What Is a CPE in Accounting?

Once you're licensed and working as an accountant, that doesn’t mean your learning days are over. As with many professions, you must take Continuing Professional Education (CPE) to stay current on the latest regulations, developments and trends. The requirements for CPE credits vary by state, but all require CPE certification in order to maintain your professional license.

What Is CPE?

CPE represents the ongoing education and training received by licensed accountants. Accountants earn one unit of CPE for each 50-minute session of face-to-face training or session of self-study, including online.

Sessions must be approved by the organization issuing the certification in order for the time to qualify for credit. Each organization maintains the records and performs random audits of certified individuals to ensure that the requirements are met.

It's up to each accountant to maintain a record of all CPE certification she receives. That includes documentation for specific courses, such as title and description of the CPE course, date taken and the sponsor of the event.

CPE Accounting Requirements

The number of CPE credits required and how often they must be reported depends on the state where the accountant is licensed. For example:

  • Arizona, California, Florida and Utah require 80 CPE accounting credits every two years.
  • Indiana, Washington and Wyoming require 120 CPE accounting credits every three years, with a minimum of 20 per year in Indiana.
  • Mississippi requires 40 CPE accounting credits annually.

Professional accounting associations may have their own CPE accounting requirements. The American Institute of CPAs, for example, requires working accountants to complete 120 CPE credits every three years. Since these associations license accounting professionals, they require CPE certification in order to renew your CPE license. Failing to meet the CPE requirements by the stated deadline may mean you can’t renew your license or practice accounting.

Credits earned in each state can be applied to the credits needed for professional organizations.

How to Get CPE Credits

While it may seem daunting to have to complete so many hours of continuing education, there are a variety of ways to earn CPE account credits. These include:

  • In a classroom or seminar setting.
  • Online through an interactive or pretaped webinar.
  • Publishing materials related to accounting.
  • Providing instruction to other professionals.

States and organizations may have limits for how many hours can be earned via a particular method. For example, a state may limit the number of CPE credits earned via pretaped webinar, preferring its accountants to do their learning in an in-person setting.

Since CPE credits are generally required every two or three years, that gives you ample time to meet your state’s requirements. In the case of online learning, the credits can even be earned in the comfort of your home or office.

CPE Accounting Subject Requirements

CPE accounting credits can be earned in a variety of subjects. These can be in your particular area of accounting or more general to the field of accounting. They can even be in accounting subjects you’re just curious to learn more about.

In addition to general CPE accounting credits, states may have specific subject requirements to ensure professionals licensed in their state have a breadth of knowledge in their field. Subject requirements often include:

  • Professional conduct and ethics.
  • Auditing.
  • Taxation.
  • Business law.
  • Fraud.
  • Government auditing.
  • Computer and information technology.

States may require certain CPE hours to be met in particular subjects. For example, they may want 10 of the required CPE hours to be earned in professional conduct and ethics so you get a regular reminder of the standards you must uphold as an accountant.

Whether you're just starting out as an accountant or are a long-time professional, staying current on best practices and trends in accounting will keep you at the top of your game.