tax and finance laws that occur each fiscal year at the state and federal levels, it behooves clients, firms, and CPAs to care about this required time. The CPE requirements in Pennsylvania are 80 hours per two years, with some additional specific coursework requirements. The license renewal period for CPAs in Keystone State is the from the first day of the year to the last in odd-numbered years, and CPE hours can be reported to the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy anytime therein.

Of the 80 hours required, a minimum of 20 of these hours must be completed each year. Four of these 80 must specifically be in the area of ethics in accounting. If in her professional life, a CPA is participating in attest activities, Twenty-four of these 80 hours must be completed in Accounting & Auditing. For those CPAs who are also instructors in college accounting, the maximum CPE credit allowed in instruction is 40 credits, although they are not eligible as repetitions for instructor credits unless the material has been altered significantly. Only graduate level courses are eligible as CPE credit for instructors, unfortunately, no entry level accounting courses. They can also receive credit for published materials, but that is limited to 20 credits per instance. This type of credit is on the honor system and counts on a self-declaration basis. The maximum allowed for all publications combined is 40 credits. CPAs who have gone back for graduate study in accounting can also receive CPE credit for University or College coursework after licensure. Each semester credit hour earned equals 15 credit hours of CPE. For non-credit courses, one credit hour of CPE will be given for every 50 minutes of in-class participation.

For those entities who provide opportunities for professionals to earn CPE, they must be approved by a regulatory body to ensure their credibility. These bodies include The Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy, The National Registry of CPE Sponsors, or a college or university that is also accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency. The accreditor must also be recognized by the United States Department of Education, as is the AACSB.