5 Steps to Becoming a CPA in North Carolina

According to the Tax Foundation, North Carolina is one of the top ten states in the country in terms of tax climate for business. The state also comes in at number three on CNBC’s annual ranking of Top States for Business. It’s a very attractive place for businesses to incorporate and set up operations, and that means it’s a great place to be a CPA.

North Carolina is home to 13 companies in the Fortune 500, a pretty big number for a relatively small state. Heavyweights like Bank of America, Nucor, and Lowe’s all create a constant demand for CPAs here. In fact, O*Net, a U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored resource that tracks hiring trends, estimates that North Carolina will see 9 percent job growth for accounting and auditing professionals in the ten-year run up to 2028.

Those jobs will show up across the spectrum of accounting specializations. Retirees here, growing in number along with the general demographic trend in the country, are going to need financial advice and estate planning services. Big companies need auditing and compliance jobs filled. Investors need tax management structures and advising.

If any of those positions sound like they are right up your alley, then follow the steps in this guide to learn exactly how to become a CPA in North Carolina.

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

1. Get Your Education

a. Get in touch with colleges and universities in North Carolina to request information on their accounting programs. Under the rules of the North Carolina State Board of CPA Examiners, in order to become a certified public accountant in the state you need 150 semester hours of college credit and at least a bachelor’s degree.

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 designed to give you the 150 semester hours you need to meet CPA requirements in North Carolina.

b. The North Carolina State Board of CPA Examiners accepts any credits you earn from universities or colleges accredited by one of the following regional accreditation agencies:

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c. Meet degree and coursework requirements outlined by the North Carolina State Board of CPA Examiners. Your 150 semester hours of college credit can be earned through a combination of undergraduate and graduate work and needs to meet two primary requirements:

  • Requirement 1: The combination of your bachelor’s degree and any additional credits you earn through an undergraduate minor or post-bachelor’s education must meet one of three specific curriculum requirements:
    • Accounting Concentration 1: 30 semester hours of undergraduate accounting courses
      • No more than 6 semester hours may be in accounting principles
      • No more than 3 semester hours may be in business law
    • Accounting Concentration 2: 20 semester hours of graduate level accounting courses
    • Accounting Concentration 3: An equivalent combination of undergraduate and graduate level accounting courses
      • No more than 4 semester hours of graduate income tax courses count for credit in any of the three concentrations
  • Requirement 2: In addition to the accounting concentration options described above, you must have 24 semester hours of business coursework, including at least 3 semester hours in eight of the following fields of study:
    • Computer technology
    • Communications
    • Ethics
    • Economics
    • Social science/humanities
    • Finance
    • Law
    • International environment
    • Statistics
    • Management

You automatically fulfill Requirement 2 if you hold a master’s degree or higher in one of the following disciplines:

  • Tax law
  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Economics
  • Business administration
  • Law degree

2. Take The Uniform CPA Exam

In North Carolina, you are eligible to sit for the Uniform CPA Examination provided that you are:

  • A citizen of the United States (or have declared the intention of becoming a citizen)
  • A resident alien or a citizen of a foreign jurisdiction that extends similar examination privileges (see section on International Reciprocity under Step 4.)
  • 18 years of age or older
  • Of good moral character
  • Meet the education requirements (hold a bachelor’s degree fulfilling 120 of the 150 semester hours required for a CPA Certificate in North Carolina)

a. Download and complete the Initial Application for Uniform CPA Exam.

b. Along with your completed application, you must submit all of the following to Exam Application, NC State Board of CPA Examiners, P.O. Box 12827, Raleigh, NC 27605-2827:

  • Two identical copies of a recent passport-sized photo of yourself
  • Official college transcripts bearing the college’s seal
  • If you have not yet completed the accounting concentration, list the colleges, courses, semester hours and expected completion date for these courses
  • Application fee including administrative fee of $230 plus fees for each section of the exam which you are planning to take (see application for exact amounts) via check, money order or credit card, payable to North Carolina State Board of CPA Examiners
  • Three references of your moral character (signed by each of them on the Uniform CPA Exam Certificate of Moral Character, included within the application packet)
  •  All court records related to any current or previous charges (including probation)

c. Within 10 to 15 business days, you will receive your Notice to Schedule (NTS) the Uniform CPA Exam if the Board grants you authorization to test. NTS will be sent from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) by mail, fax or email (whichever method you selected when you submitted your application)

d. Go to the Prometric testing centers website to schedule your examination at a North Carolina location. They include:

  • Asheville
  • Greensboro
  • Raleigh
  • Greenville
  • Charlotte
  • Wilmington

Exam scores are release in “waves” during each testing window, not just during the blackout month each quarter. You can also check their scores online prior to receiving notification from the Board.

e. Show up at the correct Prometric testing site on your selected examination day ready to take the test.

f. Receive your scores by mail from the Board once they are tabulated. Exam scores are released during the blackout month of each quarterly testing window (March, June, September and December).

You may utilize the North Carolina page of the NASBA Gateway to retrieve scores within 24-48 hours of NASBA receiving the scores from the AICPA. NASBA and the Board use Twitter and Facebook to announce when the AICPA sends scores to NASBA. You will still receive a paper score notice by mail from the Board, but the online score retrieval allows you to access scores more quickly. Because there is a lag time between NASBA posting the scores online and when the Board receives notification of the scores, paper notices are not immediately available.

If you need to arrange disability testing accommodations or want further information, contact Phyllis Elliot, Examinations Specialist, via email at [email protected] or by phone at (919) 733-4224.

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

3. Gain The Necessary Experience

The North Carolina State Board of CPA Examiners requires candidates to fulfill an experience prerequisite before they can become licensed CPAs in the state.

a. Get in touch with your school’s career center, who will help you find qualifying experiences. You may fulfill your experience requirement in one of the following ways:

  • Option 1: Complete one year of experience in the public practice of accounting under the supervision of a licensed CPA
  • Option 2: Complete one year of experience in the practice of accounting under the supervision of a licensed CPA
  • Option 3: Complete four years of experience in the full-time teaching of accounting at an accredited university or college
    • Teaching courses outside of the accounting field do not count towards the experience credit. Disallowed courses would include but are not limited to: finance, business law, computer applications, personnel management, statistics and economics
    • If you teach accounting principles, this cannot count for more than two years of your total four years of experience
    • At least two years of your teaching in accounting must be in advanced accounting courses, with 9 semester hours taught in at least two of the following areas:
  • Option 4: Complete four years of self-employed experience in accounting
  • Option 5: Complete four years of accounting experience (not CPA supervised)
  • Option 6: Complete a substantially equivalent combination of the five options above suitable to the Board
  • Make sure your hourly calculations meet the requirements:
    • One year equals 52 weeks of full-time employment of at least 30 hours a week
    • If you work part-time, this must be noted on your Experience Affidavit, with a record of the part-time hours you worked for each week
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b. Complete the correct Experience Affidavit for each experience (forms for regular, part-time work, self-employed, and teaching are listed at the link)

  • Complete the top portion of the Experience Affidavit and give it to your direct supervisor to complete, sign, and return to you for submittal to the Board with your certification application
  • If you fulfill the experience requirement under Option 3, you must submit an Experience Affidavit-Teaching, as well as a letter from each university or college where you taught. The affidavit must include:
    • Number of credit hours taught per year
    • Names and academic level of courses taught
    • Number of hours that constitute full-time teaching
    • Letter must be signed by the department head or dean
  • If you fulfilled the experience requirement through part-time work, you must also submit an Experience Affidavit-Part-Time and attach it to the regular Experience Affidavit you submit
  • If you fulfilled the experience requirement through self-employment, you must submit an Experience Affidavit- Self-Employed, along with five notarized statements from individuals or companies who were your clients

4. Get Your North Carolina CPA License

After passing the Uniform CPA Exam, completing the education requirements and fulfilling the Board’s experience requirement, you are ready to apply for your North Carolina CPA Certificate. (Under the Board’s definitions, “certificate” equals “license” in North Carolina).

a. Within a year prior to applying for certification, you must also pass an open book examination on the North Carolina Accountancy Statutes and Rules, including Rules of Professional Ethics and Conduct. To satisfy this requirement you may complete an 8 CPE (continuing professional education) hour course on this subject before applying for certification. Contact the North Carolina Association of CPAs, an organization that offers courses that will meet this requirement.

b. Checklist – Have you completed each of the following steps?

  • Completed 150 semester hours of college credit, including all necessary coursework, and earned a bachelor’s degree at minimum
  • Passed the Uniform CPA Exam with a score of 75% or above
  • Completed the course on North Carolina Accountancy Statutes, Rules, and Ethics
  • Fulfilled the Board’s experience requirement of one or four years (depending upon the experience you choose)
  • Received completed Experience Affidavits from all of your qualifying employers

c. Apply for your North Carolina CPA Certificate.

  • Access all forms required to apply for CPA certification here, including the Original North Carolina CPA Certificate Application
  • Attach a recent 2” x 2” passport-sized photo of yourself
  • Enclose a copy of the certificate of completion of the North Carolina Accountancy Statutes and Rules course
  • Enclose a $100 check or money order payable to the NC State Board of CPA Examiners, or $100 credit card authorization
  • Submit 3 forms from CPAs attesting to your moral character (one is included within the application package – make copies). These must be signed by each CPA and notarized
  • Submit your completed, signed, notarized Experience Affidavits
  • If you do not have a master’s degree in accounting, complete the 150 Semester Hour Worksheet (included in the application packet), showing a breakdown of your courses
  • Send this completed application packet to: NC State Board of CPA Examiners, P.O. Box 12827, Raleigh, NC 27605

d. Wait to be notified. The NC State Board of CPA Examiners will notify you in writing when your application is approved and issue your CPA Certificate

Interstate Reciprocal Certificate

If you hold a CPA license or certificate from another jurisdiction, meet all of the North Carolina State Board of CPA Examiners’ education and experience requirements for CPAs, and you now live in or have a place of business in North Carolina, you may be eligible for a Reciprocal CPA Certificate.

  • At this time, all jurisdictions are considered to have requirements substantially equivalent to those of North Carolina except the Virgin Islands
  • Apply for a Reciprocal NC CPA Certificate. Upon submittal of the completed application, a recent photograph, and a $100 fee, you will be issued a Temporary Permit which will be valid for four months, giving you time to meet the following requirements:
    • Pass the North Carolina Accountancy Statutes and Rules course
    • Complete the Authorization for Interstate Exchange of Information form and send to the Board that holds your CPA license (included within the application packet)
    • This documentation must be received within 90 days of receiving your Temporary Permit
    • Mail application and documentation to: NC State Board of CPA Examiners, P.O. Box 12827, Raleigh, NC 27605

International Reciprocal Certificate

If you are a Chartered Accountant within the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, or Nova Scotia, the NC State Board of CPA Examiners regards you as being substantially equivalent to North Carolina CPAs. To qualify for international reciprocity so as to be certified as a CPA in North Carolina, you will first need to pass the NASBA International Qualification Exam (IQEX).

  • To obtain an IQEX application, contact Alice Grigsby with the North Carolina State Board of CPA Examiners at [email protected]
  • Complete, sign and have the application notarized
  • Attach a recent passport-sized photo of yourself
  • Enclose $100 payable to the NC State Board of CPA Examiners
  • Enclose Experience Affidavits (included within application packet) signed by supervisors
  • Complete Authorization for Exchange of Professional Accounting Licensing Information for Foreign Reciprocity form (included within application packet) and send it to your jurisdiction’s licensing agency to complete and return to the Board.
  • Mail all of the above to: NC State Board of CPA Examiners, P.O. Box 12827, Raleigh, NC 27605

If you hold a CPA certificate or license with another foreign jurisdiction, you must complete the regular North Carolina certification process.

5. Stay Current Through Continuing Professional Education in North Carolina

In order to maintain a current, valid CPA certificate in North Carolina, you must comply with the state’s continuing professional education (CPE) requirements.

a. Complete 40 CPE hours each year

  • A minimum of two CPE hours must be in regulatory or behavioral ethics and conduct
  • 20 CPE hours may be carried over to the next year but cannot be used to satisfy the ethics requirement

b. Select from CPE programs listed on NASBA’s National Registry of CPE Sponsors

The North Carolina Board of CPA Examiners recognizes these seven fields of study:

  • Accounting and Auditing
  • Ethics
    • Regulatory ethics
    • Behavioral ethics
  • Consulting services
    • Administrative practice
    • Social environment of business
  • Management
    • Business management and organization
    • Finance
    • Business law
    • Marketing
    • Management advisory services
  • Special knowledge and applications
    • Economics
    • Statistics
    • Mathematics
    • Computer science
    • Production
    • Specialized knowledge and applications
  • Personal development
    • Personal development
    • Personnel/human resources
    • Communications
  • Tax

Enroll in approved formats, such as:

  • National/state accounting organizations’ professional development programs
  • National/state accounting organizations/chapters’ technical sessions of meetings
  • Accredited university and college courses
    • Credit courses: 1 semester hour = 15 CPE hours
    • Noncredit courses: 1 semester hour = 1 CPE hour
  • Accounting firms’ CPE programs
  • CPE correspondence courses
  • Teaching a CPE course (may only account for 50% of your total CPE hours)
  • Teaching a college course (may only account for 50% of your total CPE hours)
  • Authoring a publication (may only account for 25% of your total CPE hours)
  • Self-study (must be for CPE purposes with an examination)

c. Maintain documentation of your CPE hours for at least four years, including:

  • Sponsor of course
  • Title/description of content
  • Location of course
  • Dates of attendance
  • Certificates of completion
  • Number of hours claimed

d. Report your CPE hours annually at the time of certificate renewal.

As a North Carolina CPA, you are not required to provide details of each course during the annual license renewal process. Instead, in conjunction with the annual license renewal period, the Board conducts an audit of licensees’ CPE records to ensure compliance with the Board’s rules. If selected for the CPE audit, you must respond to the Board within the specified time frame (usually 30 days) and must provide certificates of completion for each CPE course claimed for credit. NOTE: In accordance with 21 NCAC 08G .0401(i), it is your responsibility to maintain records substantiating the CPE credits that you claim for the current year and for each of the four calendar years prior to the current year.

Now that you’re a CPA in North Carolina

Congratulations – after years of education and hard work, you are now a North Carolina CPA! Some professional organizations that you may want to consider joining are the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and the North Carolina Association of CPAs. Both organizations, one national and one local, offer members continuing education and professional development opportunities, as well as networking and guidance.

Also, think about specializing! In North Carolina, the possibilities for specialization are many, and include finance, auditing, information systems auditing, forensic accounting, or even environmental accounting, protecting those vulnerable Outer Banks from rising sea levels.

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