What is a CPA?

CPA is an acronym for Certified Public Accountant.

While a CPA is an accountant, not every accountant is a CPA. Likewise, for tax preparers: an IRS registered tax preparer does not have the same requirements or level of education as a CPA.

There are several important, distinct differences between CPAs and other accounting professionals.

CPA requirements:

  • 150 hours of college education, including a bachelor's degree, with a concentration in accounting. Many earn master's degrees in this process.
  • Must pass the rigorous Uniform CPA Exam.
  • State Board of Accountancy licensure and oversight.
  • As many as 120 hours of required continuing professional education over a three-year period.
  • Strict code of professional ethics.
  • Peer reviewed for higher level work, such as audits. In fact, businesses that hire CPAs for audit work should ask to see the CPA's peer review report.

A CPA's level of expertise - and the accountability for the work he or she does – is held to a much higher standard than those practicing as accountants. That's an important distinction to those who have earned the designation and proudly call themselves CPAs.

What do CPAs do?

CPAs are leaders, strategic thinkers and problem solvers. Proper accounting is integral to any businesses or operation's success and so CPAs are needed everywhere. They can work in a variety of areas, including public accounting, business and industry, technology, forensics, government and education, to name just a few.
Some of the job titles CPAs hold are: CEO, CFO, partner, owner, controller, treasurer, financial analyst, auditor, etc.