The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that nationwide demand for CPAs will grow by 10% between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than the national average for all professions. The rate of growth is slightly lower in Massachusetts where it's projected to climb by 8% between 2014 and 2024. By that time there will be 42,100 accountants employed throughout the state, earning a median salary above the 2016 estimate of $74,500. This guide shows you exactly how to become a CPA in Massachusetts.
Get the Required Education
The Massachusetts Board of Public Accounting is the governing body that awards and monitors CPA licenses in the state. Anyone who wants to become a CPA must earn and maintain one of these licenses. The first step is typically to complete the educations requirements:
Search for accredited schools with four-year programs in accounting. CPAs are required to have at least a bachelor's degree and complete a minimum of 150 semester hours or 225 quarter hours of college credit. In addition, you must complete one of the following education requirements:
- Option 1 – Earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution that includes at least 30 undergraduate semester hours in accounting courses. You must take at least 3 semester hours in each of the following subjects – Management, Taxation, Auditing, and Financial Accounting. You must also take at least 24 semester hours of undergraduate business courses including at least 3 hours in each of these subjects – Finance, Professional Ethics, Business Information Systems, Business Law.
- Option 3 – Earn a graduate degree in business accounting or law from and accredited institution that includes at least 30 semester hours of undergraduate accounting courses or 18 hours of graduate courses. It must also include 24 hours of undergraduate business courses or 18 hours of graduate courses.
- Option 4 – Earn a graduate degree in accounting from and institution that is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). The programs are deemed to automatically meet the standard of the Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy. Programs that are not accredited by the AACSB and do not meet the criteria above must be vetted by the Public Accountancy Board or vetted by an Education Credential Committee the board appoints.
Credits from an Associate's Degree or junior college coursework count towards the 150-credit requirement as long as they are reflected on the transcript from the four-year degree. The same is true of online, pass/fail, and AP courses. Correspondence courses and commercial review courses are not acceptable.
Anyone with an applicable degree awarded outside the United States is required to undergo an evaluation from the Center for Educational Documentation (CED) or the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) International Evaluation Services.
Take The Required Exam
Every CPA in the country is required to take the Uniform CPA exam, a standardized test covering the concepts and competencies most important to a CPA. It is not necessary to have complete the entire education requirement to sign up for the exam. Applicants must have completed at least 120 of the required 150 semester hours with at least 21 hours in accounting and 9 hours in business. Once that threshold is met, follow these steps to prepare for the exam:
Apply to take the Uniform CPA exam through the CPA Examination Services (CPAES) of the NASBA. It is possible to apply online or by submitting a paper application.
- In addition to the application, students must submit an official transcript directly to the CPAES. If the student is still enrolled in school he must submit a Certificate of Enrollment Form certifying that he is enrolled and on track to meet the accountancy requirements.
- Students with foreign degrees must submit documentation from an authorized body certifying that the educational requirement has been satisfied.
- Students must pay all application and examination fees when submitting the initial application. Payment is possible online or by check, money order through the mail. Be advised that the combined total of the fees is around $1,000.
After receiving the application and all supporting documents the NASBA will take no longer than four weeks to reach a decision. If the application is accepted the Board will issues a Notification to Schedule (NTS) through email.
There are sites throughout Massachusetts that administer the Uniform CPA exam on a regular schedule. Find a time that allows for adequate preparation and a location that is convenient to reach:
- North Andover
- West Springfield
Study extensively for the exam, and then arrive at the test-taking location ahead of schedule.
Wait to receive notification from the CPAES about the results of the test. If the student has passed the notification will come with information about applying for the CPA license in Massachusetts.
Earn The Required Experience
One you have earned the necessary education and passed the required exam you are eligible to begin working as an accountant in Massachusetts. However, you are not a licensed as a CPA. That is only possible after you gain the required amount of experience to get approved for CPA licensure:
You must complete at least one-year of full-time accounting work that is equivalent to at least 1820 hours. That work can take many forms, but it must include the following components:
- At least 1,000 hours of attestation reporting experience in the full disclosure of financial statements. No more than 300 of those hours may be spent on full disclosure compilations.
- The experience must be verified by a CPA partner at the firm where the experience was completed. That person must hold a CPA license in Massachusetts, be a partner or shareholder at the firm, and include the details of employment in a letter printed on official letterhead. The letter is mailed directly to the Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy:
1000 Washington Street, Suite 710
Boston, Massachusetts 02118-6100
Practical work experience is not required if you have a earned a qualifying graduate degree.
Apply for the Required License
It is illegal to work as a CPA in Massachusetts without a valid license. As long as you have competed all of the requirements outline above you should have no problem getting approved for a license. There are several options available:
Non-reporting CPA license
It is possible to earn this CPA license without completing the 1,000 hours of practical work experience in attestation financial disclosures. However, these CPAs are not allowed to issue report on financial statements.
- Submit the application for this type of CPA license.
- If you wish to upgrade to a Full-Reporting CPA license you are eligible after completing 80 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) withing 6 months of receiving the non-reporting license. You must also undergo a peer review after completing to verify that it's adequately in-depth on the subject of attestation.
Full-reporting CPA license
If you have met all the previous requirements including all the practical work requirements you are eligible to apply for a full license:
- Include the correct complete complete application along with any application fees. Be aware that several pages on the application require notarization.
- Include a 2" x 2" photograph of yourself
- Include the experience letter from the CPA firm where you earned your practical work experience.
- Include 3 character references from people who are acquainted with your work but not related to you.
Interstate reciprocal license
If you have a CPA license in another it's possible to transfer it to Massachusetts as long as you meet these requirements:
- Have worked as a CPA within 10 years of applying for a Massachusetts license.
- Have at least 5 years experience as a CPA and a signed statement from supervisor verifying that experience.
- Are licensed in a state with requirements equivalent to Massachusetts. The only states that are not considered equivalent are Delaware, Colorado, Vermont, New Hampshire, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
- Are able to complete the Substantial Equivalency Reciprocal License Application, submit a 2" x 2" photo, and pass a criminal background check.
International reciprocal license
If you have a CPA license in another country it's possible to transfer it to Massachusetts as long as you meet these requirements:
- If you are a Canadian chartered accountants credentialed through the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA) you are eligible to take the International Uniform CPA Qualification Examination (IQEX) from the NASBA. You must also have your coursework evaluated by an appropriate body.
- If you are a licensed CPA in another state you must follow the normal requirements to apply for the Uniform CPA. You must then gain the required practical work experience at firm in Massachusetts.
Pursue Continuing Education
In order to keep CPA skills fresh and current the Massachusetts Board of Public Accountants requires anyone with a license to complete mandatory continuing professional education (CPE) as a condition of renewal:
Every CPA must complete at least 80 hours of CPE every two years. At least 4 of those hours must be professional ethics. Extra hours from one two-year period may not be transferred to the next period.
To earn qualify as one hour of CPE the program must be at least 50 minutes long, require a written outline, and record attendance and participation.
CPE credit is available through a number of outlets and organizations:
- Any courses or programs approved by the NASBA or AICPA
- Professional development programs offered through state and national organizations
- Technical sessions held at accounting association meetings
- College or university courses offered for credit. One credit hour equals 15 hours of CPE
- Non-credit college or university courses. One hour of attendance equals one hour of CPE.
- Publishing articles or books or teaching accounting courses.
CPE records must be kept for at least 5 years and include the school/organization that held the program, the location/title of the course, the dates/description of the course, and the number of hours earned.
Any CPA who is required to sign off on financial statements must also undergo a quality review once every three years. The reviewer must hold a CPA license, have no affiliation with you, and complete official forms noting both strengths and weaknesses.