A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is an individual who is professionally licensed by a state board of accountancy to provide specialized services. Licensure of public accounting helps to protect the general public from unsafe practices including incompetent auditing, accounting, and tax services. CPAs are required to take annual amounts of continuing professional education and most states require a standard amount of ethics training.
The requirements for licensure differ from state to state but generally there are three requirements:
1. Education – holds a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university, with a concentration in accounting and generally with 150 credit hours
2. Examination – pass a four part comprehensive exam inlcuding auditing and attestation, financial reporting, and business structures, and taxation
3. Experience – generally spent two years practicing in public accounting after earning their baccalaureate degree
Once an individual becomes licensed in their state, they are also subject to addtional requirements such as meeting minimum continuing education requirements and refraining from committing illegal and unethical acts.
Many states have also legislated mobility laws which allows CPAs from other states to practice in their state.