What Types of Continuing Education is Required for Accountants?

Public accountants must be licensed and the associated continuing education requirements for accounting practitioners vary by state. The certified public accountant (CPA) exam is known to be one of the most stringent of all professional licensing tests within the business discipline. However, the hard work of CPAs does not end when they gain the prestigious certification. Public accountants must keep abreast of issues, updated standards and case law pertaining to their field. They do this primarily through taking continuing professional education (CPE) units. Here are some examples of the quantity and types of CPE that public accountants need to maintain their credentials, as well as sources to locate reputable accounting CPE providers.

Accounting CPE Requirements Vary By State

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), the central organization that acts as a resource for professional publications and regulatory information, co-publishes overarching standards for CPE programs. However, it is the individual state boards and not NASBA that make the rules about the CPE hours that are needed by CPAs licensed within their states. For example, CPAs in Virginia must acquire 40, 80 and 120 hours of CPE units for the first, second and third calendar years after they pass their initial CPA exams. Two of those training hours within each year have to be ethics related. After being licensed, CPAs must complete 120 hours of CPEs during a three year reporting period, and they are required to complete a minimum of 20 hours during each of the three calendar years. Two of those 120 hours must be ethics related.

Common Types of Accounting CPE

seminarCPAs have any number of ways to reach their professional development requirements. Their CPE choices often depend upon their long term professional goals. For example, a CPA who simply wants to meet the minimum requirement for license maintenance can participate in some free webinars or attend conferences where they can learn and network at the same time. Alternately, CPAs who want to position themselves for careers within one of the accounting specialty areas like auditing, taxation or forensic accounting often take more formal training in those areas. They can enroll in a self study program or take a class at an accredited college or university. Some CPAs decide to acquire additional certifications in their specialty areas of interest which also count toward their CPE requirements. For instance, Virginia CPAs who pass the Certified Information Systems Auditor exam gain 15 CPE credits. Scholarly CPAs can obtain CPEs by publishing case studies and white papers, as well as making and delivering presentations.

Continuing Education Providers

While some CPAs choose to conduct their own research to find quality accounting CPE providers, many simply perform a search on the NASBA’s National Registry of CPE Sponsors to find programs that meet their needs. Other well known organizations like the American Institute of CPAs and the Commerce Clearing House offer training programs that are industry relevant and state accountancy board approved.


Maintaining a certain number of CPE units within a given timeframe is a central theme to all CPA licenses, but each state has different criteria about how CPEs apply to the CPA license renewal process. For instance, states like Florida do not require CPAs to submit proof of their CPE completion; they use the honor system. However, many state accountancy boards like the one in Virginia require that CPAs keep documented proof of their CPE credits for up to three years. Nearly all state accountancy boards encourage their CPAs to record their continuing education requirements for accounting within the states’ NASBA compliant online tracking systems.