CPE Hours: Helping CPAs Maintain Competency in the Ever-Evolving Field of Accountancy
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According to the U.S. BLS, employment opportunities for accountants and auditors are expected to grow by 7% between 2020 and 2030. This statistics brings an excellent opportunity for those who can transform numbers, tables, and charts into an easily comprehensible story to try to become a CPA.
Now, consider that there were 669,130 active CPAs in the country (except Hawaii) as of August 24, 2021. So, all things considered, we can say that while the future will be bright for CPAs, competition will be high too.
You already know that earning CPE hours is a must for CPAs to maintain the active status of their licenses. But what you might not know is that CPAs can be divided into two groups based on their approaches toward completing CPE hours for CPAs.
The first group comprises CPAs who consider certified CPE hours merely a means to meet their CPE requirements. And the other group considers CPE hours as opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills while fulfilling their CPE requirements.
Needless to say, you need to belong to the second group to set yourself apart from your competitors. To make your journey a little easier, we’ve created this post where you’ll get all the relevant details along with expert pieces of advice on the best CPE hours.
We’ll start with a snapshot of the basics.
Generally, CPAs need to complete 120 CPE hours online or offline every three years. However, as CPA requirements are outlined on a state level, the reporting period can be annual, biennial, or triennial. Therefore, you must confirm your state board’s specific CPE requirements before planning out your CPE hours.
Also, if you’re a member of the AICPA, completing 120 accredited CPE hours every three years is one of the requirements to maintain your membership.
NASBA’s fields of study for CPE are distributed in two categories: technical and non-technical. Together, these categories cover the entire accountancy field and let you earn offline or online CPE hours in a large number of subjects.
Here’re brief descriptions of the major fields of study in each category.
The accounting field of study is further divided into two subfields: governmental and non-governmental. CPE hours in accounting help you gain the knowledge required to prepare, maintain, and report an entity’s financial records; analyze and verify its financial records. You’ll also learn the principles and processes of accounting and financial reporting. The governmental subfield imparts similar knowledge to CPAs but applies to GASB standards.
The accounting field of study also has governmental and non-governmental subfields. These learning activities help you learn how to carry out an independent and systematic examination of information, statements, performances, and operations of an entity for a particular purpose. The governmental subfield covers subjects applicable to GASB and GAO.
This field encompasses two topics: tax planning and tax compliance. Planning focuses on comprehending the tax implications of potential transactions and complicated or unusual transactions. Compliance involves tax return preparation and review and IRS rulings, examinations, and protests.
In this field, you’ll learn the principles of macroeconomics, microeconomics, banking, public finance, etc.
· Business law
This technical area covers the legal system emphasizing the relationship between accounting and business laws. You’ll learn about tax and legal issues, collection law, employment law, etc.
By completing CPE hours for CPAs in this field, you can learn financial management of a company including financial analysis and planning, buying and selling businesses, asset management, foreign operations, and contracting goods and services.
· Regulatory ethics
This technical field lets you develop the ethical background required to adhere to the rules and regulations of government entities, membership associations, state licensing organizations, and other professional organizations.
· Information technology
When it comes to completing accredited CPE hours in information technology, you’ll learn subjects that apply to auditing, accounting, or taxes. Common subject areas covered in this field include cloud computing, database management, cybersecurity, programming, networking, disaster recovery plans, and computer systems.
This smaller technical area covers subjects like probability, quantitative analysis, and business statistics.
· Management services
This field lets you learn about an entity’s business processes, maintaining profitability, improving cash flow, and attaining efficiencies.
· Specialized knowledge
CPAs, who are working in specialized industries such as healthcare, nonprofit organizations, oil and gas, and gaming, should focus on completing CPE hours in this field. Some common subject areas include PCI compliance, HIPAA compliance, employee benefit plan auditing compliance, and valuation services.
· Business management & organization
By earning offline or online CPE hours in this non-technical field, you can develop different skills associated with organizational management, such as administrative practices, management planning, and organizational structures. This area particularly focuses on the administration and organization of a public accounting practice.
· Behavioral ethics
This field involves personal ethics, ethical practice in business, ethical decision-making, and inclusion, diversity, and equity.
· Communications and marketing
If you want to master the skills of developing marketing tactics for CPA firms or other companies and become an excellent communicator, you should complete certified CPE hours in this area. Common subjects in this field include interviewing techniques, business presentation and writing, customer communications, public relations, marketing professional services, etc.
· Personnel and human resources
This field covers subjects related to human resources management, operational systems for human resources, development and retention of employees, recruitment, and inclusion, equity, and diversity in recruitment and retention of employees.
· Personal development
Subjects in this field focus on leadership, career planning, and time management skills.
· Computer software and applications
CPAs, who want to enhance the quality of their professional services by leveraging software and applications, should try to earn CPE hours online or offline in this field. You’ll learn to use software and applications in different accounting areas. Note that if you complete software courses that focus on auditing, accounting, or tax practice, you should categorize them in the respective technical fields.
In this field, you’ll learn about operations management, supply operations, and inventory management. Common subject areas include quality control, inventory control, scheduling, among others.
As mentioned earlier, CPE requirements vary from one state board to another. And different states have outlined different rules regarding the fields of study. For example, depending on the guidelines of your state board, you must complete a minimum number of CPE hours in technical subjects. Also, there might be a maximum number of hours that you cannot exceed in non-technical subjects.
While every state board needs its CPAs to complete a certain number of accredited CPE hours in ethics, the exact requirements differ from one state to another. You should also note that some states only consider ethics courses that their state boards of accountancy approve. So, if you’re licensed in one of these states, you cannot take general ethics courses to meet the requirements.
These days, you’ve got a large number of options to choose from to complete CPE hours for CPAs. Here, we’ve jotted down the most popular methods to help make up your mind.
· Self-study courses
Countless numbers of CPAs prefer to earn their CPE hours by taking self-study courses because of two key reasons. First, they offer maximum flexibility, meaning you can complete the entire process of earning the hours at your own pace. And second, these courses tend to be the least expensive option, especially when it comes to completing CPE hours online.
Earning online CPE hours through a live webinar requires you to attend the session at a pre-defined date and time, which could be during business hours. However, you can complete a couple of accredited CPE hours from just one event. There’ll be no need to clear a final exam, which is the case with self-study courses.
In terms of costs, webinars are generally more expensive than self-study courses. But if you can manage the time and want to learn in a classroom setting, attending webinars will be a good decision.
While conferences and seminars tend to be the most expensive option, they give you the opportunity to complete a large number of CPE hours for CPAs by participating in just one event. If you prefer this method, you should attend conferences held by the AICPA as you’ll be able to learn many different topics throughout the year.
You can also earn CPE hours by publishing articles on accounting subjects approved by your state board. Again, state boards have outlined restrictions regarding the maximum number of hours that can be earned using this method, and hence, review your CPE requirements first.
· College courses
Taking courses at an accredited college or university in the approved fields of study is another popular method to pursue CPE. In the semester system, 1 college credit is equivalent to 15 CPE hours, and in the quarter system, 1 college credit is equivalent to 10 CPE hours for CPAs. Just be sure to check with your state board before choosing a college course.
Fortunately, some CPE sponsors offer free courses that let you earn accredited CPE hours. But does that mean you should focus on those courses to pursue CPE? To get the answer, let’s see the key characteristics of both free and paid options.
· Free courses are an excellent option to evaluate the quality of a CPE sponsor while earning online CPE hours. Even if you don’t join the sponsor, your time won’t get wasted.
· CPE providers hardly share their valuable pieces of content for free. This means even if they offer CPE hours, you won’t be able to learn the latest updates or subjects that are in high demand.
· As mentioned above, all state boards require their CPAs to complete a certain number of certified CPE hours in ethics. Finding free courses on ethics is almost impossible.
· In terms of free webinars, they may have technical glitches and average instructors, any of which can lead to a poor learning experience. Moreover, if you don’t meet the participation guidelines (attending the session for a fixed period of time and answering a certain number of questions), you won’t receive any credit.
· If you choose a top-tier, experienced CPE sponsor, you’ll most likely learn the latest information and from industry-leading instructors.
· Some leading sponsors offer a large number of courses covering many different topics. It brings you the opportunity to choose courses according to your professional requirements and personal preferences.
· If you choose an expensive sponsor, your cost of earning CPE hours can add up quickly.
As you’ve already understood, it’s vital to maintain a balance between high quality and affordability when choosing a CPE sponsor. One of the simplest yet highly effective methods to evaluate this is to check the “customer reviews” sections of your shortlisted providers. You’ll get a clear picture of the quality of their programs.
To lower the costs, try to join a sponsor that offers bundled CPE courses or subscription packages. In bundled CPE courses, you get a package of multiple courses at a discounted price. When it comes to subscription packages, you may get access to a sponsor’s entire course library for a certain period of time.
And if you choose an unlimited subscription package, most likely, you’ll be able to complete virtually unlimited number of CPE hours within a fixed period of time (usually one or two years). This essentially lowers the costs of the courses to a great extent.
While CPE hours are vital to maintain your CPA license and strengthen your position in the industry, they shouldn’t be difficult to earn. We hope that we’ve covered all the essential aspects of CPE hours for CPAs in this post.
If you still have any questions, contact our team today, and we’ll be happy to be of help.
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