To maintain your accounting certification, you will need to complete Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits on a regular basis. Maintaining accounting certification after you pass your certification exam is important to remaining competitive in the workplace. Potential employers and future clients will pay attention to whether you are certified and give preference to those who are. Perhaps even more importantly, the things you learn while pursuing CPEs will help keep you up to date with current accounting trends and technology so that you can perform your job to the best of your ability.
Continuing education requirements vary. The accounting association that certified you will have particular requirements for your CPEs. Requirements will differ slightly among accounting associations and depending on the particular type of certification you hold (CPA, CMA, or CFP), but will generally encompass a minimal amount of academic experience over a set period of time. For example, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants requires that you earn 120 CPE credits every three years to remain certified.
You can attend a variety of accounting programs to earn your CPEs. One of the most straightforward ways is to attend college classes. You can also attend shorter seminars and workshops that can range in subject matter from technological advances in accounting, to shifting ethical standards, to changes in tax law. Accounting associations can provide information on where to sign up for and attend CPE events. In many cases, your employer will cover the cost of attending classes and workshops, as you'll be acquiring information which will improve your qualifications and performance at work.
Each accounting association has formulas for converting college credit hours or literal hours spent in a seminar into CPE credits. Usually you will get about one CPE for each hour you spend at a CPE event, and about 15 CPEs for each college semester hour you earn from a college class.
The accounting program you attend to earn your degree should have information on how to earn your CPEs after graduation. Many accounting programs sponsor events for alumni to earn CPEs. Some of these events may only last for a day, and others will be courses you attend for a longer time.
It's usually best, and easiest, to earn CPE credits in small increments on a regular basis, instead of of waiting until the last minute and trying to rack up a lot of credits to meet a deadline. You are responsible for keeping track of your CPEs and submitting this information to the accounting association that certified you. Generally CPEs are submitted on the honors system; it is unlikely that an accounting association will ask for proof that you have fulfilled your educational obligations. However, it is still wise to keep accurate records of the CPEs you have earned on the off chance that someone will question their validity. You will need to submit an account of the CPEs you earned every three years when you renew your membership with the accounting association that certified you. You will also need to pay your dues to the accounting association at this time.
In a few situations, you can maintain your certification without meeting the minimum requirements for submitting CPEs. If you have taken a leave of absence from accounting, have retired from accounting, are unable to find work in your field, are currently serving in the military, or have personal obligations that have prevented you from completing your CPEs on time, you may be exempt. Check with your accounting association about its specific regulations and how to qualify for an exemption if you need one. These exemptions are designed to avoid punishing those who find themselves in extenuating circumstances, not as a means for employed accountants to neglect their continuing education.