5 Steps to Becoming a CPA in Iowa

Making a living from the land is woven into the culture here in Iowa. The state generates almost $30 billion in cash receipts from agricultural commodities every year. Accounting practice here is global, too. The state exports agriproducts all over the world, from Canada to Germany to China. Sorting through multinational export and accounting rules is no job for lightweight bookkeepers; it takes skilled CPAs to get it done.

Decades of lobbying has made the tax code around farms and farming industries highly specialized, and only CPAs have the qualifications to sort it all out. To that end, the Iowa Society of Certified Public Accountants puts on a presentation every year dedicated to farm taxation updates.

Even as technology, healthcare and the business service sector come to represent a bigger piece of the economic pie around here, big ag still intersects with those industries and remains a key contributor to the state’s economy. And CPAs are involved in all of it.

The steps in this guide will show you exactly how to become a CPA in Iowa.

  1. Get Your Education in Iowa
  2. Take the Uniform CPA Exam in Iowa
  3. Gain the Necessary Experience in Iowa
  4. Get Your Iowa CPA License
  5. Continuing Education in Iowa

1. Get Your Education – Meet Iowa’s CPA Degree Requirements

a. Request information from Iowa schools offering programs in accounting. The Iowa State Board of Accountancy requires all CPAs to have at least a bachelor’s degree and 150 semester hours of college credit.

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

b. The Iowa State Board of Accountancy recognizes all accounting and business degrees and course credits earned through schools that hold accreditation from the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Standard institution-level regional accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission or other equivalent regional or national accreditation agencies recognized by the Department of Education or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) are also acceptable.

If you received your degree from a foreign jurisdiction your academic credentials must be evaluated by Foreign Academic Credential Services, Inc. (FACS) or NASBA International Evaluation Services to determine your eligibility to sit for the Uniform CPA exam. Contact the evaluation service directly to make the necessary arrangements.

c. Meet Iowa’s CPA degree and specific coursework requirements. Complete the state’s educational requirements of a bachelor’s or higher degree that in total give you 150 semester hours of credit covering the following:

  • 24 semester hours of accounting courses above elementary or principles level. Internship or life experience does not apply. Courses will include:
  • 24 semester hours of business courses, not at the elementary level and not including internships or life experience. This should include, but is not limited to:
    • Business law
    • Finance
    • Marketing
    • Management
    • Economics

You can achieve the semester hour requirement and complete the right blend of courses in  one of a few ways:

    • Option 1: After completing your bachelor’s program, earn a graduate degree with an accounting concentration from an AACSB accredited program
    • Option 2: After earning your bachelor’s program, earn a graduate degree in business from an AACSB accredited business program that includes:
      • 24 semester hours of accounting courses covering:
        • Auditing
        • Financial accounting
        • Management accounting
        • Taxation
        • Accounting courses may not be at the elementary or principles level, nor does internship or life experience qualify for credit
    • Option 3: Earn a bachelor’s and accelerated master’s degree or similar fast-track program in business or accounting consisting of 150-semester semester hours with upper division courses from a university with an AACSB accredited business school. The program must includes the exact same business and accounting courses noted above.
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  • Correspondence, online, CLEP and CPA review courses count for credit with the Board if you receive credit for them at an accredited college or University
  • Commercial CPA review courses do not count for credit with the Board
  • Community or 2 year college courses count for credit with the Board
  • Developmental and/or remedial courses do not count for credit with the Board
  • Internships and life experience may count towards the total requirement of 150 hours

2. Take The Uniform CPA Exam

You are eligible to take the Uniform CPA examination once you have completed the Iowa Accountancy Examining Board’s educational requirements. All education must be completed before you can test.

The following steps outline the examination process:

a. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s (NASBA) Certified Public Accountants Examination Services (CPAES) processes, conducts, and reports scores for the CPA exam in Iowa State. You can apply here through CPAES to take the exam.

b. Submit an official college transcript with your application. If you submit the transcript, make sure it is official and sealed. Otherwise, your school should submit the transcript directly to the address below. If your school provides official electronic transcripts, they may be submitted by the school to [email protected].

c. Submit fees via certified check or money order or credit card, payable to CPA Examination Services.

d. Mail the completed application, fees and all supporting documents to:

CPA Examination Services, Iowa Coordinator
P.O. Box 198469
Nashville, TN 37219-8469

e. You will receive a notice to schedule (NTS) the exam from NASBA once approved. The NTS is sent by your chosen delivery method (mail, fax or email) and is good for one testing session or six months, whichever comes sooner

f. Go to Prometric’s website to schedule your examination at an Iowa testing site. They include:

  • Bettendorf
  • Coralville
  • West Des Moines
  • Sioux City

g. Prepare for testing and report on time to the exam site on the specified date.

h. Wait for the results. You must pass all four parts of the Uniform CPA Exam with a grade of 75% or better. NASBA reports your score to the Iowa State Board of Accountancy, Scores may be accessed online or you may wait to receive them by postal mail.

If you require special accommodations when taking the exam, submit an ADA Modification Form for special accommodations to CPAES along with your application.

For detailed information on what to expect from the Uniform CPA Exam, click here.

3. Gain The Necessary Experience

Now that you have passed the Uniform CPA Examination you are ready to gain the experience necessary to become a licensed CPA in Iowa.

a. Before embarking upon your experience, take the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Code of Professional Conduct comprehensive self-study course. You will need to pass this course exam with a minimum score of 90% in order to apply for your license.

b. Obtain qualified work experience supported by documentation. Such work experience must be obtained in the practice of public or private accountancy, academia, or governmental accounting under the direct supervision of a licensed CPA. Your work experience must be:

  • A minimum of 12 months in duration (does not have to be consecutive), either part or full-time
  • A minimum of 2,000 hours of practical accounting experience as described below
  • Verified by a licensed CPA
  • Any type of service concerning the use of accounting, attestation, management, advisory, financial, tax, or consulting skills.
  • If your experience is in academia, you must teach a minimum of 24 semester hours of accounting courses in higher education
  • If you wish to perform attestation, you will need two years of qualifying experience (one year of attestation and one year of general accounting experience)

Competencies that must be practiced within your experience include:

  • Compilation and review of financial statements
  • Knowledge of management advisory functions
  • Taxation, budgeting, cost analysis, and asset management
  • Preparing financial statements and budgets
  • Understanding accounting information systems
  • Projection and forecast of standards and procedures

Your verifying CPA must qualify your experience by:

  • Completing the Verification of Experience (found within the application for CPA licensure) confirming the relevant work history of the applicant
  • Completing the Attest Qualification form if you seek attest qualification from your experience
  • Obtain sufficient knowledge by appropriate means to understand the CPA candidate’s responsibilities and to validate that the candidate has obtained the stated competencies of the Iowa Accounting Examining Board

c. Set aside the completed Verification of Experience and Attest Qualification form, as these must be submitted with your application for CPA licensure.

4. Obtain Your Iowa CPA License

You’re now ready to apply for your Iowa CPA license. The following is a checklist of the major steps you should have undergone to obtain a license:

a. Checklist of Pre-Licensure Steps

  • Passed all four units of the Uniform CPA Examination.
  • Satisfactorily completed the Professional Conduct and Ethics course offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
  • Completed education requirements of 150 semester (or 225 undergraduate quarter) hours with an accounting and business concentration, and a minimum of a bachelor’s degree
  • Completed 12 months (or 2,000 hours) of qualified accounting experience
  • Have your completed Verification of Experience and Attest Qualification forms (the latter, if applicable) signed by your verifying CPA

b. Apply for your Iowa CPA License

  • Download and complete the Initial Application for Licensure
  • Enclose completed Verification of Experience and Attest Qualification forms (the latter, if applicable) signed by your verifying CPA
  • Enclose application fee payable to Iowa Accountancy Examining Board ($100 for the initial registration fee, and an additional $100 if you are applying for attest privileges)
  • Mail all of the above to: Iowa Accountancy Examining Board, 200 E. Grand, Suite 350, Des Moines, IA 50309

Special Cases for Obtaining Your CPA License

  • If you are an out-of-state candidate applying for an Iowa state CPA license you’ll need to meet the Iowa education requirements and exam eligibility requirements in the same manner as described above.
  • If you are a licensed CPA in another state, you can apply for an Iowa CPA license through reciprocity.
    • If your principal place of business is not in Iowa, you do not need to apply for an Iowa state CPA license.
    • If your principal place of business is located in Iowa, you must obtain an Iowa license by reciprocity using the Application for CPA Certificate Under Substantial Equivalency Provisions There are three ways you can qualify for reciprocity:
      • State Substantial Equivalency: if the state in which you hold your CPA license has comparable or substantially equivalent licensing standards for education, examination, and experience
      • Individual Substantial Equivalency: if your education, examination, and experience qualifications exceed those of Iowa
      • Four in ten rule: if you have had at least four years of experience within the last ten years following passage of the CPA exam and if your license was issued more than 4 years ago. You must have kept current with the CPE requirements (noted below)
    • Make sure to have verification of your CPA license sent from your state’s Board to the Iowa State Board of Accountancy
    • Attach the proper fees and mail the application and supporting documents to: Iowa Accountancy Examining Board, 200 E. Grand, Suite 350, Des Moines, IA 50309
  • If you’re a licensed chartered accountant (CA) from another country, you need to pass the CPA examination and apply for Iowa CPA licensure if your principal place of business resides in Iowa.
  • If you are a chartered accountant from Australia, Canada, Ireland, Hong Kong, New Zealand or Mexico you fall under an exception and must complete the following steps to become licensed as an Iowa CPA:
    • Pass the Professional Conduct and Ethics course offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants with a grade of 90% or better
    • Satisfy Iowa’s continuing professional education (CPE) requirements (see next section for details)
    • Provide license verification from your foreign jurisdiction’s accounting institute
    •  Complete the license application from the Iowa State Accounting Board. For more information on international reciprocity, contact the Iowa State Accounting Board at (515) 725-9022

5. Stay Current Through Continuing Professional Education in Iowa

As an Iowa licensed CPA, you must comply with the state’s continuing professional education (CPE) requirements to keep your license current and eligible to renew upon expiration.

a. Fulfill the required number of CPE hours:

  • CPE Requirements for the First Reporting Year
    None – you do not need to complete CPE on or before December 31st of the first year after obtaining your initial CPA license
  • CPE Requirements for the Second Year
    40 CPE hours must be completed on or before December 31st of the second year of your second CPE reporting period
  • CPE Requirements for the Third Year
    80 CPE hours must be completed in the two year period ending December 31 prior to the July 1 renewal.
  • CPE Requirements after the Third Year
    Iowa requires 120 CPE hours every three years to maintain CPA licensure.

    • No more than 24 CPE hours every three years may be in non-technical subjects, including (but not limited to):
      • Interpersonal management
      • Communications
      • Leadership/personal development
      • Marketing
      • Practice development
      • Public/client relations
      • Motivational and behavioral
      • Memory building/speed reading
    • 4 CPE hours every three years must be in ethics and rules of professional conduct
    • The rest of your CPE hours must be in technical accounting subjects including (but not limited to):
      • Accounting
      • Auditing
      • Assurance
      • Consulting
      • Specialized applications/knowledge
      • Taxation
      • Management

b. Make sure to enroll in approved CPE program formats, such as:

  • National and state accounting organizations’ professional development programs
  • Technical sessions of meetings of national and state accounting organizations
  • In-house formal educational programs
  • Distance learning programs
  • Group Webcast programs
  • University/college credit courses (one semester hour = 15 CPE hours)
  • University/college noncredit courses (one semester hour = 1 CPE hour)
  • Technical and nontechnical sessions offered by your employer
  • Correspondence and self-study programs (may not account for more than 50% of your total CPE hours)
  • Acting as a speaker, instructor or discussion leader (may not account for more than 50% of your total CPE hours)
  • Publishing articles and books (may not account for more than 25% of your total CPE hours)
  • Completing professional examinations such as Certified Management Accountant, Certified Financial Planner etc (a complete list of qualifying examinations may be found here)
  • Firm meetings with educational portions
  • Dinner, lunch, breakfast organizational meetings that are educational in nature

c. Maintain your CPE records for at least three years, including:

  • Course sponsor
  • Course location
  • Title/description of course content
  • Instructor
  • Dates attended
  • Hours of CPE claimed
  • Certificate of completion
  • Field of study
  • Instructional or delivery method
  • Verification by CPE program representative

Now That You’re a CPA in Iowa

After becoming a CPA in Iowa, there are a couple professional accounting organizations you may want to consider joining. The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) will provide resources to help you embark on your new career, connect you with professional development opportunities, and simply give you a chance to network with other CPAs.

The Iowa Society of Certified Public Accountants also provides professional development, and advocates for CPAs and the accounting profession in general.

Are you interested in pursuing a specialization within the accounting field? With a CPA license, you are more than qualified for the course of training you need to specialize in areas as diverse as financial planning, forensic accounting, and business consulting.

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