Every CPA needs to find Continuing Professional Education (CPE), and increasingly it needs to be found every year. Across the 50 US states there are 50 different sets of rules for CPE, knowing what you need and having a great source for CPE are both critical to maintaining you CPA certification. As you may have guessed, there are better and worse ways to earn.


First – Know What’s Required

The state boards of accountancy ‘own’ the CPE rules, and the best place to find your state’s CPE requirements is by starting on the NASBA (National Association of State Boards of Accountancy) website: https://nasba.org/stateboards/. They have listings and key elements for every state (and DC and Puerto Rico as well). Go to the statutes page for your state and search for “Continuing Education”. There will be a number ofreferences, but within those will be the number of CPE credits required over what period of time. You will also find the little details that you need to pay attention to, such as your reporting period, which may be one, two, or three years, and things like minimum annual credits and acceptable means of earning CPE.
Regardless of your state, chances are that you will need an average of 40 CPE credits per year. In multi-year reporting states (when you have two or three year reporting periods) you will typically (though not always) have a minimum number of CPE credits required, so you can’t just take a year or two off and do all of your CPE in year two or year three. In order to avoid getting completely slammed by your CPE at the end of your reporting period you need to have a CPE strategy.

Earning your CPE

Here’s where things get interesting, because there are a lot of ways to earn CPE. In fact, for most CPAs it’s not a question of “which platform/solution” am I going to use, but rather “what combination of learning experiences will I need?”
Let’s start with the most convenient: online CPE platforms. They are convenient because they (should) have a plethora of course options which can be studied on your own time. Evenings and weekends, or simply during slow periods at work, if you have any, are all great times to earn CPE. Every CPE strategy should include a solid online, on-demand CPE platform for just this reason.
Another reason to choose online is that they make a great reference base. The most compelling online platforms have upwards of a thousand courses covering everything from audit to technical accounting to related topics a ‘typical’ CPA might come up against in day-to-day work, like financial forecasting, risk management, leadership, and much more. When you need it, it’s there, step-by-step.
Webinars are kind of online, but that’s not the point. Webinars are “live delivered”, and many states require some amount of CPE from “live delivered” events, and webinars where the subject-matter-expert (SME) is present typically counts towards those requirements. Check on your state’s requirements to see if “live” is something you need to look for. In addition to being “live”, webinars are scheduled, and some people find that to be tremendously helpful. For some, on-demand is just too “loose”, and scheduled webinars are a nice way to have time put directly on your calendar for learning.
Alas, that scheduled time can easily be overtaken by real-world work requirements, so sometimes scheduled webinars don’t work out as you’d like (thus the recommendation to have an on-demand source). Also, some webinars are really just warmed over sales pitches from some 3rd party hawking their technology or services, so be careful about that. “Sponsored” webinars at the ones to really watch out for.
Live events also include “in person”, such as seminars and conferences. These are great ways to learn if you don’t mind planning in advance and learning to someone else’s agenda, because these are built based on speaker availability, not based on what you need to learn for your job or career.
Some live events are local and free while others are distant and costly. You need to determine your budget (perhaps your company pays for some of your training) to see whether these kinds of events are within reach. They offer a great change of pace, and it’s enjoyable to meet with similar professionals, network, and learn. Conferences are a great way to knock out large numbers of CPE in a short period of time, but the cost per CPE may be high. You’re a CPA, do your math!
If you work for a company or an audit firm, they may have internal trainings, either webinars or live trainings, which you can go to and earn CPE. Some companies/firms do these regularly and the hours can really add up over the course of many quarters.
You may also be able to teach CPE courses/subjects to others and write articles to earn CPE, but the rules vary from state to state, so be sure to check our what’s allowed first, then earn that CPE.

While this works great for the first time you are preparing and presenting materials, note that if you present the same training multiple times you can only claim the CPE credits for the first time you created the content unless you are able to demonstrate that the learning activity content was substantially changed and that the change(s) required significant additional study or research on your part, as the preparer of the materials. Clearly NASBA and the state boards are trying to avoid the claiming of CPE credits for those who are simply repeating delivery of the same training materials over and over again.

If you are not delivering the program but rather reviewing it for the person delivering the program, you may receive CPE credit for that review activity.Typically, you can receive CPE credit for actual review time up to the number of CPE credits offered for the program itself. As with teaching, this is subject to state-board-based regulations and hour or credit maximums. And, as before, the CPE credits earned for reviewing can only be earned once for any particular reviewed material. If you are reviewing the same or similar material again you may not claim credit for the subsequent review unless there was a significant change to the content which required additional study or research on your part.

Your CPE Strategy

Once you have a firm grasp on how to earn CPE the question becomes “What should I do?” You have to hit your numbers – that’s non-negotiable. But you can do that in a variety of ways, as shown. Since you’ve got to do it, you need to ask yourself, “Do I want to just knock it out, or do I want to further my career?” Oddly enough, many CPAs just knock it out. They may take courses that help them with their personal taxes, or steer towards simple topics that they can do with a minimum of intellectual energy. But taking CPE to further your career doesn’t take more hours, just more thought, so you should strongly consider that as part of your strategy.
Another part of your strategy is cost. As noted above in the “conference” section, those can really cost quite a bit, and online platforms can also run up to $1,000/year for unlimited subscriptions. Webinars tend to be free, but are highly random when it comes to topic and availability. If you know how much you can invest in your CPE it may dictate just what you can afford to do, without much leeway.
Regardless of affordability, there are always choices you can make. If you desire the “career enhancing” path, you need to know your career path. There are some online CPE platforms that can help with this by providing assessments that help steer you in the right direction and may even recommend courses or subjects to study. Regardless, you need to determine what skills you believe you will need in the next one to three years so that you can select topics to study that will fill your knowledge gaps and help you gain proficiency that will lead you to the next step in your career path. If you work for a company/firm your manager will be a great resource for this.
The strategy should be to find relatively “near in” knowledge needs to fill because anything you learn now will be hard to recall too many years in the future. If you are unrestricted in funds then you can look to optimize for content/topics that will take you as straight down your learning path as possible. If you have a strong preference for certain learning modes, by all means use your preferences to the extent possible.
You should “overschedule” your CPE when planning up front because things will come up that interrupt your well-laid learning plans. If you need 40, schedule for 50. This gives you some slack in case the real-world intrudes on your schedule. And, if you finish earlier in the year, that’s a good thing.
To net it all out, make a plan based on your career aspirations and needs, determine your budget, create a schedule utilizing your preferred mode(s) of learning and that fits your schedule, and over-plan to give yourself some wiggle room. With all of that in hand, you will be way ahead of most, and you will rest better knowing you have a plan that will work best for you.

Learn More About CPE

There are thousands of pages of “CPE for CPAs” results in Google search. The problem isn’t in finding “enough”, it’s in finding your fit. Take your time, make a plan, and get it done early. Good luck!