5 Steps to Becoming a CPA in Washington

The Evergreen State ranks 3rd on the U.S. News & World Report Best State for Business list, and you don’t have to look very hard to see why. Nine different Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in the greater Seattle area, all of them household names, including familiar favorites Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, and Costco.

These are the kinds of companies that define entire industries, and the forest of startups and suppliers that has grown up around them have pushed the state right to the top of national lists tracking GDP growth. In fact, research and analytics firm IBISWorld has Washington pegged at number one for state GDP growth.

Job growth is just as voracious. You don’t have to look too hard to find highly-trained CPAs here in high-paying positions. The U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored resource, O*Net, expects this to be the case at least through 2028, forecasting a supersonic 15 percent job growth rate for accountants and auditors here.

You will see many of those positions opening up at the tech and retail giants that cemented the region’s place on the map, but there are also a lot of newly minted millionaires walking around that need investment and portfolio advising, retirement planning assistance, and tax prep advice. So there is tons of work for prominent local accounting firms like Spokane’s Anastasi, Moore & Martin, Bellevue’s Novogradac, or Moss Adams in Seattle; and there’s still room for CPAs who have what it takes to go independent too. It all starts with a CPA license.

Learn exactly how you can become a CPA in Washington.

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

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

a. Request information from Washington colleges and universities offering degrees in accounting. The Washington Board of Accountancy (WBOA) requires that all CPA candidates hold a bachelor’s or higher degree and complete 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 Washington. 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 Washington.

b. The WBOA recognizes all accounting degrees and additional credits in business and accounting earned through colleges and universities around the country that hold standard institutional accreditation through one of these regional accreditors:

If you graduated from a non-accredited U.S. program of if your degree was earned outside of the U.S., your education must be evaluated by a Board-recognized evaluation service. A complete list may be found here. Results of your chosen agency’s evaluation of your college credits should be sent directly to CPAES.

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c. Meet specific CPA degree and coursework requirements in Washington. Through a combination of your bachelor’s degree with a focus in accounting, additional certificates you might earn concurrently, and any additional graduate credits earned through a master’s or post-bachelor’s certificate, your 150 semester hours (225 quarter hours) must include:

    • 24 semester hours or 36 quarter hours in accounting subjects with at least 15 of these hours completed at the upper class or graduate level. For the accounting subject requirement only, the WBOA grants 1.5 credits for every 1 graduate level credit earned. Upper class accounting courses typically require completion of lower courses as pre requisites. For example, intermediate accounting would usually require completion of introductory accounting as a pre requisite. Keep in mind that business law, payroll accounting and accounting information systems courses that focus on a particular accounting software (Quickbooks, Quicken, etc.) do not qualify for this requirement.
      • Examples of acceptable accounting courses include:
        • Accounting information systems
        • Tax courses
        • Audit
        • Cost and managerial accounting
        • Advanced accounting
        • Intermediate accounting
        • Elementary or introductory accounting
      • Examples of acceptable upper-level accounting courses include:
        • Accounting courses taken as part of a master degree program
        • Financial statement analysis
        • Forensic accounting
        • Accountant theory
        • Non profit accounting
        • Accounting information systems
        • Tax courses
        • Auditing
        • Governmental accounting
        • Cost accounting
        • Managerial accounting
        • Advanced accounting
        • Intermediate accounting
    • 24 semester hour credits (36 quarter hours) in business administration and general education courses at the undergraduate level or higher. These courses generally include courses offered by a business administration department. Real estate, bookkeeping or payroll accounting courses may not be used to fulfill this requirement.
        • Examples of acceptable courses include:
          • Accounting courses in excess of the 24 semester hour requirement above
          • Management and administration
          • Finance
          • Money/banking
          • Statistics (a limit of 6 undergraduate semester hours may be taken in this; math courses other than statistics do not fulfill this requirement)
          • Business law
          • Investments
          • Budgeting
          • Micro and macro economics

2. Take The Uniform CPA Exam

If you are within 180 days of completing the Washington State Board of Accountancy’s educational requirements, you’re eligible to take the Uniform CPA examination.

a. The Washington State Board of Accountancy has contracted with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s Certified Public Accountants Examination Services (CPAES) for CPA exam processing, verification of eligibility and reporting of scores. You can apply here to take the exam through CPAES. If you used an educational evaluation service, the course by course evaluations should be sent directly to CPAES at:

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

b. You will receive your Jurisdiction ID, which is a candidate ID provided by CPAES, by mail or email. If you have previously applied for the exam and received the Jurisdiction ID, continue to use that for this process.

c. You will receive a notification to schedule the exam from the NASBA once approved. Go to www.prometric.com to schedule and pay exam fees. Washington testing sites include:

  • Spokane
  • Puyallup
  • Mountlake Terrace

d. Prepare for testing and report to the exam site on time.

e. If you take the exam before completing your degree program, you’ll need to send proof of completion to the CPAES address above.

f. Wait for the results. The NASBA reports your score to the Washington State Board of Accountancy, who will then notify you of how to access your score online.

If you require special accommodations when taking the exam, submit a modification form to CPAES upon scheduling. The form can be accessed here.

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

3. Gain The Necessary Experience

Once you have passed the Uniform CPA Examination, you are only a few steps away from obtaining your license.

a. Along with your CPA exam score you will receive information from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) regarding the required Code of Professional Conduct course. You will need to pass the course exam with a score of 90% or better. Order the course here. You can print out the results from AICPA website and send verification of passing this course to:

Washington State Board of Accountancy (WBOA)
P.O. Box 9131
Olympia, WA

b. Obtain qualified experience and complete the Experience Affidavit. Qualified work experience involves the practice of public accounting within government or private industry. If your experience is in academia, contact the WBOA to ascertain whether your experience is qualified. Your work experience must be:

  • A minimum of 12 months in duration (consecutive or otherwise)
  • A minimum of 2000 hours of practical accounting-related experience
  • Verified by a Washington licensed CPA who has held a CPA license to practice public accounting in Washington for at least five years (not necessarily consecutive)
  • Obtained within the eight years prior to the date the WBOA receives your completed license application
  • Inclusive of business accounting and auditing skills. These skills will encompass budgeting, internal and performance auditing, accounting for transactions, financial and data analysis, and tax report preparation.

The employment experience should also demonstrate that you have obtained the following Competencies:

  • Assessment of whether an entity has achieved its objectives
  • Knowledge of WBOA rules applicable to licensed persons in Washington including the Public Accountancy Act
  • Development of appropriate data and documentation sufficient for analysis and conclusions
  • An understanding of transaction streams and systems of information
  • Effective communications in relation to scope of work, findings and conclusions
  • Decision making, problem solving and critical thinking for analysis

Applicant Responsibilities

  • Determine that the verifying CPA is qualified based on WBOA requirements
  • Provide evidence in support of the assertion that the work experience could have reasonably provided the chance to attain the required competencies. This evidential information should be included on the Experience Affidavit provided to the CPA
  • Provide the verifying CPA with a completed Experience Affidavit (form here)
  • Maintain the documentation for at least three years

Verifying CPA Responsibilities

  • Confirm the relevant work history of the applicant
  • Have the applicant provide the Experience Affidavit form and proper documentation supporting the assertion about the experience having provided the opportunity to attain the specific competencies
  • Obtain sufficient knowledge by interview or other means to understand the time spent, functions performed and skills applied in the applicant’s work experience
  • Make an assessment of whether the time, functions and skills would have likely provided an opportunity to obtain the competencies that the applicant is asserting.
  • Ascertain that the applicant has enough familiarity of the Washington Public Accountancy Act and related WBOA rules by interview or course completion certificate, etc.
  • Maintain documentation of the process and basis of conclusions drawn about each specific competency for at least three years.

c. Prepare for and enroll in the Washington State Ethics and Regulation for New CPAs. Review instructions for information on how to enroll in the exam. You must pass the course exam with a score of at least 90%. You must then send the Washington Board of Accountancy your certificate of completion.

4. Obtain Your Washington CPA License

After completing the education requirements, passing the Uniform CPA examination and completing the qualified experience, you’re ready for Washington state CPA licensure. The following is a checklist of what you have done up to this point:

a. Checklist

  • Completed education requirements of 150 undergraduate semester (225 undergraduate quarter) hours with 24 semester credits each in accounting and business administration. Have your official school transcript sent directly from your school to:

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

  • Taken and passed the Uniform CPA Examination.
  • Taken and passed the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Code of Professional Conduct course
  • Completed Washington State Ethics & Regulations for New CPAs course and exam.
  • Completed 12 months (2000 hours) of qualified experience in accounting and acquired the required competencies
  • Submitted the Experience Affidavit signed by the verifying Washington CPA.

b. Apply for Licensure

First time Washington applicants submit an application for licensure through the WSBA online services.

You can use the title CPA as soon as your license approval is publicly available on the WBOA licensee search.
Special Cases for obtaining your Washington state CPA license:

  • If you are an out of state candidate applying for a Washington state CPA license you’ll need to show that your education complies with the Washington State Board of Accountancy (WBOA) educational requirements that were in effect at the time you first passed your CPA exam.
  • If you passed the CPA exam four years ago (or prior to that), you need to demonstrate completion of continuing professional education (CPE) hours as follows:
    • 120 hours of CPE within the 3 years prior to the date you file your license application. Only 24 hours out of these 120 hours can be in non technical subject areas.
    • 4 hours of WBOA approved ethics and regulations education as specifically applied to the practice of public accounting in Washington. This requirement must be completed within the six-month period prior to the submission of your license application.
  • If you are a licensed CPA in another state, you can see whether you qualify for the WBOA mobility requirements here. If you qualify and your principal place of business is not in Washington, you do not need to apply for a Washington state CPA license. However, if you or your firm has an office in Washington, there are three methods available for you to obtain your Washington license by reciprocity:
  • Substantial Equivalency: According to a list provided on the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) website, all 50 states, CNMI, D.C. and Guam meet the criteria for substantial equivalency. (The U.S. Virgin Islands does not qualify). To use this method, you will need to:
      • Pass the Uniform CPA exam
      • Verify that you meet the requirements of upstanding moral character
      • Show that you passed an ethics examination as part of your initial licensure
      • Verify that you have also complied with the CPE requirements
      • Apply for licensure through WBOA online services
  • 3– 5 or 5 – 10 Method: This is a reciprocity method that credits public accounting work performed in 3 of the last 5 years or 5 of the last 10 years. For this method, you need to:
      • Pass the Uniform CPA exam
      • Verify that you meet good character requirements
      • Complete a course and examination based on AICPA Code of Professional Conduct with a score of 90% or better
      • Provide evidence with proper documentation supporting that you practiced public accounting in 3 of last 5 years or 5 of last 10 years. The documentation can include licensing documents, business license, state registration or letters from employers or clients verifying the assertion
      • Verify that you comply with the CPE requirements
      • Apply for licensure through WBOA online services
  • Education and Experience Method:
      • Pass the Uniform CPA exam
      • Verify that you meet good character requirements
      • Complete a course and examination based on AICPA Code of Professional Conduct with a score of 90% or better
      • Submit college transcripts showing that your education complies with the WBOA educational requirements that were in effect at the time you first passed your CPA exam
      • Verify that you have the qualified experience and complete an Experience Affidavit (form here)
      • Verify that you comply with the CPE requirements
      • Submit completed application for licensure through WBOA online services
  • If you’re a licensed chartered accountant from another country and do not hold a professional accounting designation as a Chartered Accountant (CA) from the countries mentioned here, you need to pass the CPA examination and apply to WBOA for licensure. If you are a CA in New Zealand, Australia, and Canadian provinces other than Quebec, Prince Edwards Island and Newfoundland; ; a member of the Instituto Mexican de Contadores Publicos; or a member of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, you will need to:
    • Successfully pass the International Qualifications Examination (IQEX) and provide verification of your score to WBOA
    • Verify passing the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct exam with a score of 90% or better
    • Satisfy the CPE and experience requirements
    • Provide licensure verification from your national Institute of Chartered Accountants
    • Complete and submit the application on WBOA website

5. Stay Current Through Continuing Professional Education in Washington

As a CPA, you would need to comply with the continuing professional education (CPE) requirements of Washington as given here.

CPE Requirements for the First Reporting Period: After you obtain your first Washington state CPA license, you need to complete 120 hours of CPE on or before December 31st of the third year for your first CPE reporting period. For example, if you obtain your license in any month of 2011, you should report your CPE hours before December 31 2013. Out of these 120 hours, at least 4 hours should be in approved ethics education and not more than 24 hours should be in non-technical subject areas.

CPE Requirements after the First Reporting Period:
Washington State requires 120 hours of CPE in each three year reporting period to maintain CPA licensure. These 120 hours should include a maximum of 24 hours in non technical subjects. At least 4 hours should be in WBOA approved ethics education.

You can usethe online services to determine your CPE reporting period. The CPE is available through organizations such as Washington Society of Certified Public Accountants, Washington Association of Accountants and from approved CPE providers online.

Now That You’re a CPA in Washington

Take a moment to congratulate yourself! You made it!

After celebrating you may want to join the prestigious professional organizations that promote certified public accounting and provide opportunities for professional development and networking. The biggest such organization is the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA).

At the state level, the Washington Association of Accountants provides professional education and promotes professionalism in the practice of accounting. The Washington Society of Certified Public Accountants provides consumer education, professional education and advocacy for CPAs.

You may also consider specializing in one of the accredited specialties recognized by the Washington State Board of Accountancy: Accredited Business Accountant (ABA), Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP), Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA) and Accredited Financial Planner (AFP).

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