Individuals don't come out of four-year accounting degree programs as automatic certified public accountants. Earning a CPA designation takes 30 additional hours of coursework over a traditional bachelor's degree as well as a year of work under a licensed CPA. Candidates for the credential also have to pass a number of tests through the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. With so much work involved, many wonder if getting a CPA is worth the cost.
Saint Leo University points out that the expense associated with becoming a certified public accountant doesn't stop once the credential is obtained. Specific requirements vary by state, but CPAs do have to complete continuing professional education courses on a regular basis. The requirement is 80 hours of training every two years. Depending on the state where certification is obtained, classes may include auditing, accounting and business ethics coursework.
Why go to all that trouble and expense when you don't have to be a certified public accountant to land an accounting job? The answer depends on your goals within an accounting career. Only CPAs can legally sign a tax form on behalf of clients or represent them during IRS matters; other accountants can prepare the forms or work with clients, but a CPA must oversee the process. Because of that limitation, individuals without a certified public accountant license may experience limited growth in public accounting firms. Many auditor jobs also require a CPA license. In an increasingly regulated environment, CPAs who are allowed to perform such functions are valued by public accounting firms and corporations alike, which makes the license worth the cost for some career tracks.
Individuals interested in accounting careers outside of auditing and public accounting don't necessarily need a CPA license. Since becoming a certified public accountant is such an expense and commitment, some experts recommend against it if it's not a necessary part of your career goals. Instead, individuals seeking a leg up in obtaining an accounting job may want to consider other designations. Other industry certifications include certified internal auditor, certified management accountant and certified fraud examiner.
Other skill sets that could set a candidate apart in accounting-related job interviews include exceptional analytical skills, speaking a second language, experience with popular accounting software and a knowledge of financial rules and regulations. A growing reliance on technology and data even opens the accounting field to individuals with more disparate skills, such as business planners and database analysts.
Depending on what your career goals are, a CPA license may be more worth the cost than ever before. Today's economy is tough, but that means companies are always looking for an edge and are dealing with increasing regulations, contributing to a need for CPAs at many levels. By understanding your personal career goals, you can determine if the cost of becoming a certified public accountant is likely to provide adequate ROI in the future.
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