The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that nationwide demand for the accounting profession will grow by 10% between the 2016 and 2026 reporting period, which, today, is faster than the national average for all professions and areas of employment. 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 general accountants employed at firms throughout the state, earning a median salary above the 2016 estimate of $74,500. These professionals provide cost accounting, auditing, financial reporting, management accounting, and leadership for each private or public firm as well as national and state accounting organizations. They also are essential for providing general accounting experience and other related work experience to CPA candidates. This guide shows you exactly how to become a certified public accountant and CPA requirements in Massachusetts.
Get the Required Education
The Massachusetts State Board of Public Accounting is the governing body that creates policy for, awards, and monitors CPA licenses in the state. Anyone who wants to become certified must complete the Massachusetts CPA license requirements to earn and maintain one of these licenses. You can find the full process and additional help for free on their website but the first step is typically to complete the educational requirements. You may choose to start with an Associate in Accounting degree before moving on to an undergraduate degree, which will answer any questions you have about the profession. If you're still interested or you already know for sure what you want to do, you can skip the associate and go straight to obtaining a bachelor's degree at an accredited university with acceptable courses and an educational program that will give you the accountancy experience you need. The state board of accountancy might provide a list of specific academic programs with acceptable coursework.
Search for accredited schools, though not necessarily a ranked program, with four-year programs in accounting that are approved by national and state accounting organizations. CPAs are required to have at least a bachelor's degree and complete a minimum of 150 credit 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 from an accredited school that includes at least 30 undergraduate credit hours in accounting courses. You must take at least 3 credit hours in in which you learn the following subject content – 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 2 – Earn a graduate level degree in business accounting or law from and accredited institution that includes at least 30 semester hours of undergraduate accounting courses that pass academic evaluation or 18 hours of graduate level courses. It must also include 24 hours of undergraduate business courses or 18 hours of acceptable coursework in graduate courses.
- Option 3 – Earn a graduate degree in an accounting program from an institution that is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). These 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 pass an academic evaluation vetted by the Public Accountancy Board or vetted by an Education Credential Committee the board appoints.
Credits from an associate 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 any commercial CPA review course is not acceptable.
Anyone with an applicable degree awarded outside the United States is required to undergo an academic evaluation from the Center for Educational Documentation (CED) or the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) International Evaluation Services.
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Campus and Online Degree Options in Massachusetts
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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 completed 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. They must also plan to finish their higher education soon after they sit for and pass all four sections of the exam, or they will not be able to practice at any private or public firm for their practical experience and they may have to retake one or more of the tests. 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 on their site 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 experience and learning requirements.
- Students with foreign degrees must submit documentation from an authorized body certifying that the educational requirement has been satisfied to the board of accountancy website or by mail.
- Students must go through the full application process, send supporting documentation and contact info, and pay registration fees and exam 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 National Association of State Boards of Accountancy 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. They are run by Prometric, who also charges testing fees for running the testing center and security for the site. Find a time that allows for adequate preparation and a location that is convenient to reach:
- North Andover
- West Springfield
You should study extensively for the exam and arrive at the test-taking location ahead of schedule.
Wait to receive notification from the CPAES about the results of the test. If you have 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 in order to earn practical experience. 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 your CPA licensure application:
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 one of the accounting firms you work with, 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 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 outlined 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 reports 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 attest portion of the work you'll be doing.
Full-reporting CPA license
If you have met all the previous requirements, including all the practical experience work requirements, you are eligible to apply for a full license:
- Include the correct 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 general accounting experience.
- Include 3 character references from people who are acquainted with your work but not related to you.
Interstate reciprocal license
There are specific requirements a CPA holder must meet if they have a CPA license in another state in the U.S. and want to transfer it to Massachusetts, including:
- Have worked a job 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 request to transfer it to Massachusetts as long as you meet the terms of these rules and requirements:
- If you are a Canadian chartered accountant 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 a 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. They must meet the requirements of the continuing education committee:
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.
Accountant Career Concentrations & Salaries in Massachusetts
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Massachusetts is one of the best states in the country for accountants, for multiple reasons. The Bay State is among the top employers of accountants and auditors, with more jobs being added every year. By the year 2024, the number accounting jobs in Massachusetts is projected to rise by nearly eight percent, adding a total of about 3,070 employment opportunities overall. Though accountants all throughout Massachusetts earn some of the highest salaries in the industry, those working in the Boston area come out on top with an average salary of $56,300. Average incomes remain consistently high for accountants in the rest of the state, with mean annual salaries starting at $65,360 and climbing.
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Massachusetts Accounting Frequently Asked Questions
How much do accountants make in Massachusetts?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Massachusetts' accountants and auditors earn an annual average wage of $83,000. This number is slightly higher in the Boston area, where these professionals earn an average wage of $85,000. Elsewhere in the profession, bookkeepers, auditing, and accounting clerks earn an average wage of $49,000, which is slightly higher in Boston.
What are the educational requirements to sit for the CPA examination in Massachusetts?
To sit for the CPA examination in Massachusetts, students must have completed 120 semester hours culminating in a bachelor's degree. Of those hours, 21 semester hours must have been in accounting. Specifically, the Massachusetts Board of Accountancy requires coursework in financial accounting, audit, management accounting, and taxation. The Board also requires other business courses in information systems, finance, and business law.
How many accounting jobs are there in Massachusetts?
There are nearly 35,000 accountants currently working in Massachusetts. Nearly 30,000 of those are in the Boston area, which includes Cambridge and Nashua, NH. There are a few more bookkeepers in that area, about 33,000. Thus, new graduates will be well-served by seeking an entry-level position in or near to Boston.
Can I get an online accounting degree in Massachusetts?
Yes. In fact, UMass at Dartmouth offers AACSB-accredited online bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Accounting. Students can complete their entire degree online or use the medium as their schedule requires. UMass Amherst also supports AACSB-accredited online accounting programs for both graduate and undergraduate students. Additionally, there are many more programs both in Massachusetts and throughout the nation that confer degrees via online media.