Choosing a state to apply for your CPA license based on the lowest education requirements
So you want the CPA license, but you’re concerned about the CPA education requirements. We found two U.S. states and jurisdictions that don’t yet require 150 hours of coursework. The lowest state education requirements for a CPA license can be found in:
2. The U.S. Virgin Islands
Unfortunately, the Virgin Islands requires residency. You must be there 30 days before applying to sit the CPA Exam. So we dug further into the Guam CPA requirements, because the state doesn’t require you to be a resident. See what we learned.
- Education hours requirement for a CPA license: background
- About choosing a state for your CPA license
- Do any states still issue CPA licenses with less than 150 hours of coursework?
- Guam CPA education requirements
- How is Guam still issuing CPA licenses with less than 150 education hours?
- Do I have to travel to take the CPA Exam in Guam?
- Next steps
Background: Education hours requirement for a CPA license
A bachelor’s degree in accounting used to satisfy the education requirement when most states only required 120 hours of coursework as a prerequisite for a CPA license. Now the requirement is nearly unanimously 150 hours across all 55 jurisdictions.
Many accountants make up 150 hours through a bachelor’s degree plus one year of a master’s degree. They take the Exam and get licensed in the state where they live and expect to work.
But let’s say you don’t actually plan to work in public accounting. You’re out of school. Maybe you work in industry or education. And you just want to be able to say you’re a CPA because of the value it will add to your career.
There are still many states that allow you to sit for the CPA exam with only 120 hours of coursework, but they require you to complete the 150-hour education requirements before they will issue you a CPA license. (If you’re looking to say you passed the Exam and don’t actually need a license, then these states are also options for you.)
Which state is best to apply for your license if you don’t have masters’-level courses in accounting or 150 hours in coursework?
About choosing a state for your CPA license
Choosing the state board where you’ll apply for your CPA license is a big question. Today we’ll help you narrow down the easiest state based on the lowest CPA education requirements. But keep in mind that you will also need to consider the state CPA license requirements for other factors such as your accounting work experience and maintaining your license. Read about other factors to consider in Choosing a CPA State Board of Accountancy.
We looked at number of hours required to determine the easiest state for CPA education requirements. Here’s what we found.
Do any states still issue CPA licenses with less than 150 hours of coursework?
Yes. According to our analysis, both Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands still issue CPA licenses with less than 150 hours of education.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Virgin Islands requires residency, as we mentioned. So, you’re out of luck if you don’t live there.
However, when we did some more digging into the Guam CPA requirements, we learned the Guam Board of Accountancy accepts CPA exam and license applications from non-residents.
Guam CPA education requirements
You can sit for the CPA Exam and qualify for a CPA license in Guam if you have a baccalaureate degree – which is essentially a bachelor’s degree.
There are some requirements in terms of the makeup of those credit hours. You will need an accounting concentration. Here are the details from the Guam Uniform CPA Exam Application:
A. You may qualify to sit for the exam if you have completed, or will within 18 months from the date of first sitting complete, a Baccalaureate Degree or equivalent education or higher from an accredited college or university. Please see our Exam Candidate Education Policy governing the terms relative to Education Pre-Completion applicants, posted on our website and included with this application form.
B. To qualify for issuance of a CPA license you must complete a Baccalaureate Degree equivalent or higher.
C. 24 credit hours must be in upper division accounting courses, including the following courses:
- 3 credit hours in Financial Accounting
- 3 credit hours in Auditing
- 3 credit hours in Taxation
- 3 credit hours in Management or Cost Accounting
D. 24 credit hours must be in Business, which should include the following courses:
6 credit hours in Economics
3 credit hours in Finance
3 credit hours in Business Law
Note: “credit hour” means a conventional college “Semester” hour. “Quarter” credit hours may be converted to Semester hours by multiplying by two-thirds (2/3) (e.g. 36 quarter hours equals 24 semester hours).
How is Guam still issuing CPA licenses with less than 150 education hours?
The catch has to do with timing.
Industry sources say that every state now requires 150 hours of education. There is no “easiest” state anymore, it would seem.
However, when a state passes the 150-hour rule as law, it includes a date by which the state requirements will take effect.
PL33-193, which announced the 150-hour state CPA education requirement for Guam, was signed into law on December 15, 2016. But it provided five more years until the 150-hour rule would take effect.
The Guam Board of Accountancy Rules (25 GARR Chapter 2) – as of PL33-193 (December 2016), say:
Section 9. § 35105(c) of Chapter 35, title 22, Guam Code Annotated, is hereby amended to read:
“(c) The education requirement for a certificate and license, which must be met before an applicant is eligible to take the examination prescribed in Subsection (d), shall be as follows:
(1) during the five (5)-year period immediately following the effective date of this amendment, at least a college education, including a baccalaureate, or higher, degree or its equivalent conferred by a college or university acceptable to the Board, the total educational program to include an accounting concentration, or equivalent, as determined by Board rule to be appropriate;
(2) After the expiration of the five (5)-year period immediately following the effective date of this amendment, at least one hundred fifty (150) semester hours of college education, including a baccalaureate, or higher, degree conferred by a college or university acceptable to the Board, the total educational program to include an accounting concentration or equivalent as determined by Board rule to be appropriate.”
Through December 14, 2021, the educational requirements for Guam will be a baccalaureate degree with accounting concentration as specified above.
Do I have to travel to take the CPA exam in Guam?
Great, I found an easy state for my CPA license. But do I have to go there to take the CPA Exam?
No, you don’t need to visit Guam to get your CPA license through the Guam Board of Accountancy. For the vast majority of states, you don’t need to actually take the CPA exam in the state where you apply. The physical location where you take the CPA exam is unrelated to the jurisdiction through which you gain your license. The U.S. Virgin Islands is an exception.
As the CPA profession’s requirements continue to become more stringent, there are still ways to become a CPA even if you don’t fit the standard profile of a certified public accountant. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t meet the CPA education requirement of 150 hours right now. Look into Guam for your license.
For more answers, check out our free CPA Exam Guide today!