5 Steps to Becoming a CPA in Tennessee

Becoming a CPA in the Volunteer State can take you in all kinds of different directions. Residents here have all the same needs as people anywhere in the country for tax preparation, estate planning, and investment advice. The state’s small businesses all need basic accounting and auditing services, and often outsource everything from complex accounting work to the more mundane but resource-intensive tasks like managing payroll. Firms like LBMC are significant players here, and with offices in Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga they provide opportunities for CPAs around the state.

If working at a larger corporation is more your goal, you’ll find plenty of them that are hungry for CPAs here too. They cover a broad range of industries, from logistics kingpin FedEx headquartered in Memphis to retail giant Dollar General in Goodlettsville. With almost any kind of accounting specialization you can imagine found here, in industries ranging from forest products to healthcare, there’s no shortage of opportunities for talented CPAs around the state to find their niche.

All that demand adds up to a strong employment market for CPAs here. According to O*Net, a U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored resource, demand for accountants and auditors in Tennessee is expected to increase by 16 percent in the ten-year period leading up to 2028. That’s going to result in around 2,600 job openings for accountants here every year.

Here you will learn exactly how to become a CPA in Tennessee.

  1. Get your Education in Tennessee
  2. Take the Uniform CPA Exam in Tennessee
  3. Gain the Necessary Experience in Tennessee
  4. Get your Tennessee CPA License
  5. Stay Current Through Continuing Professional Education in Tennessee

1. Get Your Education

a. Request information from Tennessee colleges and universities offering accounting programs. The Tennessee State Board of Accountancy (TNSBA) requires all CPA applicants to hold a bachelor’s or higher degree and complete 150 total semester hours of college education.

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 specifically to give you the 150 semester hours you need to meet CPA requirements in Tennessee.

b. The TNSBA accepts all relevant credits and degrees granted by colleges and universities that hold basic institutional accreditation from one of the six regional accreditation bodies:

Courses taken at two-year or non-accredited four-year colleges are acceptable as long as they were transferred to the accredited degree granting institution through which your degree was earned.

If you are applying as a Tennessee candidate but have completed studies outside of the U.S., you must have your foreign academic credits evaluated by any of the following organizations:

The evaluation must be on a course by course basis and should be sent directly to Certified Public Accountant Examination Services (CPAES) at:

CPA Examination Services
Tennessee Coordinator
PO Box 198469
Nashville, TN 37219-8469

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c. Meet Tennessee’s CPA degree and curriculum requirements. The minimum requirement is a bachelor’s degree with a total of 150 semester/225 quarter hours of college education. These hours will include:

  • At least 30 semester/45 quarter hours in accounting. Of these a minimum of 24 semester/36 quarter hours must be at the upper division level
  • At least 24 semester/36 quarter hours in general business subjects. Of these a minimum of 12 semester/18 quarter hours must be at the upper division level. Business subjects may include courses such as:
    • Business law
    • Algebra, calculus, statistics, probability
    • Economics
    • Finance
    • Management
    • Marketing
    • Technology(computer)/information systems
    • Ethics
    • Business communications

Correspondence, CLEP credit, pass/fail grades and on-line courses are acceptable if you have received credit for them at an accredited college or university and they appear on your official transcript.

2. Take The Uniform CPA Exam

If you are within 200 days of completing the educational requirements set by the Tennessee State Board of Accountancy you’re eligible to take the Uniform CPA exam.

a. Complete the application through CPA Exam Services online. At the time of application, the following items should be submitted to CPAES at CPA Exam Services-TN, PO BOX 198469, Nashville, TN 37219

  • Official transcripts. You may submit the transcripts yourself as long as they’re in sealed envelopes. If your school participates in the official electronic transcript program, they may be emailed directly from the school to [email protected].
  • Payment for the $170 initial application fee and the examination fee for all chosen sections made by certified check or money order payable to CPA Examination Services (if applying by mail) or credit card (if applying online). Note your name and sections of the exam to be taken in the Memo section on the check.
  • 2X2 photo taken within the last three months

As applicable include:

  • Certificate of Enrollment (COE) form if you are currently enrolled in college at the time of your initial application. This certifies that you will complete your courses and graduation requirements within 200 days of taking your first CPA test section. You and an authorized member of the college’s administrative staff must sign it.
  • ADA Modification Form if you need disability accommodations under the American Disabilities Act.

b. Wait for approval of your application. Once your application has been processed and you have been approved to take the chosen exam section(s), you will receive a notification to schedule (NTS) from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). Notification will be received within five business days of paying the fees by credit card or within three weeks for other modes of payment.

NTS will be sent from [email protected]. You should include this email address in your address book to ensure delivery. If you have not received your NTS within 20 business days of submitting the payment invoice, you should contact CPAES by email: [email protected].

c. Schedule the exam and pay Prometric fees at www.prometric.com/CPA/default.htm. You need to schedule the exam before the NTS expires (within 6 months of receiving it). Centers in Tennessee include:

  • Chattanooga
  • Clarksville
  • Nashville
  • Cordova
  • Knoxville

d. Prepare for testing of your chosen CPA exam section(s). You can test for up to 4 exam sections in one sitting. You must pass all sections with a score of 75 in a rolling 18-month period in order to be eligible for the Tennessee license.

e. Wait for the results. You will be notified by mail or email to check exam scores online.

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

3. Gain The Necessary Experience

After passing all four sections of the Uniform CPA Examination in a rolling 18 month period, you are only a year away from obtaining your Tennessee CPA license.

a. Complete the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) ethics examination with a score of 90 percent or better. Ordering information for this self-study exam may be found here.

b. Obtain the required experience. As a Tennessee candidate, you are required to have completed experience that satisfies the following criteria:

  • Gained through employment in government, industry, academia or public accountancy
  • Minimum of 2,000 hours earned in at least one year and at most three years
  • Work consists of providing advice or services in areas of accounting, attest/audit, management or financial advisory, tax or consulting.
  • Verified by a licensed/certified CPA
  • If you wish to sign reports on financial statements for a firm, you must also have two years of experience within the last 10 years in audits, reviews and compilations

c. Complete the Experience Affidavit included in the application packet referred to in Step 4 below.

4. Obtain Your Tennessee CPA License

After passing both the CPA and ethics exam, and obtaining the required work experience, you’re ready to apply for your Tennessee state CPA license. This is a list of things you have done so far:

a. Checklist

  • Completed the education requirement: A bachelor’s degree or higher and 150 semester/225 quarter hours of education including 30 semester hours of accounting subjects and 24 semester hours of business courses
  • Passed the Uniform CPA Exam with a minimum score of 75 on all sections within a rolling 18 month period
  • Completed the ethics course provided by AICPA and had the scores sent to the Tennessee State Board of Accountancy (TNSBA).
  • Obtained the required one year of experience verified by a licensed/certified CPA.
  • Submitted the Experience Affidavit including verification from the licensed CPA to TNSBA.

b. Receive the CPA license application from the Tennessee State Board of Accountancy (TNSBA). TNSBA mails this application to you when you have passed the Uniform CPA exam and the Ethics exam. Submit the application and the $100 fee to TNSBA 500 James Robertson Pkwy Nashville, TN 37243-1141, TN 85007

If the application is complete, TNSBA will issue your license. TNSBA issues licenses on a continual basis. Licenses are renewed every two years. However, Tennessee CPAs also get a certificate for display purpose which does not have an expiration date. The certificates are signed by board members and are issued once every quarter.

Applying for Certification by Substantial Equivalency

If your main place of business is not in Tennessee and you are a licensee from any other state or jurisdiction, you do not need to apply for a Tennessee license to have practice privileges here.

Applying for Certification by Reciprocity

If you have a license from another state where the education and certification requirements are not substantially similar to those of Tennessee, you’ll need to show TNSBA that:

  • You passed the CPA exam with the same grades that were accepted in Tennessee at that time
  • You have 4 years of the type of experience described above. This experience should be gained within 10 years of the date of your application for reciprocity.
  • If your license was issued more than 4 years ago, you must have complied with the continuing professional education (CPE) requirements of Tennessee during that period. The interstate exchange application can be found here. The application for reciprocity may be found here.

Applying for Certification by Foreign Reciprocity

If you hold a designation from outside the U.S. that is substantially equivalent to the CPA designation in Tennessee, you need to take the International Qualification Examination conducted by CPAES and apply for a Tennessee license. Currently, the countries that have this mutual agreement are Australia, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

If you hold a foreign designation from a country other than those listed here, you’ll need to get your transcripts evaluated and take the Uniform CPA Examination.

5. Stay Current Through Continuing Professional Education in Tennessee

The Tennessee CPA license renews biennially. As a Tennessee CPA, you are required to complete a total of 80 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) within each two-year registration renewal period.

  • At least 20 hours must be completed each year.
  • The fee for renewing your CPA license is $120 every two years. You can either use the online renewal process here or fill out the General CPE Reporting form.
  • You’re exempt from CPE requirements if you’re 70 years of age or older, disabled for 6 or more months, on active military duty and do not perform any accounting services.

Of the 80 hours, the following is required:

  • Forty hours in the subject areas of accounting, accounting ethics, attest, taxation, or management advisory services
  • A board-approved 4 hours ethics course.
  • If you perform attest services, you need at least 20 hours in subjects of attest and accounting theory and practice
  • If you testify as an expert witness in accounting, management, attest, tax or advisory, you’ll need a minimum of 20 hours in your respective expert testimony area
  • 24 CPE hours in excess of the required 80 can be carried forward

CPE Record Retention Requirement

You must maintain the CPE course documents for 5 years.

Now that you’re a CPA in Tennessee

Congratulations! You are now a certified Tennessee CPA!

As a Certified Public Accountant you’ll want to join the professional organizations that promote the profession, provide professional development and networking opportunities, as well as continuing professional education (CPE). At the national level you’ll benefit from membership with the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). At the state level, the Tennessee Institute of CPAs provides CPE opportunities, and offers ethics courses that explore common ethical dilemmas that accountants face.

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