The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that demand for accountants will outpace the average demand for all other professions between 2016 and 2026. Demand is projected to grow by 10% and bring 139,000 new accountants into the field. In the state of Washington specifically the demand is forecast to grow by 21% by 2024. The median salary for accountants in Washington was $65, 290 in 2016, but with demand being so strong that total is likely to rise rapidly. If you're ready to start on a lucrative and in-demand career path, learn how to become a CPA in Washington.
Academic Requirements for Washington CPAs
CPAs often have specialized expertise, but each one must understand the core concepts of accounting. The Washington State Board of Accountancy (WBOA) requires all CPAs to have acquired minimum levels of education. Follow these steps to satisfy the requirement:
Complete at least 150 semester hours or 225 quarter-hours from a four-year college with approved accreditation. If you are unsure whether an institution is accredited and approved by the WBOA, contact them directly.
Earn a bachelor's degree. An accounting major is not strictly required, but intense coursework in accounting is. Most CPAs who do not have a degree in accounting have on in business instead.
Compete the required coursework. In order for a degree to be recognized by the WBOA it must satisfy the following requirements:
- 24 semester hours or 36 quarter-hours in accounting subjects. At least 15 semester hours must be in upper-level or graduate level classes. Upper-level classes are typically defined as classes that require students to complete a lower-level course as a condition of admittance. Graduate-level courses count as 1.5 semester hours towards the 24 semester-hour requirement.
- 24 semester hours or 36 quarter-hours in business administration subjects. Most courses qualify if they are offered by a graduate or undergraduate business department.
If you have earned a degree from an unaccredited institution, outside the state of Washington, or in a country besides the US it may still satisfy the educational requirement. The school and degree must be evaluated by a third-party to determine if it meets the state's requirements. A list of evaluation services is available here.
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Pass the Uniform CPA Exam
The Uniform CPA Exam is administered in almost every state and is designed to demonstrate core competencies and key skills. CPA candidates must register for the exam within 180 days of completing their education. Students are allowed to take the exam while still in school, but they must provide proof of enrollment and be on track to graduate within 210 days after graduation. Once you're eligible, follow these steps:
Apply to take the Exam. The WBOA contracts with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) to handle exam registration. The Certified Public Accountants Examination Services (CPAES) is the specific office that handles examination issues. Register for the exam online, and be prepared to provide the following documents:
- An official transcript from every school listed on the Uniform Exam application. The transcripts must be sent directly from the school to the CPAES.
- A Certificate of Enrollment if you are still completing the educational requirements. This must be sent directly from the school to the CPAES.
- An International Evaluation is you have acquired your education outside the US. International transcripts in both the native language and translated into English are also required.
- A Testing Accommodation form if you are disabled and required a specialized testing environment.
Send all required documentation to CPA Examination Services – WA, PO Box 198469, Nashville, TN 37219
Wait to receive your Jurisdiction ID from the CPAES. This certifies that you are eligible to take the test. If you have applied to take the test previously and already have a Jurisdiction ID, continue to use that number for the remainder of the exam process.
Find a testing location and pay any applicable fees. The total cost of taking the test is different for first-time test takers compared to returning test takers. Testing sites in Washington are available in these locations:
- Mountlake Terrace
Study extensively for the exam. Typically the exam is administered within six months of a candidate being registered.
Access your score online after taking the exam. The NASBA reports your score to the WBOA which then notifies you of when and how it's available.
Meet the Experience Requirements
Education is essential for CPAs, but many of their responsibilities are learned on the job. The WBOA requires all accountants to work at lower levels before becoming eligible for a CPA license. These are the specific experience requirements:
Complete the Code of Professional Conduct course from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). You will receive information about this course along with your Uniform Exam score. You must pass the course with a score of 90% or above to meet the WBOA's minimum requirements.
Acquire the right kind of experience. It must involve the practice of public accounting in either a public- or private-sector organization. Experience in academia may count but it must be reviewed by the WBOA. All other experience must meet these conditions:
- Take place over a minimum of 12 months measured consecutively or non-consecutively.
- Include at least 2,000 hours of public accounting. One year of full-time work (40 hours per week) is approximately 2,000 hours.
- Take place under the supervision of someone with an active Washington CPA license that they have held for at least five years.
- Obtained within 8 years of when the CPA license application is received by the WBOA.
Ensure that work experience covers the skills/topics deemed essential by the WBOA. Those include:
- Assessing accounting objectives
- Developing documentation and data to support conclusions
- Understanding transaction streams and information systems
- Thinking critically when making decisions and solving problems
- Communicating effectively in multiple mediums and with a variety of stakeholders
Provide information and documentation to prove that the experience requirements have been met. This information is detailed on an Experience Affidavit. This document is prepared by you but then reviewed by your supervising CPA for accuracy.
Enroll in the course titled Washington State Ethics and Regulation for New CPAs. You must earn a minimum score of 90% and present documentation to the WBOA.
Apply for a CPA License
At this point you have extensive accounting experience under your belt and are ready to apply for an official CPA license. Follows these steps to put the process in motion:
Review that you have met all the requirements. Here is a quick rundown:
Complete the license application through the online portal. You may begin using the CPA title as soon as the license is granted and listed on the WBOA licensee search.
- Earned a bachelor's degree with at least 150 semester hours and a concentration in accounting
- Passed the Uniform CPA Exam
- Completed at least 2,000 hours of public-accounting work
- Passed the Code of Professional Conduct course
- Completed the Washington State Ethics & Regulations for New CPAs course
If you are applying for a license from out of state there are additional steps that must be followed:
- Out of state candidates must prove their education/degree is compliant with Washington's CPA education requirements.
- Candidates who passed the Uniform Exam more than 4 years ago must prove they have completed 120 of continuing professional education within three years of applying for licensure. At least 4 hours must be on ethics and regulations and must be completed within 6 months of applying for licensure.
- Candidates who have a CPA license in another state or from another country may be able to expedite getting a license in Washington state. However, these candidates must be able to prove they have completed equivalent requirements for education, examination, and experience.
Keep Up With Continuing Education
Every CPA in Washington is required to renew their license every three years. As a condition of renewal, CPAs must meet these requirements for continuing professional education (CPE).
In the first three-year reporting period after you are granted a CPA license you must complete 120 hours of CPE. At least four hours must be in ethics, and no more then 24 hours may be in non-technical subjects. CPAs must complete 80 hours of CPE within the first year and 40 hours within the second.
After the first three-year reporting period you must still earn 120 hours of CPE every three years. However, there is no requirement for how many hours you earn in any specific year.
Seek out CPE opportunities from approved sources. Some that the WBOA recommends include:
- The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA)
- State accounting societies
- University courses in accounting or business
- Trade and professional associations
- In-house training and programming
CPAs are only required to submit formal proof of completing CPE if they are selected for an audit. However, all professionals are required to maintain records of all CPE for at least three after the credit was completed. Failure to maintain and supply accurate records could lead to loss of license.