Earning CPE credits is a requirement for all CPAs in the United States and in commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia and the U.K. They are a great way to gain knowledge, learn new skills and stay up to date with the latest trends and regulations.
But the guidelines surrounding CPE credits and the process for earning them can be confusing, especially for CPAs who are new to the industry. And with CPAs in most countries required to complete around 40 hours of CPE (Continuing Professional Education) each year, it can be difficult to find time in your schedule.
Worry not. In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about earning and managing CPE credits. We’ve also included some handy links to online destinations that offer free CPE credits. Feel free to bookmark these resources so you don’t have to Google “where can I get free CPE credits?” every December.
- CPAs are required to earn CPE credits every year to maintain their designation.
- Earning CPE credits ensures that CPAs are keeping their skills and knowledge up to date.
- There are free and paid CPE credits available—as well as online and in-person options for both.
- Online providers such as Vena Academy offer free CPE credits.
What Are CPE Credits?
Earning CPE (continuing professional education) credits is a requirement for CPAs to maintain their designation in the United States and many other countries.
While the guidelines and credit or hour requirements vary from country to country and state to state, the goal of CPE remains the same: to ensure that CPAs are educating themselves on the latest best practices, business trends, regulatory requirements and skills needed for the profession.
CPE credits are typically earned through live or self-study instructional courses. Institutions that offer CPE credits must be registered as a sponsor with NASBA (National Association of State Boards of Accountancy) in the United States. CPAs are responsible for reporting the CPE credits they have earned and ensuring that they have followed the specific guidelines set out by their state, province or country.
What Is the Difference Between CPE and CPD Credits?
On a more serious note, CPE (continuing professional education) is the term used in the United States while CPD (continuing professional development) is the term used in Canada and other Commonwealth countries.
Here are a few differences between CPE and CPD credits:
- In the United States, they are referred to as CPE credits while in Canada they are referred to as CPD hours.
- CPAs in the United States must earn 40 credits per year with one credit being earned for every 50 minutes of study. CPAs in Canada must complete a minimum of 20 CPD hours each year and 120 hours every rolling three-year period.
- In Canada, CPAs can earn all of their CPD hours through self-study while in the United States, there are limits in most states on how many CPE credits can be earned through self-study.
- Canada does not have subject requirements for CPD hours (besides any requirements about ethics), but in some U.S. states, it is required that CPAs earn a certain percentage of their CPE credits in technical subjects such as Business Law.
- Requirements, including reporting requirements, are generally consistent across Canadian provinces, but they vary greatly from state to state in the U.S.
Why Is CPE Important?
CPE is important because CPAs (certified public accountants) are professionals who are trusted to serve the best interests of their clients and organizations. They are expected to act with integrity and to keep their skills and industry knowledge up to date.
Accounting standards, regulatory requirements and best practices are frequently changing. And new trends in business emerge all the time. This is why earning CPE credits every year is mandatory for CPAs.
Earning CPE credits ensures that CPAs are able to act with the most recent and relevant information so they can consistently perform at a high level.
CPE Governance and Compliance: NASBA and AICPA
For CPAs in the United States, there are two main organizations you should be aware of when it comes to CPE governance and compliance: NASBA and AICPA.
NASBA stands for National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. NASBA is a non-profit organization that serves all 55 state-level boards of accountancy. NASBA has many goals and objectives, such as:
- Administrating the CPA Examination
- Approving and registering organizations as sponsors for the distribution of CPE credits
- Providing avenues for CPAs to review emerging trends and issues
- Enhancing the utility of the Boards of Accountants and advancing their interests
In almost every U.S. state, an entity must be registered as a CPE sponsor with NASBA in order to provide CPE credits. When looking for places to earn CPE credits, be sure that the organization has been officially sponsored by NASBA, otherwise, any credits you earn may not be approved when you report them.
AICPA stands for American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. The AICPA was established in 1887—yes you read that right, 1887! While membership is entirely optional, the AICPA boasts more than 400,000 members. So how does the AICPA help its members? Here are a few benefits of becoming a member:
- Opportunities to grow your professional network through events, conferences and more
- Discounts on products and services
- Access to job postings and workshops to help you grow your career
What Qualifies as a CPE Program?
So how can CPAs actually earn CPE credits? There are two types of instructional methods: live and self-study. In order to qualify as a CPE program, the organization issuing the CPE credits must be sponsored by NASBA.
There are several types of learning programs and formats available, here are some of the most common ones:
- Free online learning providers (such as Vena Academy)
- Online courses
- Conferences, trade shows and events
- University classes
What Are CPE Requirements?
CPE requirements differ depending on whether one is a member of AICPA or not.
AICPA members must complete 120 hours of Continuing Professional Education every three years. To learn more about the specific subject and learning type requirements for your state, you can contact your state board.
For CPAs who are not members of AICPA, you can view the state-specific CPE requirements on the NASBA website.
Reporting CPE Credits
It is the responsibility of each CPA to submit official documentation of completed CPE credits and hours. Falsifying the number of CPE credits you have earned or providing fake documentation may get you in serious trouble. Examples of official documentation include:
- A certificate of completion (typically for courses and webinars)
- A record or transcript (for university or college courses)
- A copy of the publication (for published articles or books)
For example, Vena Academy (a free online learning platform), provides users with a certificate that includes everything CPAs need for submission:
- NASBA logo
- NASBA sponsorship ID
- Field of study
- CPE/CPD amount
- Instructional delivery method
- Participant’s name
- Name of provider (Vena) and contact information
- Course title and date completed
- Location of event
- NASBA time statement
- Verification by CPE Sponsor representative
How Do You Choose a Provider and Earn CPE Credits?
One of the great things about earning CPE credits is that you can select several learning formats. There are online options as well as in-person ones. And you can study independently or in group sessions. Additionally, there are self-paced options where you can go at your own speed as well as opportunities to earn CPE credits live. The choice is yours. Pick a style that works best for you.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when evaluating your options for earning CPE credits:
- What subject(s) do I want to learn about?
- Will it be free or will I need to pay?
- What is the reputation of the instructor or organization?
- How is the quality of the course?
- Will getting my certificate of completion be easy?
Free CPE Credits
Many paid CPE credit options can be expensive—and with CPAs in most countries required to earn 40 CPE credits or hours, things can add up quickly.
Fortunately, organizations such as Vena offer free CPE credits through their Academy and at their virtual and in-person events. These are two easy and free ways to earn CPE credits.
Paid CPE Credits
There are also many options for paid CPE credits. Some organizations that offer paid CPE credits may have more subjects and courses to choose from than free options so consider that when deciding between free CPE credits and paid CPE credits.
Free CPE Credits vs. Paid CPE Credits: Pros and Cons
What are the differences between free CPE credits and paid CPE credits? Which option is best for you? We’ve outlined the pros and cons of both options below:
Free CPE Credits: Advantages
- They’re free
- Faster to earn credits (no need to go through a payment process)
- By attending free virtual and in-person events, you can grow your network while also earning your CPE credits
Free CPE Credits: Disadvantages
- May have less selection when it comes to courses and subjects
Paid CPE Credits: Advantages
- More selection to choose from
- Better production quality (webinars, courses, etc.)
Paid CPE Credits: Disadvantages
- Time consuming
- May contain paper-based assessments
In-Person CPE Credits vs. Online CPE Credits: Pros and Cons
As mentioned earlier, CPE credits can be earned both online and in person.
In-person events offer a great opportunity to expand your network and learn from your peers. Additionally, in-person events also tend to be a more interactive and engaging way to earn CPE credits than doing so online. On the negative side, you’re likely to have to pay for any transportation and accommodation costs associated with the event.
Earning CPE credits online is a more convenient and cheaper option than attending in-person events. Many online options for earning CPE credits, such as courses, allow you to study at your own pace which is a nice benefit. And some organizations even offer virtual events that can provide some of the interactivity and network-growing opportunities you get at in-person events.
Organizations such as Vena provide CPAs with both online and in-person options for earning free CPE credits.
Manage Your CPE Credits Throughout the Year
Waiting until the last minute to get all your CPE credits can be stressful, so make sure to manage your CPE credits throughout the year. Keep an eye on how many credits you’ve earned and for any upcoming opportunities (courses, events, webinars, etc.) to earn more credits.
To earn free CPE credits through courses and certifications that will help you fast-track your career, check out all the self-paced options on Vena Academy.
If you prefer free online and in-person events, head on over to the upcoming events section.