By Steve Saah, Executive Director of Finance and Accounting Permanent Placement, Robert Half
“If I leave public accounting and let my CPA license lapse, will that compromise my pursuit of future opportunities in accounting?”
I had an opportunity to address this thoughtful question raised by an audience member during a recent webinar, “2022 Hiring and Career Trends for Accounting Professionals,” hosted by Becker, a global leader in accounting exam prep and professional education. I was a panelist for that event, along with my colleague Angela Lurie, senior vice president, full-time engagement professionals, at Robert Half, and Becker’s Mike Brown and Peter Olinto.
I thought this question was so timely because, in today’s job market, skilled CPAs have many opportunities both in public accounting jobs and in roles on the corporate accounting side.
So, what was my answer? The benefits of keeping your CPA will always outweigh the risks of letting it lapse. Let me explain why.
First, there’s no doubt in my mind that passing the Uniform CPA Examination® (CPA exam) and obtaining a license to practice as a CPA is a litmus test for many employers of accounting and finance talent today. A great deal of work — and time — is required to obtain the CPA certification, even after you pass the exam. So, merely having the CPA license demonstrates a significant level of dedication and commitment by a candidate. But the CPA credential is also a sign that the person who earned it has strong technical skills and standout professional attributes, including ethics.
Take the long view on keeping your CPA license current
As for whether you need the credential for a corporate accounting career: Employers will assess a wide range of factors when evaluating candidates for accounting roles, and typically, they’ll make clear in the job description whether a CPA license is a must. If it isn’t advertised, then you likely don’t need it. Further, unless you’re aiming for a job that would require you to sign off on an audit, then not having a current CPA license probably won’t be a dealbreaker for most companies.
That said, I think licensed CPAs pursuing corporate accounting jobs should keep the big picture in focus. What are the differentiators that, once you land a job, could help you advance your career? And what could help you earn a higher salary along the way? When you’re vying for a hot job in corporate accounting, having something your competitor doesn’t — like an in-demand certification like the CPA — could make all the difference in whether an employer decides to hire you.
Maintaining your CPA license can also benefit your career in corporate accounting down the road. While it may not be essential to getting hired for a particular role or making it through your first year on the job, it could prove valuable as your career develops. For example, say you’re competing for a promotion, and a higher salary, against an equally talented colleague who isn’t a CPA. Even if this role doesn’t require a CPA license, the fact that you have one could give you the edge.
See this post for more insight into how a CPA license can help grow your career.
The cost and time commitments of maintaining a CPA license
Of course, maintaining your CPA license is a significant commitment, whether your career takes you into public or corporate accounting. For one, keeping your license current costs money. Renewal requirements vary by state, but fees generally average about $100 per year.
Let’s put that cost in perspective, though: Renewing your CPA license annually (or every two years in some states) costs significantly less than retaking the CPA exam. Depending on your state, retaking the exam could cost you more than $1,000 if you factor in the application fee and sitting for each of the four sections of the exam. If you need course review, this can increase your financial commitment even further.
Costs aside, a key reason many professionals decide to let their CPA license lapse is because of the time investment required to keep the license current. Most states require at least 40 hours of CPE per year, and some, such as Montana, stipulate that a certain number of hours must be completed in technical study areas. And states like Oregon, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania also require that at least four hours or more of study be focused on ethics. (You can get specific information on your state’s fees and requirements for the CPA license here.)
If you do let your CPA license lapse and decide later that you want to make it current again, know that each U.S. state has its own process for CPA recertification, including grace periods. For instance, in North Carolina, the grace period for renewing a lapsed license is six months, while in Louisiana, the grace period is a year. Also, know that most states won’t allow you to keep the CPA designation after your name if you let your license lapse.
So, if you leave public accounting and let your CPA license lapse, will it compromise your pursuit of future opportunities in corporate accounting? It could. Having your license will grant you a competitive edge. Furthermore, it shows that you are proactive in keeping up with new technology and standards, and it will likely lead to higher compensation over the course of your career.
Ultimately, an active CPA license could be the differentiating factor in who is extended a job offer. It took a lot for you to earn your CPA credential, and its long-term value to you as an accounting pro may exceed any perceived “hassle” in maintaining it year after year.
Learn more about the benefits of a CPA license
To find out more about the benefits of having a CPA license, and learn about current career trends for accounting professionals, watch the Becker webinar on-demand here.
Also, check out this video featuring Steve Saah, “3 New Reasons Why You Should Keep Your CPA.”
Follow Steve Saah on LinkedIn.