Becoming a Certified Professional Accountant or CPA

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The work of a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or for the purposes of this article, a Certified Professional Accountant, requires involvement in a broad range of accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting activities. Most positions for a Certified Professional Accountant require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting or related field, and will often require or prefer a master’s degree in accounting, or at least some course work in an accounting master’s degree program.

A Certified Professional Accountant must reach the (CPA) status through CPA certification. This involves a number of recommendations and requirements in order to receive certification. As of early 2005, based on recommendations made by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), 42 States and the District of Columbia require CPA candidates to complete 150 semester hours of college course work, which is an additional 30 hours beyond the typical four year bachelor’s degree program. Another five States have adopted similar legislation that will go into effect between 2006 and 2009. The only States not requiring 150 semester hours are Colorado, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Because of the Nation’s response to this trend, the majority of institutions of higher education have altered curriculum planning accordingly, with most programs offering master’s degrees as part of the 150 required hours.

To become a Certified Professional Account and receive CPA certification, individuals in all states are required to take a four part, Uniform CPA Examination prepared by the AICPA. This two-day examination is extremely rigorous and detailed. Approximately 25 percent of individuals who take the exam each year pass every part they attempt. Candidates that take the CPA examination are not required to pass all four parts at once, but most States do require that those taking the exam pass at least two parts for partial credit, and are required to complete all four sections within a certain period given by the State in which certification is sought. The CPA exam is computerized, and is offered quarterly at many different testing centers throughout the nation. The majority of States also require applications for CPA certification to also have work experience in the field of accounting.

Once CPA certification has been received, a Certified Professional Accountant has many career options available. Certified Professional Accountants may choose to be self employed, or may seek employment with banks and credit unions; government agencies; businesses; nonprofit organizations; accounting firms; auditing firms; and a variety of other areas. Based on the individual Certified Professional Accountant, it is possible to advance within a corporation or accounting department quite rapidly. Certified Professional Accountants that have inadequate preparation, or those that are not adequately detail oriented, for example, may find career advancement very difficult.
A Certified Professional Accountant may perform a variety of job duties. Certified Professional Accountants generally perform a broad range of accounting, tax, and consulting services for their clients. Some may choose to specialize in different areas, such as auditing or forensic accounting, which involves investigating and interpreting white collar crimes such as securities fraud and embezzlement, bankruptcies and contract disputes, and other complex and possibly criminal financial transactions, including money laundering by organized criminals.

An entry level Certified Professional Accountant will generally maintain records of routine accounting transactions, and may also assist in the preparation of financial and operating reports, including trial balances, adjustments, and closing entries. The entry level Certified Professional Accountant may also assist in the analysis and interpretation of accounting records for use by the management team.

The intermediate Certified Professional Accountant prepares and maintains accounting records, not only for general accounting, but may also work with costing and budget data, as well as examine, analyze and interpret accounting records for the purpose of giving advice or preparing statements. An intermediate Certified Professional Accountant often acts as a lead to lower level employees in the accounting department.
A senior Certified Professional Accountant generally establishes, interprets, and analyzes complex accounting records of financial statements. This might also include general accounting, costing, or budget data. The senior Certified Professional Accountant usually also examines, analyzes, and interprets accounting records for management.

A Certified Professional Accountant with CPA certification who is just starting out in the field may begin their career with a firm, with job duties entailing work with several clients. Those who excel may work to become supervisors, managers, or partners; transfer to executive positions in management, auditing or consulting; or may open their own firms.

In general, a Certified Professional Accountant or CPA has a great amount of occupational mobility and career flexibility, as well as an ability to move up, move around, and earn a very comfortable living, either through employment by a firm or through being self-employed with their own firm. The position of a Certified Professional Accountant is most often a stepping stone for bigger, future career moves. Most Certified Professional Accountants eventually choose to shift into management accounting or internal auditing. It is much less common for a management accountant or internal auditor to shift their career and become a Certified Professional Account.

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