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Everything you need to know about earning CPE credit for your CPA

Earning CPE credit for your CPA

Whether you’re already a CPA, have finally passed your last exam, or are just getting started with your CPA studies, you probably know you need to maintain your certificate with Continuing Professional Education (CPE). But you may not know that each state board has its own requirements for CPE hours and course types. You may also not be sure of the best place to find your hours. We’ll show you where to check your requirements so you can see what kind of CPE is right for you!

What are the CPE requirements for my state?

If you’re not sure how many CPE hours you need or whether you have to complete specific kinds of courses (like ethics), check your state board’s requirements or contact your state board directly. If you are still deciding where you want to practice, checking the CPE requirements ahead of time can help!

Some states, such as Montana, have general specifications only requiring a total number of CPE hours, including a specific number of hours in ethics. Other states, such as Arizona, can have more detailed requirements, outlining the number of hours needed on broad topics, but overall allowing CPAs to choose their own classes.

A few states have very specific requirements. California, for example, has a list of required hours as well as limitations on what subject areas count as CPE.

How do I know if a course will count toward my CPE requirement?

For all CPAs, each course you take must be approved by NASBA to ensure its validity. Most review providers have information on their courses so you can be sure they are approved before paying.

For example, we advertise our compliance on our website.

Once you know how many hours and which types of courses you need to complete, how do you choose the right ones? There are several factors to consider, but ultimately you should choose the best combination of price, convenience, and engagement.

We’ve compiled a helpful table for you that discusses each type of CPE below:

PriceAs cheap as $12/hour Cheaper in bulk$500+ for 16 hours$25/hour or more
ConvenienceStudy on your own timeCan sit through a sizable number in a weekendMust take the classes when they are offered
EngagementVarious options mean you’ll never have a dull momentSitting through lectures with little interaction can make focusing difficultLimited options, but can be engaging with a good instructor

Taking online CPE courses

Many CPAs are choosing to earn their CPE hours this year through online courses, especially since many conventions are being postponed or canceled. The good news is taking CPE online is both convenient and reasonably costed.

Study when it’s convenient for you

CPE hours are usually counted in 50-minute hours, so you can reasonably expect to spend 50 minutes studying for each credit hour. However, with a multi-hour course, you may experience interruptions or want to take a break, so plan accordingly.

Credit hours for an online course are often determined by the average number of hours it took pilot testers to complete the course. Pilot testers are usually certified professionals like yourself, so if you sign up for a 4-hour course, you can reasonably expect to spend no more than 4 hours completing it.

If you’re interested in earning free CPE, we’re accepting applications for pilot testers.

Online CPE courses can be taken at your own pace. Just because a course has a listed number of hours for credit doesn’t mean you have to spend all of those hours in one sitting. Spending just an hour a week on a course will mean you won’t complete the hours quickly, but it is much more flexible than going to a conference or trying to find an in-person course.

If your CPE provider has a robust catalog and lets you buy hours instead of just courses, you can take the courses as you need them. Got a tough case for a client as a tax preparer? What about an uncommon case in an audit? Look to see if there is an online course about the topic. Get your CPE hours completed and service your client better at the same time!

Cost efficient for each hour of CPE credit

Online CPE courses can be bought either individually or in bulk, so no matter your needs, you can typically find the right package for you. However, if you are planning your CPE for the year, buying bulk is often the best way to go. Most CPE providers will have a sizable discount for buying more hours at once.

While you should shop around for the best deal, buying in bulk will often make completing your CPE online the most economical option. Watch out though—if a price looks too good to be true, it might be. Your online CPE courses need to be approved by NASBA to count!

Study how you learn best

You also want to make sure the courses you are buying have the tools you need to learn the material. Trying to learn a new skill or new information can be difficult if you are not setting yourself up to succeed.

However, some providers go above and beyond to make sure you not only remain engaged during your course, but actually learn the material. Gleim has video lectures, study quizzes, and more to help make sure you learn the topic you’re studying. After all, the point of CPE is to continue your education after your certification; take the opportunity to learn something new!

Taking CPE courses at conferences

Currently, this option isn’t viable for many candidates world-wide, but conferences can be an efficient way to complete CPE. Taking classes or attending lectures back to back can help you knock out the hours with few distractions or excuses to put them off.

Relevant topics with instructors

There is a good chance that any CPA attending a conference is doing so for a specific reason. The classes available will likely be relevant to your career and your current position, and you can choose classes that suit your needs and interests.

Conferences often have lecturers speaking on a topic, so there is little interaction in each course. That doesn’t mean the lecture can’t be fun or engaging, but it takes the right speaker to make it so.

Even if your speaker isn’t as captivating as you would like, you can still take notes to help you focus and then take the information back home with you. If the speaker allows questions, write some throughout the lecture, and ask any that weren’t answered.

Higher cost, but with many ways to reduce the cost

Not only are conference lectures a gamble as far as engagement goes, they can also be expensive. The average cost of a ticket to a weekend conference can easily exceed $500 USD, and the amount of CPE you can earn will likely only be around 16 hours.

The costs of your ticket, travel, lodging, and food add up quickly. For CPAs who need to pay their own way to these conferences, they can quickly become much more expensive than getting your CPE hours from another source.

If you’re lucky enough to live in or close to a city with a conference scheduled, many of these cost concerns are greatly reduced. Be sure to check conference schedules to make sure the CPE topics you want or need are being provided.

Another way to save money is for your firm or company to send you to these conferences at their cost. It would be a great opportunity to get paid while earning your CPE!

Not just for CPE hours

Conferences are also great opportunities to network and learn about other trends and upcoming events in the industry. It’s entirely possible that earning CPE is a secondary objective for attending a conference. If so, knocking out as many as 16 hours is a huge bonus for attending.

Depending on the type of conference you attend, there’s also a good chance that the classes or lectures will build off of one another, so if you are looking to learn as much as you can about a particular topic, doing so in a short time span can be the most effective way.

Attending a conference with coworkers or colleagues can also lead to interesting discussions on the topics, even if you are going to different classes. Though you won’t earn CPE for the classes you don’t attend, talking about them with peers will increase your overall knowledge.

Taking CPE courses live

Live courses can be held either online or at a physical location. Depending on the format, the live class may look similar to either online courses or conference lectures. Traditionally, most live classes are offered like conference lectures; however, keep in mind that most classes have moved online.

Not as flexible, with fewer options

Live classes depend on the schedule of the organization or teacher. While you can choose whether or not to join a class, if you are limiting yourself to live courses, you may find they are not always offered at the times most convenient for you.

Before signing up for an in-person course, be sure to check their refund or no-show policy. With how expensive CPE courses are, you don’t want to make the commitment but then lose out on the money if something comes up.

Highest cost, but more interaction

Live CPE courses also tend to cost the most for individual courses. Not only does the instructor need to be paid for their time, but the cost of any materials used and for the space in which the class is held needs to be recouped as well. Credit hours can easily exceed $50 USD each, which is significantly more expensive than most online courses and even conferences.

If the class isn’t held close to home, you may also need to consider time, transportation, and food costs on top of that of the course. Though these costs are typically much less than those for a conference, if your course is spread out over multiple days or weeks, you may end up paying a significant amount to attend it.

Instruction from professional teachers

The benefit of live courses is, of course, the living human teaching the course. Since their job is to teach, they are more likely to be more engaging with their teaching method. Live instructors can answer questions, lead discussions, and direct their students to other sources of information.

However, there is no guarantee that an instructor is going to be more engaging than a lecturer at a conference or a speaker in an online video. If you can find reviews of a course or an instructor before signing up, be sure to read them thoroughly. These reviews can help direct you to the courses and instructors that are worth the extra time and money.

Other ways of earning CPE credit

Depending on your state board, you may be able to earn CPE for passing other certification exams, such as the CMA or CIA. While not many state boards allow individuals to claim CPE credit for studying and passing certification exams, you may be pleasantly surprised to find you can claim at least some credit. It is important to check with your State Board of Accountancy to determine what, if any, you can claim. Additionally, keep in mind that any new certification you obtain may have CPE requirements of its own. The good news is that the CPE requirements for many certifications overlap.

If you decide to earn another certification for your career path, it is definitely worth the effort to look into how many hours may be eligible to apply towards your CPE requirements. No reason to do extra work if you don’t have to!

If you teach classes, whether in a formal education setting or CPE courses, you can earn CPE for the hours you teach. The ratio isn’t one-to-one, so check your state board’s policies, but this is another way to get paid to earn your CPE!

Get started with your online CPA CPE courses now with Gleim

Don’t wait to start your CPE hours! Gleim produces high quality CPE courses for CPAs, CIAs, CMAs, Enrolled Agents, and even those looking to earn their Annual Filing Season Program (AFSP) Record of Completion. All of our online courses are NASBA compliant and help you make the most of your study time.

Our packages contain hours that can be exchanged for any course in our course catalog, allowing you to buy now and pick later depending on your needs. If you want to sample our courses, we offer a free CPE course, either in Auditing and Attestation or in Taxation.