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What Is a CPA Qualification?

By Cindy Quarters
Updated Feb 09, 2024
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A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), is the term used in the United States for a person who has proven to be qualified to handle various types of accounting tasks. The criteria to receive a CPA qualification varies by state, and can include such parameters as age, training and residency. In all cases in the US, an accountant must pass an examination to receive his or her CPA qualification, though the exam itself is typically state-specific. Other countries have similar designations with associated requirements, but the nomenclature differs.

One of the most essential components for receiving a CPA qualification is education. The State Board of Accountancy for each state specifies how many hours of accounting-specific classes each candidate must have before being allowed to take the CPA qualification test. In most states 150 hours of accounting education is required, usually as part of a complete college program leading to a degree such as a bachelor’s in business administration. An additional year of specialized study is also required once a four-year degree is obtained to complete the educational requirements and prepare the student to become a CPA.

Once a person has taken and passed the CPA exam, he or she is normally certified as a certified public accountant. This means that the person can do more than simply handle basic accounting tasks. A CPA qualification allows a person to oversee the work of other accountants. Common tasks for a CPA include financial auditing and verifying that a business or an individual is applying generally accepted accounting principles, often referred to as GAAP, to their finances.

Each state determines at what point a person who has received a CPA qualification is allowed to become a licensed CPA. Even though most states will consider a person as a certified public account once the educational requirements have been met and the examination has been passed, as a general rule the new CPA must also gain some practical experience before being allowed to become licensed. This is accomplished by working with a licensed CPA until the required amount of experience is obtained.

An accountant from another country who is qualified is allowed to receive a CPA qualification by taking and passing a different test. This test is called the International Qualification Examination. When and where this exam is offered varies by state, but the State Board of Accountancy for each state normally has testing information available to those who are interested.

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