How to Become a CPA (A Comprehensive Guide)

Discover how to become a CPA, including exam and license requirements. Explore career paths as a tax and bookkeeping expert, and find available jobs for CPA at Intuit.

Are you ready for an exciting new career as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)? CPAs are some of the highest-paid professionals in the world of finance. They also experience a very high level of job security.

But what does it mean to be a CPA, and how do you become one? That’s what we will discuss in this article. We’ll tell you what a CPA does, how to become a CPA, and how long it will take. Let’s get started!

What is a CPA?

CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant. A CPA is a professional designation that the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) gives accountants who have undergone rigorous education and testing to demonstrate they are qualified to handle accounting for any level of business in the United States.

Every CPA is an accountant, but not all accountants are CPAs. If you’re an accountant and want to become a CPA, you must meet certain requirements first. It’s not easy, but the steps to becoming a CPA are straightforward, as we’ll discuss shortly.

Becoming a CPA opens up opportunities for higher income and career potential. Being a CPA identifies you as someone who knows the ins and outs of accounting. 

What does a CPA do?

A CPA handles all financial aspects of a business. They are in charge of keeping a record of every penny that comes in and goes out of a company. With the large amount of money circulating through many businesses daily, someone has to keep track of it and report it to relevant parties.

As a CPA, you may also perform the following duties:

  • Design financial statements: CPAs usually compose documents that detail a company’s finances over time. This entails compiling financial statements into digestible material that business owners can easily examine and use for decision-making. 
  • Prepare income taxes: Calculating taxes and identifying deductibles is another critical task of CPAs. CPAs are knowledgeable in tax laws and regulations. They help individuals and businesses navigate the complexities of tax planning and preparation. This includes assisting in minimizing tax liabilities, maximizing tax benefits, and ensuring compliance with tax laws and regulations.
  • Auditing: Even though CPAs are experts in diligently keeping track of every transaction to and from a company, the reality is that sometimes things fall through the cracks, and finances may come up short. A CPA can conduct an internal audit and go through each of a company’s transactions one by one to determine where money was lost or incorrectly accounted for.
  • Financial planning: CPAs also examine a business’s current finances and create a plan to allocate resources to certain expenses for a future period. They then let management know how much money is available and create a budget to sustain profitability.

What is a CPA License?

A CPA License is a certificate that shows you are an accounting professional qualified to handle all financial aspects of a business. It also demonstrates you have relevant experience and, in many cases, have obtained a bachelor’s degree in a related field. The board of accounting in your state will grant this professional designation to you after you complete a thorough exam.

The AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) and NASBA (National Association of State Boards of Accountancy) set strict requirements on who is eligible to take the exam. They are also instrumental in designing the contents and procedure for the exam.

Due to its requirements, the prestige that comes with a CPA license will garner a wealth of trust and admiration from colleagues and potential clients.

How to Become a CPA?

Becoming a CPA can be an arduous task, as it requires demonstrating you can take on the responsibility for the financial health of an entire organization. However, the process for becoming a CPA is relatively straightforward in most states. 

A step-by-step to becoming a CPA

Let’s go through the process of becoming a CPA step by step:

Step 1

First, you need a bachelor’s degree in a related field. It doesn’t have to be an accounting degree, although that would be a wise option if you’re sure this is the career path you want to take. The main idea is to have a minimum amount of credit hours in the areas of:

  • Finance
  • Accounting
  • Mathematics
  • Business Administration
  • Business Law
  • Business Ethics
  • Auditing
  • Statistics

Each state has different educational requirements, but they are all very similar in requiring at least 150 credit hours (a few states only require 120 credit hours) of relevant coursework. 

Step 2

Next, you need relevant experience working under a current CPA. This can be in the form of an internship or a full-time job. You may need one or two years of experience, depending on the state.

Not only is this a requirement to become a CPA, but it’s also a great place to gain valuable knowledge and experience. You’ll see the day-to-day life of the CPA and the essential tools and protocols they use to get their job done.

Step 3

It’s time to take the Uniform CPA exam. Some people take the exam at the end of their college career or after graduating. It is also a good idea to spend a year or so working under a CPA to prepare yourself for the test. This is a four-part assessment that will test your skills as an accountant. Hopefully, working under a CPA will prepare you for this challenging test that less than 60% of candidates pass.

The CPA exam will look like this:

  • Part 1 – Auditing and Attestation: In this section, you’ll analyze financial statements and assess the risk of various business scenarios. You’ll also showcase your ability to use different reporting frameworks and standards to compare statements.
  • Part 2 – Business Environment and Concepts: This section involves showcasing your writing skills to evaluate various law and business ethics scenarios. You’ll also need to write compelling essays about economics and current trends in business and finance.
  • Part 3 – Financial Accounting and Reporting: Here, you’ll be putting your actual accounting skills to work. You’ll prepare statements and do other accounting procedures for mock businesses and governments.
  • Part 4 – Regulation: This section expands on the second part by quizzing you on business law and professional ethics. You’ll use your knowledge of tax regulations to analyze various legal situations in the accounting field.

Step 4

Once you successfully pass the exam, it’s time to apply for your CPA license. The application and its processing will incur a few fees, which we’ll get into in the next section. You’ll also pay a renewal fee every two years to keep your license active. After the institutions process these payments, you’ll obtain your license and be able to advance your career as a CPA.

How long does it take to become a CPA?

Though the path to becoming a CPA is pretty consistent across most states, the time it takes to obtain your license may differ slightly depending on your location and current education.

So, how many years does it take to become a CPA? If you’re starting right out of high school, the entire process could take up to 8 years. 

This includes a four-year degree, two years of accounting work under a CPA, and up to 18 months to pass the test if you have to retake it multiple times. Also, there’s the processing time involved in applying for a license.

However, if you already have a degree with relevant coursework and have worked under a CPA already, you can become a CPA in as little as a year. 

Requirements for the CPA exam

As mentioned earlier, you’ll need 150 credit hours in the accounting and business areas. You can get up to 120 credit hours with a bachelor’s program at a university or opt for a master’s degree in accounting for a total of 150-156 credit hours. If you choose a bachelor’s, you can make up the remaining hours by taking graduate-level courses at a community college or university.

If you have the available time and resources, it may be best to opt for an MAcc (Master of Accounting). It will be another excellent credential to have on your resume alongside your CPA. However, you don’t necessarily need an accounting degree to take the exam. 

How to become a CPA without a degree in accounting

If you studied another major in college similar to accounting, such as business, finance, or even law, chances are you have taken much of the required coursework. You may need to take a few extra classes to prepare, though.

Check your state’s required coursework to see which classes you need to take to qualify for the exam. You may be able to complete all the required education from home.

If you’re looking for how to become a CPA online, you’re in luck. You can enroll in online classes to complete the required coursework and register for the exam online. Although, you’ll still have to visit an in-person test site to take the exam.

How much does it cost to become a CPA?

The total price to become a CPA can vary depending on where you’re starting from and which university you decide to attend. As far as the price of registering for the exam, taking the tests, and applying for the license, here are some of the costs in California:

  • Application fee: $100
  • Exams: $238.15 for each of the four exams; $952.60 total
  • CPA License Fee: $280
  • CPA License Application: $250
  • Fingerprint Processing: $49 (for non-residents)
  • License Renewal: $280 (every two years)

California is one of the more expensive states to take the exam, so we use it as a baseline example so you can plan your finances accordingly. These fees may vary by state, so they may be more or less depending on your location.

CPA Requirements by States

Different states have different CPA requirements. Some require you to be at least 21 years old, while others allow you to be as young as 18 and take the exam. Some need you to have a social security number, while others don’t require one for international applicants.

Most states require 150 hours of relevant coursework, while a few will let you slide with only 120 credit hours. You can view the specific requirements of various states here.

However, check with the board of accounting in your state to get definite requirements before starting your journey. While it may be tempting to move to another state to get things done faster if you see fewer requirements, you may want to get licensed in the state you plan to work in. Your employer (or client) may require you to obtain the license in the same place where you conduct business.

Available Career Opportunities at Intuit for CPA

Before you start your journey toward becoming a CPA, you may want to know what job or career opportunities you’ll have after obtaining the certification. After all, the certification requires putting in a lot of time, effort, and resources. 

The good news is that Intuit has numerous opportunities available for those just completing their CPA program. Intuit is the premier finance software company in America that has two online accounting products that connect customers with tax and bookkeeping experts, TurboTax Live and QuickBooks Live. These platforms simplify the lives of our customers financially by providing accurate and convenient online financial management. And you get the chance to work on them!

Start your own CPA business with the help of Intuit TurboTax Verified Pro

If you’re interested in becoming a CPA and starting your own firm, you can jump start your business by partnering with Intuit as a TurboTax Verified Pro. This can help you get referrals for your business and build your business quickly by tapping into their network of thousands of potential customers.

Intuit also provides local marketing support to help you get the word out about your services. You’ll have access to TurboTax-branded materials and an optimized online presence to help you market yourself effectively. Plus, there’s no upfront cost to becoming a Verified Pro.

If you’re worried about onboarding clients, Intuit’s AI-powered client management portal can help. It will reach out to customers on your behalf to complete documents, reducing the amount of data entry on your end. You’ll also have access to many tax experts to help you with any questions.

So if you’re ready to start your own CPA firm, check out our resources on how to start a tax prep business, and fill out this form to get more information about Intuit TurboTax Verified Pro.

Join Intuit as a Tax or Bookkeeping Expert

At Intuit, we offer competitive wages and bonuses to Tax Experts, Bookkeepers, and more for those with a CPA. Although we also have non-credentialed roles, you can achieve higher hourly wages with a CPA, making it a good reason to pursue that certification. 

Here are the positions that are currently available for you to apply. 

Tax Associate (Remote/Seasonal)

  • Minimum of 2 years of paid tax preparation experience, with a minimum of 30 tax returns per tax year required. If you have the Intuit Academy Tax Level 1 badge, then you only need 1 year of paid tax prep experience with 30 tax returns per season. 
  • Prior tax preparation experience in a tax practice or retail setting 
  • Ability/motivation to expand expertise and obtain a tax credential or certification — Intuit offers a program for obtaining your enrolled agent (EA) credential
  • Knowledge of tax laws and tax concepts and familiarity with Form 1040 and schedules
  • Preparer tax identification number (PTIN) required

Credentialed Tax Expert (Remote/Seasonal)

  • Possess active unrestricted credential: EA (Enrolled Agent), CPA (Certified Public Accountant), or Practicing Attorney
  • Possess or be able to obtain any related state licenses, certificates, permits, or bonds
  • Possess active PTIN
  • Have 2 or more years of recent experience preparing federal and state individual 1040 tax returns for clients/customers, using commercial tax preparation software
  • Bilingual a plus

Bilingual Spanish Tax Expert (Remote/ Seasonal)

  • Possess active unrestricted credential: EA (Enrolled Agent), CPA (Certified Public Accountant), or Practicing Attorney
  • 2 or more years of recent experience preparing federal and state individual 1040 tax returns for clients/customers, using commercial tax preparation software
  • Possess or be able to obtain any related State licenses, certificates, permits or bonds
  • Possess active PTIN (Preparer Tax Identification Number)
  • Bilingual (English/Spanish) communication skills (written & spoken) required

Currently, there are three types of positions available for QuickBooks Live bookkeepers:

Associate Bookkeeper (Remote/ Year Round)

  • 1+ years domain experience
  • a minimum of 1 year of experience working within QuickBooks Online
  • QuickBooks Online Pro Certification Required 
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills

Cleanup Expert Bookkeeper (Remote/ Year Round)

  • 3+ years of recent paid experience as a bookkeeper OR the completion of Intuit Academy Bookkeeping exam 
  • A minimum of 3+ years of recent experience working within QuickBooks Online
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills required
  • QuickBooks Online Pro Certification required
  • Ability to interact with clients through video and audio tools in a way that is professional, friendly, and reassuring
  • Proficient in QBO navigation and various workflows including A/R, A/P, payroll, sales tax, financial reporting, 3rd party apps integration, and banking functions to name a few.

Monthly Expert Bookkeeper (Remote/ Year Round)

  • 3+ years of recent paid experience as a bookkeeper OR the completion of Intuit Academy Bookkeeping exam 
  • A minimum of 3+ years of recent experience working within QuickBooks Online
  • Credentials/Certifications: QB Pro Certification Required
  • Provide monthly bookkeeping services for clients by reviewing & categorizing transactions; completing reconciliations for bank feed accounts and other balance sheet accounts, and sending monthly performance reports

What it’s like to work as a remote tax expert or bookkeeper at Intuit

Working remotely at Intuit gives you the flexibility you need to achieve that much-wanted work-life balance. You can work from the comfort of your own home or any location of your choice and create a custom schedule that works for your unique life situation. 

Moreover, seasonal positions at Intuit allow you to work as much or as little as you need between January and April, so you don’t need to strain yourself when overwhelmed with other tasks and duties. Yet, you can still earn quite some pocket money when you’re running tight on cash. 

Our seasonal roles are perfect for both those new to accounting who want to gain valuable experience and tax professionals who may have their own tax preparation business and need to make some extra money during tax season. Regardless of which category you belong to, Intuit will provide additional resources to support your professional development. You’ll continue to hone your accounting skills and take your career to the next level.

The other benefits you’ll have access to while working with Intuit include:

  • 401(k)
  • Employee stock
  • Employee assistance
  • Paid sick leave
  • E&O insurance
  • Free copy of TurboTax Live and other product discounts

Career paths as a tax and bookkeeper expert at Intuit

Your experience at Intuit can transform into a rewarding career in a fairly short time. Here are just a few of the positions that you can explore throughout your journey:

  • Tax & Bookkeeping Experts: These professionals work with customers to achieve their tax goals. They will prepare financial statements and submit them to leads for proofreading before sending them out.
  • TurboTax Team Lead: Team leads help guide tax experts as they work with customers to do their taxes. They assist tax professionals by acquiring relevant forms, signing documents, and being an extra eye before submitting the files to the government.
  • TurboTax Team Manager: Team managers supervise a fleet of team leads and help them answer questions, fill out forms, and provide another level of support for specific customers.
  • Tax & Bookkeeping Manager 2: Managers at the second tier oversee an entire branch of tax experts, leads, and managers. They ensure everyone complies with company guidelines and are the final point of approval for any high-profile procedures.

Entry-Level CPA Jobs

Do you lack experience but still want to become a tax or bookkeeping professional? Begin your journey as a remote financial specialist at Intuit. Our innovative learning initiative, the Intuit Academy, will provide you with the necessary skills to start working in the field and boost your income in no time.

We understand there can be some challenges entering the field of accounting. That’s why we meticulously designed the Intuit Academy to help you gain relevant knowledge and experience to succeed. Intuit Academy is full of self-paced educational models that will teach you the ins and outs of the industry. At the end of the course, you’ll take an evaluation to test your knowledge and make sure you’re ready for customers in the upcoming tax season.

Intuit will supply everything you need to prepare you for your assessment. We provide all the essential materials and coursework free of charge. After you complete the program, you’ll receive a distinctive credential that you can place on your resume, CV and LinkedIn.

Enrolling in the Intuit Academy will also give you a peek into what it’s like to work remotely as one of our bookkeepers or tax experts. Don’t let your lack of experience, knowledge, or license keep you from pursuing your goal. Get started on your journey as a tax or bookkeeping specialist today at Intuit Academy.

The Talent Acquisition team is dedicated to connecting people with exciting career opportunities and partnership within Intuit. The team works with Intuit's Tax and Bookkeeping experts, recruiters, and thought leaders to provide valuable resources, insights, and opportunities to help people achieve their career goals and business ambitions.