CPA license. CPA certificate. Here’s the question that’s probably on your mind: Which is more useful? Don’t make the mistake of believing that “license” and “certificate” are similar. CPA certification and CPA licensure are very different. Certification comes first, from simply meeting the requirements for and passing the CPA Exam. Licensure means passing the exam and then continuing onward by accruing work experience, earning CPE credits and more.  

In short, your choice to stop at CPA certification without pursuing licensure sets the stage for your career path. Consider the differences between the two, navigating the state requirements for each, the benefits of earning the CPA license and how a CPA Review course prepares you for CPA Exam success.  

What is CPA certification?  

Unfortunately, a lot of confusion has built up around the term “CPA certification.” Every state Board of Accountancy establishes certain requirements for sitting for the CPA Exam, including age minimum, letters of recommendation, and in most cases, a bachelor’s degree with 150 credit hours, including specified hours in accounting-related fields.  

 In all but seven states, completing those requirements and passing the test gets a license. Those other seven — Alabama, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma — are “two-tier states” that require experience before the certificate can be awarded.  

What is the difference between a CPA license and a CPA certificate? 

Now, let’s look at the requirements and powers of CPA certification vs. the CPA license. You can’t skip straight to CPA license. As noted, you must first earn your CPA certificate and then fulfill additional requirements, which vary by state.  

Requirements for a CPA certificate 

  • No work experience requirements 
  • No continuing education requirements 

What can you do with a CPA certificate?  

Not much, actually. CPA certificate holders:  

  • Can’t sign tax returns or audit reports. 
  • Can’t use the CPA title on any official or legal report. 
  • Can’t be an owner or partner of a public accounting firm. 
  • Can, in some states, use the CPA designation after their name on unofficial documents, such as resumes. Other states forbid using it in all cases. 
  • Must pay a small annual fee to renew.  

 Requirements for a CPA license 

  • Most states require at least one to two years of relevant accounting experience under a CPA. 
  • Most states require at least 40 hours of continuing education (CPE/CE) credits each year to maintain the license. 

What can you do with a CPA license?  

Now we’re talking. CPA licensees:   

  • Have all the legal rights of a CPA, including signing tax returns and audit reports. 
  • Are allowed to own a CPA firm. 
  • Can use the title in any public or official setting. 
  • Pay a significant fee to renew each year. 
  • Take CPE/CE courses to maintain licensure. 

Why should I get my CPA license? 

You finally earned CPA certification. No one told you it would be easy or quick, and they were right. The idea of stopping there will probably cross your mind, but consider the return on investment, which isn’t much. CPA certification confers very few powers in the world of accounting.  

To attain licensure, more work lies ahead, but the rewards are worth it. The license opens doors to prestige, respect and career opportunities that are closed to certificate holders. It elevates your earnings power, and it demonstrates your commitment to the profession. CPAs are in high demand right now and will be well into the future, so the license positions you to write your own ticket in the accounting job market.  

How can Surgent CPA Review help me earn my CPA license? 

The choice between stopping at CPA certification or continuing to licensure requires careful thought, but the decision to move forward is easier when passing the CPA Exam is behind you. The right CPA review partner builds your confidence with passage of each exam section, builds a solid knowledge base for all your future endeavors and prepares you for the discipline of maintaining licensure.  

Surgent CPA Review leverages state-of-the-art technology to customize exam study to your learning style. You don’t just memorize facts and figures. You master the complex concepts needed to succeed in all accounting settings, and you do it efficiently, maximizing use of your time so you pass the exam quickly and be fresh for tackling the licensure requirements.  

Consider Surgent’s best-in-class, award-winning features: 

  • A.S.A.P.® Technology: Adaptive learning assesses what you already know and what you need to know. You spend your time shoring up weaknesses faster than other exam review providers.  
  • ReadySCORE™: No guesswork on when you’re ready to take the exam. ReadySCORE predicts your likely score if you were to sit for the test that day.  
  • Daily Surge: Your time matters. What should you study today? Daily Surge cards appear every time you log in, suggesting the topics you need to cover to stay on track.   
  • MyMCQ™: Surgent’s customized multiple-choice practice questions push you to learn more challenging concepts with each round. No one is wasting your time making you study questions you have already mastered.    
  • Full access until you pass: Surgent CPA Review materials, including free content and software updates, are there for you every step of the way.  
  • Unlimited practice exams: Relieve that test anxiety by taking practice exams as often as you like — included in every package.  
  • 100% pass guarantee: Surgent’s pass guarantee is a real confidence booster. Chances are, you will pass the exam with Surgent’s help, but if something goes wrong, you don’t lose your prep course investment.   

Once you pass the CPA Exam, Surgent CPE offers you best-in-class CPE/CE courses to help you stay compliant. Surgent is first-to-market with courses on new legislation that will impact your clients and your business. So once you finish passing the CPA Exam with Surgent CPA Review, stick with us as you continue along your professional accounting journey. 

Ready to learn more? 

The CPA license is a career capstone, telling potential employers and clients that you have the skills, knowledge, and gumption to counsel them through the most complex accounting challenges. The first step to getting there is CPA certification, and to earn that certificate, you must pass the CPA Exam. You have a long road ahead, but a CPA review partner that hones in on your study needs and maximizes use of your time gives you a head start.   

Start by reviewing your state’s CPA licensure requirements. Then, visit Surgent CPA Review and learn more about the tools passing the CPA Exam and climbing the career ladder to success.