California CPA Exam Requirements 2022: The Crucial Steps

california cpa exam requirements

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If you want to become a CPA in California, we’ve organized the California CPA exam requirements below so you’ll know the exact steps and requirements to become a licensed CPA in the Golden State.

California is a state where you can sit for the CPA exam before having 150 credit hours, as long as you have the required number of accounting and business classes.

How to Save Yourself MONTHS of Time and Frustration
Keep in mind that the CPA exam is the one part of getting your CPA license that you can control how long it takes. The education and experience requirements take as long as they take, but the CPA exams can take you as little as 6 months, or as long as multiple years… depending on how effective your study process is from the beginning.
Learn how to study strategically so you can save yourself tons of time and retake fees with this free training…

Residency and Age Requirements in California

If you want to take the CPA exam in California, you do not have to be a United States citizen or a California resident.

California also doesn’t have a minimum age requirement to sit for the CPA. This means that if you meet all the other conditions, you can go ahead and take the CPA at whatever age you desire.

Education Requirements

In California, you need 150-semester units to become a licensed CPA, but you can sit for the CPA exam after you have 120 credits, as long as you have 24-semester units of accounting subjects and 24-semester units of business-related subjects.

Education Requirements to Sit for the CPA Exam

Applicants who want to know the California CPA exam requirements must meet the following educational requirements:

  1. Candidates with a bachelor’s or master’s degree conferral
    • Completion of a bachelor’s degree or higher from a nationally or regionally
      accredited U.S. degree-granting educational institution or the equivalent foreign
      education.
    • Have completed 24-semester units of accounting.
    • Have completed 24-semester units of business-related courses.
  2. Candidates currently enrolled in a master’s degree program
    • Currently enrolled in a program that results in the conferral of a bachelor’s
      degree upon completion of a master’s degree from a nationally or regionally
      accredited U.S. degree-granting educational institution or the equivalent foreign
      education.
    • Have completed 24-semester units of accounting.
    • Have completed 24-semester units of business-related courses.
  3. Candidates currently enrolled in college at the time of application and are within 180 days of completing educational requirements
    • Currently enrolled in a nationally or regionally accredited U.S. degree-granting
      educational institution or the equivalent foreign education.
    • Will complete the following within 180 days of application submission:
      • Bachelor’s degree
      • 24-semester units of accounting.
      • 24-semester units of business-related courses.
    • Will provide satisfactory evidence of degree conferral, completion of 24-semester
      units of accounting, and 24-semester units of business-related courses within
      240 days of application submission.

In addition to earning your bachelor’s degree, you must also complete 150 semester hours, which need to include 24-semester units of accounting-related subjects, 24-semester units in business-related subjects, and 20-semester units in “accounting study”. Most colleges and universities award students a bachelor’s degree after completing 120 credit hours. This means that if you wish to sit for the CPA, you must complete an additional 30 credit hours to be eligible for the CPA exam.

Along with needing to achieve a total number of semester hours, you’re also required to have 24 semester hours in accounting subjects. Qualifying study areas include Accounting, Financial Reporting, External or Internal Reporting, Auditing, Taxation, and Financial Statement Analysis.

You need another 24 semester hours in business/other related courses. These can include (but are not limited to) Business Law, Business Administration, Mathematics, Finance, Business Management, Business Communication, Marketing, Economics, Computer Science/Information Systems, and Statistics.

You must also complete a second core of 20 semester hours of “accounting study” beyond the standard course mentioned above.

You should have no problem meeting this requirement if you earn a Master of Taxation, Master of Accounting, or Master of Laws in Taxation or take a minimum of 6 semester hours in accounting courses; up to 14 semester hours in business-related subjects; and 9 semester hours in supportive courses like communications and foreign languages that include cultural study.

You must also complete 10 credit hours of ethics.  This will include:

  • No more than 10 credit hours in courses like Fraud, Morals, Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility, Professional Responsibilities, Legal Environment of Business, Corporate Governance, Auditing, Business Leadership, Business Law, Human Resource Management, and Business, Government and Society.
  • No more than 3 credit hours in introductory, foundations, fundamentals, general principles, or survey courses in Philosophy, Religion, and Theology.
  • No more than 1 credit hour in a course on financial statement auditing.

The California Board of Accountancy (CBA) accepts all college credits earned through programs offered at institutions located anywhere in the United States that hold national/regional accreditation from an agency listed in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) database.

If you attended a foreign college or university, a board-approved foreign credential evaluation service must assess your credentials.

Education completed outside of the United States must be evaluated by a CBA-approved credential evaluation service. Evaluations completed by Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), International Education Research Foundation, Inc. (IERF), NASBA International Evaluation Service (NIES),or World Education Services (WES) are submitted to the CBA electronically. For all other
evaluation services, you must request an official, sealed copy to be sent directly to the CBA.

Uniform CPA Examination

All states, including California, require CPA candidates to pass all 4 parts of the Uniform CPA exam.

Sections of the CPA Exam

The standardized, 4-part CPA Exam is developed by AICPA – the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and administered by NASBA – the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. The Four CPA Exam Sections are:

  • Auditing and Attestation.
    • This exam section covers the basics of financial and attest services, such as audits, reviews, compilations, and preparation agreements. This portion covers financial reporting frameworks from industry experts. Candidates are asked to compare statements that reflect different reporting standards.
  • Business Environment and Concepts.
    • This exam section covers general business concepts, such as economics, business communications, and related business courses. This portion covers general business concepts, including international business. You’ll need to use excellent writing skills to complete this part of the exam.
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting.
    • This exam section covers financial accounting topics for all business entities, including the government and nonprofits. Candidates are asked to compare statements that reflect different reporting standards.
  • Regulation.
    • This exam section covers federal taxation, tax services, professional ethics, and business law for individuals and business entities. This ethics portion of the exam explores your professional and legal responsibilities.

The 2 general requirements you must have to qualify to take the CPA exams are:

  • Have a valid Social Security number
  • Fulfill all educational requirements

As a candidate, you may take the test parts in any order you choose, but once you’ve passed one part with a score of 75 or higher, you must successfully complete the other 3 parts within 18 months.

Sitting for CPA Exam

So, what’s the process of sitting for the CPA exam in CA? Well, the requirements are similar to those of other states:

  1. Have your school send an official copy of your transcripts directly to the CBA
  2. Sign up for a personal client account
  3. The CBA will email you a password that will let you print a CPA Exam Application Remittance Form
  4. Fill out and send your application and pay a $100 fee
  5. After your education and application have been approved, you’ll receive your Authorization to Sit (ATT). You’ll be instructed to go online and hand-pick the exam sections you wish to take
  6. Wait to receive your payment coupon from NASBA. You’ll be given 90 days from receipt of the coupon to submit fees to NASBA
  7. Wait to receive your Notice to Schedule (NTS) from NASBA
  8. Schedule your exam sections and choose a Prometric Testing Center convenient to your location
  9. Avail yourself at the correct Prometric testing center on examination day
  10. Wait for NASBA and CBA to report your score

CPA review courses are a necessity due to the difficulty and depth of the topics covered on the CPA exams. Each CPA test prep company provides the same essential resources in their review course, such as video lectures, textbooks, practice questions, and practice simulations. These practice questions mimic what you’ll see on the exam at the Prometric testing center.

California CPA Exam and CPA License Fees

Initial CPA exam application$100
AUD exam fee$226.15
BEC exam fee$226.15
FAR exam fee$226.15
REG exam fee$226.15
Initial CPA license application$250

CPA exam fees are expensive, so it goes without saying that you want to be prepared and pass your first time.

You’ll be charged an application fee of $100 for first-time applicants and transfer applicants. Re-enrollment costs $50.

Each test section (Audit, Financial, Regulation, Business) of the CPA costs $226.15 in California.

If you pass all four CPA exam sections on the first try, you’ll pay a total of $1,004.60 in exam fees.

If you need to retake portions of your CPA exam, there is a reapplication fee of $49, and then you will re-pay the specific exam fee again.

Accounting Schools in California

Time to get your education and meet CPA degree requirements in CA.

The most tried and tested way to get those 30 additional credits required to become a CPA in California is earning a master’s in accounting or a post-baccalaureate certificate. 

You can also find specialized 5-year CPA track programs offering a blended bachelor’s and master’s curriculum designed explicitly to give you the 150 semester hours needed to meet CPA requirements in CA.

California has over 166 accredited colleges and universities serving accounting students from the undergraduate to the graduate levels. Top-ranked schools with accounting programs in California include Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Southern California, University of California-Los Angeles, and Loyola Marymount University.

Accounting students can access specialist accounting skills and a high-quality education overall from these institutions.

For students who need flexibility, several online and hybrid degrees in accounting are offered.

CPA License Requirements in California

As you’re probably aware, each of the 55 United States jurisdictions has its own Accountancy Board responsible for licensing CPAs who practice in those states/jurisdictions.

The California Board of Accountancy (CBA) oversees the licensing of CPAs in the state. 

The California Professional Ethics Exam (PETH)

The state of California requires CPA holders to pass the California Professional Ethics Exam (PETH). While other states require candidates to take the uniform AICPA ethics exam, California has decided to make its own exam to prepare you for ethical problems you may encounter in your professional accounting career.

It’s currently the only exam that the California Board of Accountancy recognizes and accepts. You can order the PETH exam through the CalCPA Education Foundation.

You must pass the 50 multiple-choice questions exam with at least a 90 percent or higher score within 2 years of applying for a CPA license. The exam and its materials cost approximately $150.

If unfortunately, you fail the exam the first 3 times you take it, the CBA provides incentives for more exam attempts.

Work Experience Requirements

On top of the PETH exam, you’ll need to fulfill the California CPA work experience requirements to get your CPA license in California.

Before you graduate, try to get some experience to pump up your resume. An accounting internship will ensure you’re ready to hit the ground running when it’s finally time to apply for entry-level accounting positions.

You must complete at least 2,040 hours or 12 months of experience in general accounting and 500 hours of audit or attestation work.

General Accounting Experience

The work experience requirement is that you need 1 year of qualifying experience working under a licensed CPA.

Experience in private, public, or government work qualifies if completed under the supervision of someone licensed or otherwise authorized to engage in public accounting practice.

If general accounting experience is earned in public accounting, it must be documented on the Certificate of General Experience – Public Accounting Form.

If general accounting experience is earned in government accounting or private industry, it must be documented on the Certificate of General Experience – Non-Public Accounting Form.

Attest Experience

The attest experience must involve preparing working papers, preparing and reporting full disclosure financial statements, preparing written comments and explanations on the work performed, experience in planning the audit and selecting procedures, and experience in applying various auditing techniques and procedures.

If attest experience is earned in public accounting, it must be documented on the Certificate of Attest Experience-Public Accounting Form

If attest experience is earned in government accounting or private industry, it must be documented on the Certificate of Attest Experience – Non-Public Accounting Form.

Applying for Your California CPA License

Once you have passed the ethics exam and met California’s experience requirements, you will need to apply for a CPA license.

The application process is pretty straightforward.

On top of your official CPA license application, remember to submit:

  • Work experience documentation
  • A 2”x2” photo of yourself
  • Your Criminal Conviction Disclosure Form (if required)
  • Your fingerprint packet request
  • An initial CPA license application fee of $250

Upon pre-approval of your California CPA license application, you will be required to pay an initial license fee. The initial license fee is independent of the application processing fee. The initial license fee is calculated based on the date of licensure and first expiration date of the new license. Non-California residents pay a $49 hard copy fingerprint processing fee.

The CBA sends approved applicants their CPA wall certificates and congratulatory letters.

Only after receiving your CPA license number should you start practicing public accountancy.

Job Opportunities for CPAs

It’s a good time to be a CPA.

According to the BLS 2020 Occupation Outlook Handbook,  the job growth rate of the accounting profession was projected to grow 7 percent from 2020 to 2030, which is a faster rate than the average for all occupations.

As a CPA in California, you help the more than 4.2 million businesses in the state sort out complex accounting issues. All of the “Big Four” international CPA firms (KPMG, PWC, Ernst & Young, Deloitte) have offices in California.

Part of the reason for the increasing demand for accounting services in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Clara is stricter laws and regulations in the financial sector.

Of course, the growth and sustainability of accounting careers in CA depend on the health and status of the economy. But if the last few years are anything to go by, then the need for CPAs will grow alongside the growing economy.

How Much Do CPAs Make in California?

Many people pursue an accounting career because it is seen as financially stable.

As with any profession, CPA salaries vary by education, experience, geography, and company size. But the consistently high demand for CPAs is good news for CPA salaries.

California is one of the top states for CPAs to find work. The median annual salary for a CPA is $83,910. However, the top 10 percent of accountants earn over $137,360.

Great opportunities exist for accountants with high levels of certification and those who have graduated at the top of their program.

Most CPAs work full time, although their schedules can vary depending on the time of year and around tax season.

Continuing Professional Education (CPE) and CPA License Renewal in California

Once you earn your CPA, you must meet some requirements to maintain your CPA designation.

You will need a CPE to keep your license active and current. The accounting world is constantly changing with new rules and regulations being implemented. With a CPE, you can continue to improve and learn new skills.

The state of California will require you to complete 20 hours of continuing education (CE) for every 6 months that your license remains in effect.

This adds up to 80 hours per each 2-year license renewal period.

The 80 continuing education hours must include the following:

  • 4 hours in Ethics Education
  • 4 hours in Fraud Prevention and Reporting
  • 24 Hours in Government or Accounting Auditing (A&A)
  • 40 Hours in Technical Subject Areas

You can find acceptable CPE programs in CA through the American Institute of CPAs, NASBA’s National Registry of CPE Sponsors, and the California Society of Certified Public Accountants.

90 days before your license expiry, you will receive a license renewal application email.

You must complete a CPE Reporting Worksheet that documents the completion of the required continuing education hours and then pay a license renewal fee. Maintain records of your CPE hours for no less than 5 years.

Reciprocal License

Reciprocity is not recognized in California. If an out-of-state CPA wants to stay in California and practice, he or she must fill out an Application for CPA Licensure and complete the state’s education and licensing criteria.

CBA may be able to waive the education, examination, and experience requirements if an out-of-state CPA has held an active valid license to practice public accounting for at least four of the ten years preceding submission of an application for licensure in California, and the out-of-state license is in good standing.

Summary

You’ve decided that you want to be a Certified Public Accountant. You’ll get the prestige, the responsibility, and the hefty salary that goes with it. It’s a very stable and rewarding career: CPAs are in demand, and they have a bright future ahead of them. However, getting your CPA license is no easy task, but… the CPA exam process is the one part of getting your CPA license that can take you several months, or several years, depending on the effectiveness of your CPA study routine.

California CPA Exam F.A.Q.s

Here are some commonly asked questions regarding California’s CPA exam and CPA license requirements.

Do You Need 150 Credits to Sit for CPA Exam in California?

No. You just need to have a bachelor’s degree and complete 24 semester hours in accounting courses and 24 semester hours in business-related courses.

Can You Take CPA Exam Without Degree in Accounting in California?

Yes, it is not mandatory for candidates to have a degree in accounting to take the CPA exam.

Do CPA Exam Scores Expire in California?

No. Once you have passed all four sections of the Uniform CPA Examination, your exam scores will not expire. The Ethics exam, however, expires in 24 months.

How Much Does the CPA Exam Cost in California?

The total cost of the CPA exam for an aspiring CPA in California is $1004.60, this is considering that you pass all exams on the first try. The breakdown of the cost is $100 for the application and $904.6 for all four sections of the exam ($226.15 per section).

How Long Does It Take to Become a CPA in California?

While you can sit for the CPA exam once you have completed the necessary education requirement, you will still need to attain the full 150 semester hours required nationwide. This is roughly five years of education, then one year to take and pass the CPA exam, and then one year to meet the experience requirement. That makes a total of 6-7 years to get your CPA license. Once you have met all the requirements and have submitted your application to receive your CPA license from the California Board of Accountancy, if approved you will receive your license in the mail within 3-4 weeks.

How do I pass the CPA Exam in California?

To pass the Uniform CPA Examination, you would need to pass all four sections, Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG) with a passing grade of 75. Take note that once you’ve passed one section with a score of 75 or higher, you must successfully complete the other 3 parts within 18 months.

Does California Require an Ethics Exam for the CPA?

Yes, while other states require candidates to take the uniform AICPA ethics exam, California has decided to make its own ethics exam. It’s currently the only exam that the California Board of Accountancy recognizes and accepts. You can order the California Professional Ethics (PETH) exam through the CalCPA Education Foundation.

How Do I Register to Take the CPA Exam in California?

To apply, you’ll need to register an account at California Application for the Uniform CPA Examination.

After you create an application, an Application Remittance Form will be displayed and a copy of the form will be emailed to you.

You’ll need to print and sign the Application Remittance Form, then mail it along with the $100 registration fee to:
California Board of Accountancy
Examination Unit
2450 Venture Oaks Way, Suite 300
Sacramento, CA 95833′

On the payment check, you must also write your Remittance Number which can be found on the Application Remittance Form that you received.

How Many Accounting Credits Do You Need to Sit for the CPA License in California?

You must complete 24 hours of accounting coursework, which must contain three hours of general accounting, three hours of business law, auditing, or finance, and any combination of accounting, business law, tax, audit or finance.

As part of the 150 semester hour requirement, 33 of those semester hours must be in accounting classes, and 36 semester hours must be in general business classes. Accounting classes that meet the requirement would be classes in accounting, financial statement analysis, auditing, fraud, external or internal reporting, taxation, and financial reporting.

How to Save Yourself MONTHS of Time and Frustration
Keep in mind that the CPA exam is the one part of getting your CPA license that you can control how long it takes. The education and experience requirements take as long as they take, but the CPA exams can take you as little as 6 months, or as long as multiple years… depending on how effective your study process is from the beginning.
Learn how to study strategically so you can save yourself tons of time and retake fees with this free training…

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