5 Steps to Becoming a CPA in Illinois

The state of Illinois has always been about industry. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2019 GDP in the Land of Lincoln came in at over $885 billion, ranking it fifth in the nation. The per capita GDP is nearly $70,000, more than $4,000 above the U.S. average. And it has been grown at a rate of almost 9 percent over the past five years, even as the state’s population has fallen.

That’s coming courtesy of some of the big Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the state, household names like State Farm, Boeing, and McDonald’s. Both directly and indirectly, those businesses support a strong web of accounting firms and specialized accounting professionals handling services like auditing and compliance, payroll, inventory, and more.

That also means a big presence from Big Four accounting firms in places like Chicago, Urbana, and Springfield. Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and PwC are the top three ranked in the state according to Crain’s. With the steady increase in demand across the state, it’s not hard to find entry-level positions and high-paying specialist roles for anyone properly qualified with a CPA license.

If you are interested in learning how to become a CPA in Illinois and aiming for one of those hot jobs, then these 5 steps are what you need to get there.

  1. Get Your Education in Illinois
  2. Take the Illinois Uniform CPA Exam
  3. Take the Uniform CPA Exam in Illinois
  4. Get Your Illinois CPA License
  5. Pursue Continuing Education in Illinois

1. Get Your Education – Meeting CPA Degree Requirements in Illinois

a. Request information from universities and colleges offering programs in accounting. Under rules set forth by the Illinois Board of Examiners, candidates for CPA licensure must have a bachelor’s degree at minimum with at least 150 semester hours of college credit.

With most bachelor’s degrees in accounting consisting of 120 semester hours, going on to earn a master’s in accounting or post-baccalaureate certificate is the standard way to get those 30 additional credits required to become a CPA in Illinois. Many of these programs are available entirely online. You can also find specialized five-year CPA track programs that offer a blended bachelor’s and master’s curriculum designed specifically to give you the 150 semester hours you need to meet CPA requirements in Illinois.

b. The Illinois Board of Examiners recognizes all accounting and business degrees and credits offered through colleges and universities that meet one of the following standard accreditation requirements:

c. You can meet the specific CPA degree and coursework requirements in Illinois in one of a few different ways.

  • Option 1 – After earning your bachelor’s, go on to earn a graduate degree in accounting from a school with an accounting department accredited by AACSB or ACBSP.
  • Option 2 or 3: 1) After earning your bachelor’s, go on to earn a graduate degree in business from an AACSB or ACBSP accredited program; 2) After earning your bachelor’s go on to earn a graduate degree in accounting — the accounting department does not need to hold AACSB or ACBSP accreditation, but the school’s business department does
  • Option 4 – After earning your bachelor’s, earn a graduate degree through a non-AACSB or ACBSP accredited program. In this scenario, your bachelor’s degree must be accredited by one of the following agencies:
          • MSA – Middle States Association of Colleges & Schools, Commission on Higher Education *Formerly known as Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
          • NWCCU – Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
          • NCA-HLC – North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Higher Learning Commission
          • NCA-CASI – North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement, Board of Trustees
          • NEASC-CIHE – New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc., Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
          • NEASC-CTCI – New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc., Commission on Technical and Career Institutions
          • SACS – Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
          • WASC-ACCJC – Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
          • WASC-ACSCU – Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities

In all scenarios, you will meet the 150 semester hour requirement and take a blend of courses very similar to those listed here:

        • 30 semester hours in accounting at the undergrad or graduate level including:
          • Financial accounting
          • Auditing
          • Taxation
          • Management accounting
          • Two semester hours in research and analysis in accounting
          • No more than three semester hours may come from internships and life experience credits in accounting
            • 24 semester hours in business courses other than accounting at the undergrad or graduate level in subjects such as:
              • Economics
              • Business ethics (may account for no more than 3 semester hours under the business concentration)
              • Business law
              • Marketing
              • Finance
              • Management
              • Business statistics
              • Business communication (may account for no more than 2 semester hours under the business concentration)
              • Information systems
              • Quantitative methods
              • Internship/life experience (may account for no more than 3 semester hours under the business concentration)
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If you graduated from a college or university outside of the United States, your credentials must be evaluated by the National Association of Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). Contact NASBA International Evaluation Services to begin this process.

2. Take The Uniform CPA Exam

After completing the educational requirements listed above, you qualify to sit for the Uniform CPA Examination in Illinois.

a. Create an account through the Illinois Board of Examiners (IBOE) online system. Submit a credential evaluation application using the Application Type that fits your situation:

  • Pre-Evaluation
  • Domestic Evaluation
  • Foreign Evaluation
  • Total Transfer of Credit
  • International Qualifications Exam

Include information from all institutions attended and pay the $200 fee using a credit card. The foreign application is free of charge for candidates who only have foreign credits.

b. Submit the final transcript showing completion of education requirements to IBOE. Send original, official transcripts in sealed envelopes directly to the Illinois Board of Examiners (IBOE) at: Illinois Board of Examiners – 1120 E Diehl Rd, Suite 110, Naperville, IL 60563. Alternatively, transcripts may be sent electronically to [email protected].

c. After submitting your credentials evaluation application, complete the Initial Examination Request using the Illinois Board of Examiners (IBOE) online system. The fees vary from $40 to $120 based on the number of exam sections you are scheduling.

d. Wait to receive an approval letter from IBOE authorizing you to take the exam. You will also receive a payment coupon from NASBA, which is good for 90 days. If you do not pay within 90 days, your authorization to test will expire and you’d have to re-apply. NASBA will issue a Notice to Schedule (NTS) after you have paid your fees. You must schedule the exam within 6 months of receiving the NTS. Be sure to add [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected]to your email address book.

e. Schedule your exam through Prometric’s website. You can take anywhere from 1 – 4 sections in one exam sitting. The Illinois Board of Examiners provides resources related to exam scheduling, including information related to testing windows and rescheduling.

f. Prepare for your scheduled exam sections using the many review courses, programs, and books available to you. Report to the exam site on time.

g. Wait to receive notification of your score via your ILBOE online account on the sore release date. You will receive notification by mail approximately 1-2 weeks later.

h. At any time before, during or after the CPA Exam process, you must take and pass a course on professional ethics offered by the AICPA. You must score at least 90% on this open-book exam before being issued a CPA certificate. Request that AICPA send the Ethics exam results to Illinois Board of Examiners (IBOE).

Once you have passed the Uniform CPA Exam and the AICPA Ethics Exam, you will receive automatic certification as a CPA from the Illinois Board of Examiners. However, you are not yet licensed as a CPA.

Once you have passed the Uniform CPA Exam and the AICPA Ethics Exam, you will receive certification of CPA Exam Completion from the Illinois Board of Examiners. However, you are not yet licensed as a CPA.

For detailed information on the Uniform CPA Exam, click here.

3. Acquire the Necessary Experience

The next step in your quest to become a CPA in Illinois is to fulfill experience requirements.

After passing the uniform CPA exam, take the following steps:

a. In order to get your CPA license, you must obtain one year of supervised experience in a position within government, industry, academia or public practice where you provide service or advice in:

  • Accounting
  • Attestation
  • Management advisory
  • Financial advisory
  • Tax consultation or services

b. Document work experience and have it confirmed by your supervising CPA. The documentation will take place on the Verification of Employment/Experience form fond within the Application for CPA licensure packet (see below). This experience need not be supervised by a licensed CPA, but must be supervised.

4. Get Your Illinois CPA License

Once you have completed your experience, you are eligible to apply for an Illinois CPA license.

a. Checklist If you are a first-time Illinois CPA license applicant, here is a checklist of what you have done so far towards obtaining your Illinois CPA license:

  • Earned a bachelor’s or graduate degree with a minimum of 150 credit hours with a minimum of 24 hours in accounting plus an additional 30 hours in business courses
  • Applied to the Illinois Board of Examiners for credential verification.
  • Taken and passed all four sections of the CPA exam
  • Passed the AICPA ethics test with a score of 90% or better
  • Worked in an accounting job in order to get experience of one year

b. Download and print the application packet, making sure to follow the directions in its completion as they apply to you. You will most likely be applying by Acceptance of Examination. Submit any required supporting documentation. The packet includes a Verification of Experience form you will provide to your employer to complete.

c. Send the complete application packet and specified fees to Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, ATTN: Division of Professional Regulation, P.O. Box 7007, Springfield, IL 62791

Interstate reciprocity

If you have ever held a license from a state that is substantially equivalent to Illinois, you can apply for licensure directly with the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and do not need to obtain certification from the Illinois Board of Examiners.

International reciprocity

International CPAs who wish to practice in Illinois are evaluated on six different factors:

  1. The official standing of the school that awarded the qualifications
  2. Academic level the credentials correspond to
  3. Verification of the credentials
  4. The position of the qualifications in the issuing country
  5. The standing of the credential in the country where they were issued and
  6. Corresponding amount and quality of education the qualification would equate to in the United States

International candidates with CPA equivalent credentials are eligible to be licensed in Illinois. At present the designations deemed equivalent are those granted through the following:

  • Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia (ICAA)
  • Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA)
  • Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI)
  • Instituto Mexicano de Contadores Públicos (IMCP)
  • New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants (NZICA)
  • Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants

Candidates with designations granted through these bodies need to take and pass pass the International Qualifications Exam (IQEX) in order to be licensed in Illinois.

5. Maintain Your Licensure Through Continuing Professional Education (CPE)

After obtaining the Illinois CPA license, you need to comply with the continuing professional education requirements.

a. Licensed CPAs in Illinois must obtain 120 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) every three years. Four hours out of these 120 hours must cover ethics. Licensed CPAs are exempt from CPE requirements for their first renewal.

b. Find CPE courses for subsequent renewals that are offered by approved sponsors on the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) registry or through the Illinois CPA Society.

c. Maintain record of your hours for each three-year period between renewals.

Now that you’re a CPA in Illinois

Consider joining a professional organization in order to stay current on topics that affect accounting practices across the nation and in Illinois. The American Institute of CPAs is a national organization that sets ethical standards for the profession and U.S. auditing standards for external audits of private companies, non-profit organizations, federal, state, and local governments. With the IRS placing a renewed emphasis on looking into non-filers who owe the government billions, ethics and auditing are likely to have more weight in the industry than ever.

Similarly, the Illinois CPA Society is a professional organization that represents Illinois CPAs in public accounting and consulting, corporate accounting and finance, as well as in government and nonprofit work. The Illinois CPA Society offers opportunities for continuing education through conferences, courses, webcasts, chapter events and other programs that cover a multitude of professional development topic areas. It also offers self-study, on-site learning and computer courses in partnership with other organizations.

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