By Tony Smith
As a CPA, you know that maintaining professional competence through continuing professional education (CPE) is a must - tax laws and regulations are in a near-constant state of flux and it's essential to keep up. You're also likely quite aware that maintaining and expanding your professional expertise increases your value to both clients and employers.
But CPE isn't just about professional growth; it's a must for meeting your state board's requirements for CPA license renewal as well as for meeting certification maintenance requirements for any additional professional certs you may hold, such as the CMA or CFP®.
As many have learned the hard way, pushing these requirements to the back burner and telling yourself that you'll get around to completing your CPE hours at some point just doesn't cut it. You have to be focused, and you must have a plan in place so that you don't end up compromising your billable hours for the sake of completing CPE.
You know you're a knowledge hound, always looking for the latest, greatest information that will launch you into the accounting stratosphere, but taking CPE courses is likely the furthest thing from your mind. Earning your CPE credits doesn't need to be painful; in fact, with a little forethought and planning, you can fulfill your requirements, beef up your resume, and broaden your professional opportunities - all without breaking a sweat.
Still doubtful? We've broken down the process of meeting your CPE requirements into five easy steps.
Step 1: First things first
Track down your state board of accountancy's specific CPA requirements for CPE. Every state's requirements are a bit different in terms of the providers they accept, the delivery methods that qualify toward hours, and how these hours are distributed among, ethics, auditing, financial accounting, tax etc. For this reason, it's smart to avoid resources or publications that provide only generic information on CPE requirements.
In general, you can expect to be required to complete about 40 CPE hours each year, about 80 hours over a two-year period, or 120 hours over a three-year period, depending on the renewal term for your state.
Step 2: Consider your long-term professional goals
CPE is the perfect opportunity to gain specialized knowledge and set yourself apart from other professionals in the field, or even in the company you work for. Although you can take care of your CPE requirements through any number of avenues, including webcasts, seminars, in the classroom, and online, pursuing certification in an accounting specialty often allows you to satisfy CPE requirements while at the same time meeting requirements necessary to hold yourself out as CFP®, CGFM®, or CMA, among many others.
Step 3: Find the right provider
There are thousands of training programs, seminars, and courses offered throughout the year and all across the country, so finding something that fits your needs and professional goals is usually quite easy no matter where you live.
If you need help locating local programs and courses, your state CPA society is a great source of information. Turning to a professional organization within your state usually means you'll be going to a source familiar with the requirements maintained by your state's board of accountancy. This means finding an approved provider and clocking the correct number of hours in the areas required by your board.
Step 4: Maintaining the paper trail
As you complete your continuing education, maintain a thorough record for your state board of accountancy that details your CPE activity. Most CPE reports require specific information, including the name of the approved CPE program, the location of the program, content description, the dates attended, and the total number of CPE hours earned.
In many states, you aren't required to report CPE information annually; however, you're subject to random audits. As many times as you've stressed to your clients the importance of maintaining a paper trail, this should be a sentiment you're very familiar with as a CPA.
Step 5: Spread your CPE out rather than spreading yourself thin
Remain consistent and complete your CPE on a regular basis so you don't find yourself scrambling right before your license renewal. Also keep in mind that most states require CPAs to complete a minimum number of CPE credits each year (see the AICPA state list of CPE requirements). For example, Texas requires CPAs to complete 120 CPE hours in a three-year period, with a minimum of 20 hours each year. In other words, you can't cram all of your CPE hours into two years.
Don't view your CPE requirement as a burden or inconvenience. CPE hours are a fantastic opportunity to develop an accounting specialty, add more substance to your resume, and set yourself apart from others in your profession.
About the author:
Tony Smith is an editor for Accounting Edu, a resource for accounting professionals and students interested in requirements needed for licenses and certifications.