Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Those Three Little Letters Are Expensive!

Someone was telling me recently how much money they had spent on the CPA exam. It's reached the thousands for them because they have had to take a couple sections multiple times. It got me thinking about how much I've spent over the past couple of years on gaining my certification and keeping it. The process starts with an Application of Intent, $50. Then there's an Eligibility Application for each section at $15 a pop, or $60. Then there's an exam fee per Section, as follows:

AUD - $226.28
BEC - $178.58
FAR - $214.35
REG - $190.50

If you passed every section on the first try, you've now invested $919.71. That assumes you didn't use any study materials along the way. The likelihood of that is slim! At a minimum, you can buy self-study books from Gleim for $45/each. This is the route I took, so I invested about $180 in preparatory materials. Most people prefer to also use audio CDs, online resources, and/or classroom instruction due to the level of difficulty of the exam. You can buy a packaged set of written, audio, and online materials from Gleim for $989.95, or use the popular Becker program for $2,825. That's quite a bit of dough. Depending on your choice, your total investment now ranges from $1100 to $3700.

I passed each section on the first try, so my investment is probably pretty close to the minimum mandatory amount it takes. If you consider passing rates for each section, there aren't many folks who got off as "easy" as I did. In 2008, the passing rates were LESS THAN 50% on each section. So now add again the cost of the Eligibility Application and exam fee for each part that you failed and must re-take. Yes, you have to pay those fees again for every attempt. There's really no limit to the potential cost now! In addition, this whole process has to be completed in 18 months or less, or you start losing credit for parts you've already passed.

When you finally receive word that you've passed all four parts and can officially put the worry of the exam behind you, there's still more to do! You next have to submit an Application for Issuance of the CPA Certificate ($55). Once that's approved, and you're certified, your licensing fee is $240 (and has to be paid yearly). If only that were the end of it! In order to keep your license, you have to complete 40 hours of CPE a year. Of course, each CPE credit costs something. Expect to spend anywhere between $200 and $1000 each year to fulfill this requirement. And don't forget to join a professional organization! Membership in the AICPA costs about $200/year.

As you can tell, becoming and staying a CPA requires a very large monetary (and time) commitment. In most cases, if you are currently employed during this process, your employer will reimburse these costs. But, that's usually only after you're completely finished, and usually only for one attempt at everything. It makes me wonder if any potential CPAs shy away from the process for strictly monetary reasons.

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