5 Steps to Becoming a CPA in Massachusetts

A lot of locals call the state Taxachusetts. That tells you right there that everybody here loves CPAs who can help them keep more of what they earn. Even with an income tax rate higher than the national average, U.S. News & World Report gave Massachusetts the number one spot in the most recent Business Environment Rankings list. That combination of relatively high tax rates in a state that is otherwise friendly to business actually represents a killer combination for the accounting industry.

The 12 Fortune 500 companies that call the state home and the many industries that have grown up around them have a lot of CPAs in their ranks. From Raytheon to Biogen, the greater Boston area has a thriving and inventive business ecosystem.

That’s fueled in part by Harvard and MIT graduates who go on to found companies of their own. It’s no coincidence that the state also ranks first in the nation when it comes to patent creation and venture capital funding. Since CPAs are the only ones authorized to submit filings to the SEC, those VCs rely on them to keep Q and K forms straight and all the pennies accounted for.

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

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

1. Get Your Education

a. Request information from universities in Massachusetts offering programs in accounting. The Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy requires that every certified public accountant in the Commonwealth hold no less than a bachelor’s degree with at least 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. 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 to give you the 150 semester hours you need to meet CPA requirements in Massachusetts.

b. Verify that your college has the approval of the Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy. Board regulations state that programs must be accredited by a nationally or regionally accredited agency.

  • You may search colleges via the name of the institution or via the accrediting agency at this database provided by the U.S. Department of Education. The database lists all department-approved national and regional accreditation agencies in the United States.
  • If your school’s accounting program happens to be accredited by AACSB – The International Association for Management Education, you do not need to meet the specific accounting and business course requirements spelled out in Step 3 below.

If your college is not AACSB accredited and/or Board-approved, your credentials must be evaluated by the Board to confirm that they satisfy the Commonwealth’s requirements to allow you to sit for the Uniform CPA Examination. Foreign school transcripts must be evaluated by the Center for Educational Documentation or NASBA International Evaluation Services.

c. Meet CPA degree and curriculum requirements. Massachusetts requires CPAs to fulfill at least 150 semester hours and earn at least a bachelor’s degree. You must satisfy the educational requirement via one of the following scenarios:

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  • Scenario 1: After earning a bachelor’s, go on to earn a graduate degree in accounting from an AACSB-accredited university or business school
  • Scenario 2: After earning a bachelor’s, go on to earn a graduate degree in accounting, business administration or law from an accredited institution that includes:
    • 30 semester hours of undergraduate accounting courses, or
    • 18 semester hours of graduate accounting courses, or
    • An equivalent combination of graduate and undergraduate accounting courses
    • Accounting courses must include auditing, financial accounting, management accounting and taxation.
    • An additional 24 semester hours must be in undergraduate business courses other than accounting courses; or 18 semester hours of graduate business courses, or an equivalent combination of undergraduate and graduate business courses
  • Scenario 3: Receive a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college with a supplemental certificate or other courses that include:
      • 30 semester hours in undergraduate accounting courses, with:
        • 3 semester hours in each of the following course subject areas:
          • Management
          • Taxation
          • Auditing
          • Financial accounting
      • 24 semester hours of undergraduate business courses, including:
        • 3 semester hours in each of the following course subject areas:
          • Finance
          • Professional ethics
          • Business information systems
          • Business law
        • Courses in business communication, economics, or business management of organizations may be used to help satisfy the total 24 semester hour business course requirement.

2. Take The Uniform CPA Exam

Even though you have not yet completed all 150 semester hours of education as required by Massachusetts for CPA licensure, you may still be eligible to sit for the Uniform CPA Examination if you:

  • Have completed at least 120 of the 150 semester hour educational requirement including:
    • 21 semester hours in accounting courses including management/cost accounting, taxation, auditing and financial accounting, AND
    • 9 semester hours in business courses including information systems, finance and business law, AND
  • Have earned a bachelor’s degree.

a. Apply through National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s (NASBA) CPA Examination Services (CPAES) to take the Uniform CPA Examination. Online registration with CPAES and application forms can be found here.

b. Submit the necessary documents to CPAES with your application. Your college must send your transcript directly to CPAES. If you are still enrolled in college, have them send CPAES, and a Certificate of Enrollment Form. Application and examination fees must be paid by credit card if you apply online or by check, money order or credit card if you applied via mail.

c. Within four weeks of receiving your completed application, all supporting documents, and the appropriate fees have been paid, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) will issue a Notification to Schedule (NTS) the Uniform CPA Examination via email.

d. You may then schedule your examination via Prometric’s website. Massachusetts testing sites include:

  • Boston
  • Burlington
  • Lowell
  • Worcester
  • North Andover
  • Brockton
  • West Springfield

e. Report to your chosen exam site on examination day prepared for testing.

f. You will receive a congratulatory letter from NASBA’s CPA Examination Services and instructions on how to apply for licensure in Massachusetts when your scores have been determined.

For more information or to arrange testing accommodations, call the Massachusetts Coordinator of CPA Examination Services at 800-CPA-EXAM. For detailed information on the Uniform CPA Exam, click here.

3. Gain The Necessary Experience

Once the Uniform CPA Exam is passed, you must fulfill the practical work experience requirement set by the Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy before you are eligible for licensure.

a. Massachusetts requires CPA applicants with 150 semester hour credits (a bachelor’s degree) to complete one year of full-time public accounting experience, for a total of 1820 hours. Your college’s career center can help you find qualifying work experience. This paid work experience must:

  • Include 1000 hours of attest (reporting) experience in the full disclosure of financial statements
  • No more than 300 hours of this 1000 hours may be in full disclosure compilations
  • Be attested to via letter by a CPA partner of the firm where the experience was received

b. If you have a graduate degree, you do not need to fulfill a practical work experience requirement in Massachusetts.

Competencies that should be integrated into your practical work experience include:

  • Attest
  • Public accounting report on full disclosure financial statements
  • Full disclosure compilations

Responsibilities of the Verifying CPA

  • Must be a licensed certified public accountant in Massachusetts
  • Must be a CPA partner or shareholder of the accounting firm where the experience was received
  • Must document by letter on CPA firm letterhead the extent of the applicant’s employment experience
  • Must include dates of employment on said letter, indicated full- or part-time status, and indicate the number of hours in full disclosure financial statements and full disclosure compilations
  • Must sign letter and submit it directly to the Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy

Responsibilities of the Applicant

  • Choose a licensed, certified public accountant who is a partner or shareholder at the accounting firm where you gained your experience
  • Request a letter verifying your employment, including dates, hours and competencies, from your verifying CPA on the firm’s letterhead
  • Provide the verifying CPA with an addressed, stamped envelope so that he or she can mail the letter directly to the Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy, 1000 Washington Street, Suite 710, Boston, Massachusetts 02118-6100

4. Get Your Massachusetts CPA License

If you’ve passed the Uniform CPA Exam and satisfied the practical experience requirements set by the Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy, you may apply for licensure. Here is a checklist of everything you should have done up to now:

a. Checklist

  • Fulfill Massachusetts’ educational requirements of 150 semester hours. Your college must send your official transcript directly to Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy, 1000 Washington Street, Suite 710, Boston, Massachusetts 02118-6100
  • Apply to take the Uniform CPA Examination through CPA Examination Services. Take and pass the exam
  • If you sat for the exam with just 120 of the 150 credits necessary for licensure, you must apply online for an official Academic Evaluation for Certification Report (AECR) from CPA Examination Services, verifying that you have completed the remaining educational requirements and fulfilled all 150 credits within three years of passing the Uniform CPA Examination. Use the form located here.
  • If you have a bachelor degree and 150 semester hours, complete the Commonwealth’s practical experience requirement of one year of full-time experience (1820) hours to include 1000 hours of attest reporting
  • Have your verifying CPA send a letter to the Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy accounting for and confirming your practical experience
  • If you have a graduate degree, no practical experience is required

b. If you have not fulfilled the attest portion of your CPA experience, you may apply for a Massachusetts Non Reporting CPA License. This license does not allow a CPA to issue reports on financial statements. If you wish to begin with this license, you may use the form located here.

  • You may upgrade to a Full Reporting CPA License after completing 80 hours of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) within six months of receiving your Non Reporting CPA License.
  • You must also arrange for a peer review after completing the required CPE if you wish to upgrade your license. This may be arranged by contacting the Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy at (617) 727-1806.

c. If you have fulfilled the attest portion of your CPA experience, you may apply for your Massachusetts Full Reporting CPA License. Along with your completed application, send:

  • Check/money order payable to Commonwealth of Massachusetts for $175 (if you have never been licensed elsewhere)
  • A recent 2” x2” photo of yourself
  • Make sure pages 3 and 6 of the application are notarized
  • Experience letter
  • 3 Character/Reference letters from persons acquainted with but not related to you

Mail the application and supporting documentations and fees to Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy, 1000 Washington St., Suite 710, Boston, MA 02118-6100.

Interstate Reciprocal License

If you hold a CPA license from another state and seek licensure in Massachusetts, you may be eligible for a Substantial Equivalency Reciprocal License if you:

  • Have practiced as a CPA within 10 years immediately preceding your application for licensure in Massachusetts
  • Have at least 5 years of experience as a CPA and provide a signed statement of that experience by a supervising CPA
  • Are licensed as a CPA in a substantially equivalent state (non-substantially equivalent states include Delaware, Colorado, Vermont, New Hampshire, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico)
    • Your state must fill out the Substantial Equivalency Verification form and return it to you to send to the Board
  • Complete the Short Form Substantial Equivalency Reciprocal License Application form found here
  • Attach a 2” x 2” photo of yourself to the application
  • Submit to a criminal history check

International Reciprocal License

The Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy honors the AICPA and NASBA recommendations for international reciprocity of Canadian chartered accountants credentialed through the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA). If you are a Canadian chartered accountant interested in Massachusetts CPA licensure, you must pass NASBA’s International Uniform CPA Qualification Examination (IQEX). You must also have your degree and courses evaluated by the Center for Educational Documentation(CED) or NASBA International Evaluation Services . If you have completed a mixture of foreign education and U.S. education, you must submit an Academic Evaluation for Certification Report (AECR) from CPA Examination Services.

If you’re a chartered accountant or CPA not from one of these approved international jurisdictions, you must follow the standard procedures to apply to take the Uniform CPA Exam in Massachusetts and have your educational credentials evaluated by the Board.

5. Stay Current Through Continuing Professional Education in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy requires every CPA in the Commonwealth to fulfill continuing professional education (CPE) requirements.

a. To maintain licensure, each CPA must complete a minimum of 80 hours of CPE every two years. Of this 80 hours:

  • 4 hours must be in professional ethics
  • No CPE carryover is allowed from one two-year reporting period to another

b. To qualify for CPE credit, programs must:

  • Be at least 50 minutes long
  • Require attendance and maintained attendance records
  • Require a written outline

c. CPE credit may be obtained through the following:

  • Any NASBA or AICPA-approved courses or programs
  • Professional development programs sponsored by national and state accounting associations
  • Technical sessions at national and state accounting association meetings
  • Credit courses at a university or college (every semester hour of college credit equals 15 hours of CPE credit)
  • Non-credit courses at a university or college (every classroom hour equals one hour of CPE credit)
  • Programs of other organizations including accounting, industrial, and professional organizations
  • Organized education programs on technical and practice subjects
  • Correspondence and/or individual study courses may qualify, with the amount of credit earned determined by the Continuing Education Committee of the Board
  • Being an instructor or discussion leader of a class (one hour of CPE is earned for every hour you present information; two hours of CPE credit for preparation time are earned for each presentation hour, up to half of your total required CPE credits)
  • Publishing articles and books, up to 25% of the total CPE credit required

d. Examples of where to find CPE opportunities:

e. You must keep CPE records for at least 5 years that include the school or organization that conducted the course, location of course, title of course, description of course content, dates attended, and number of CPE hours claimed

f. If, in your position as a CPA you are required to sign off on financial statements, you must undergo a quality review every three years.

  • The quality reviewer must hold a current CPA Reporting License and have five years of experience in accounting and auditing
  • The quality reviewer must be totally independent from the CPA being reviewed
  • Only qualified quality reviewers that have provided documentation of their qualifications to the Board will be accepted
  • The quality review will contain information on how the CPA licensee meets all AICPA quality control standards, and note any limitations or corrective actions needed.

Now that you’re a CPA in Massachusetts

Bravo! You are now a licensed CPA in Massachusetts! You may want to consider becoming a member of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). This national organization offers continuing professional education, professional guidance and development, networking prospects, and even discounted office and shipping supplies.

Massachusetts also has some local professional accounting societies that you might want to join, including the Massachusetts Association of Public Accountants and the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants.

Consider specializing! Accounting specializations popular in Massachusetts include tax, consulting, forensic accounting, compliance, auditing, financial administration, title and escrow, and corporate accounting. You might want to study up on the tax tactics tech companies use too. It could give you an in to a position in one of the many startups and IT shops that thrive here.

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