Wisconsin is blue-collar to the core. The three big drivers of the state economy are the agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism industries.
The state is also home to big industrial producers like Johnson Controls and Oshkosh, not to mention Harley-Davidson. We make things here, things for Americans and for the world, and we’re proud of it.
But there’s more involved in all that than milking cattle and turning wrenches. CPAs are needed at every level of these organizations to keep inventories counted, ensure paychecks go out, and to make sure payments are coming in.
There is also a healthy market for independent CPAs working with the small businesses that are the core of our economy, and with the people who get up every morning to work in those factories or ranches. Auditing, tax preparation, and investment advising services are offered all over the state by small independent and regional accounting firms, like SVA in Madison or Kerber, Eck & Braeckel in Milwaukee. If you’ve got an independent streak, you can even turn that CPA license into a shot at opening up your own accounting shop, in whatever specialty you choose.
There are 5 important steps to follow to learn how to become a CPA in Wisconsin.
- Get Your Education
- Take the Uniform CPA Exam in Wisconsin
- Gain the Necessary Experience in Wisconsin
- Get Your CPA License
- Continuing Education in WI
1. Get Your Education – Meet Wisconsin’s CPA Degree Requirements
a. Request information from Wisconsin schools offering degree programs in accounting. The Wisconsin State Department of Regulation and Licensing requires that every certified public accountant in the state earn 150 semester hours of college credit and have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.
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 Wisconsin. 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 Wisconsin.
b. The Wisconsin State Department of Regulation and Licensing will accept all accounting degrees and business and accounting courses earned through colleges and universities located anywhere in the country that hold standard institutional accreditation from any regional or national accreditor recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
If you attended school in another country, your credits must be assessed by a member agency of the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES). The Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing also requires that you complete courses in business law and income taxation, in addition to any courses recommended by the evaluation. These courses must also be through an accredited US four-year bachelor degree granting institution. Official transcripts proving successful completion of the required courses must be sent with your application to the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing.
c. Meet Wisconsin’s CPA degree and coursework requirements. The 150 semester hour requirement must include one of the following conditions. Options 1 and 2 apply to those who go on to earn a master’s degree to earn the 30 additional credits; options 3 and 4 are applicable to those who complete all 150 credits with a bachelor’s degree and additional credits earned through a concurrent undergraduate certificate or post-bachelor’s certificate:
1. Earn a graduate degree in accounting from an accounting program or department accredited by one of the agencies recognized by the board (listed above).
2. Earn any other graduate degree from a business school or college of business that is accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the board, as long as it meets the curriculum requirements below:
- 24 semester hours in accounting at the undergraduate level including courses covering financial accounting, auditing, taxation, and management accounting
- 15 semester hours in accounting at the graduate level including courses covering financial accounting, auditing, taxation, and management accounting
- An equivalent combination of both undergraduate and graduate credits
3. Earn a baccalaureate degree with a major in accounting from an accredited business school or college of business and complete the following course requirements:
- 24 semester hours in accounting at the undergraduate or graduate level including courses covering financial accounting, auditing, taxation, and management accounting
- 24 semester hours in business courses, other than accounting at the undergraduate level or the graduate level
4. Earn any other bachelor degree with a reasonable equivalent of an accounting concentration from an accredited school and completion of the following course requirements:
- 24 semester hours in accounting at the ;undergraduate or graduate level including courses covering financial accounting, auditing, taxation, and management accounting
- 24 semester hours in business courses, other than accounting at the undergraduate level or the graduate level
The following applies to all 150 credit hour completion options:
- CPA review courses are not acceptable
- CLEP, online and correspondence courses are acceptable if they have been accepted for credit by an accredited college that offers a bachelor’s degree
- Commercial review courses are not acceptable for the 150-hour requirement.
- Courses from community and junior colleges are acceptable if they are accepted for credit by an accredited college that offers a bachelor’s degree
2. Take The Uniform CPA Exam
Once you have completed 120 semester credit hours of the 150 semester credit hour requirement you can apply to take the Uniform CPA Examination.
a. Apply through CPA Examination Services (CPAES). Register online here. All required documents (shown below) should be sent to:
CPA Examination Services,
Attention: Wisconsin Coordinator
P.O. Box 198469 Nashville, TN 37219-8469
b. Complete and send all required documents with your Uniform CPA Exam application.
- Have the college you attended submit your transcript directly to CPAES (or you may submit it, if it is an official, sealed transcript).
- If your college offers official electronic transcripts, have them emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Complete and send any requests needed for American with Disabilities Act Modification (form).
- Send the signed application form (if submitting by mail)
- Unless paid online, include examination and application fees by check or money order payable to CPA Examination Services or you can complete the credit card payment authorization on the application
- If applying online, you must pay examination and application fees by credit card when you submit your application
c. Wait for your Notification to Schedule (NTS) letter to arrive. It can take up to 6 weeks for a first-time application to be processed by mail, or 4 weeks for applications submitted online. The NTS will be issued to you by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) in the manner you selected while applying (mail, fax or email).
d. Schedule your CPA Exam here through Prometric. In Wisconsin testing sites include Brookfield, and Madison. Note that changing the date, time, or location of the scheduled test may result in fees being assessed.
e. On your exam day be on time and ready to test at your selected Prometric testing site.
f. Scores will be made available online for Wisconsin candidates. The NASBA site is updated as the scores are received so if you do not see your scores yet, then they have not been received. When available, your score can be seen here.
If you need further information or need to request special accommodations the Wisconsin coordinator can be reached at 800-CPA-EXAM. For detailed information on the Uniform CPA Exam, click here.
3. Gain The Necessary Experience
The Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing will not issue a state license until the education requirement is met, the CPA exam passed, and the necessary experience requirement is fulfilled.
a. After meeting the education requirements, applicants must complete one year of paid public accounting experience or equivalent determined by the board. When applying for the CPA license you are required to submit your experience information and employment verification statements including the Verification of Employment and Experience Evaluation form to the board for evaluation. A verifying CPA with an active license in good standing must validate all experience through this form.
Qualified experience should meet the following criteria:
- Accounting positions in industry and government with high levels of knowledge, competence and judgment are considered
- Most positions in titled accounting, auditing, financial analyst, and work with comptrollers or anyone working to prepare taxes beyond individual returns will qualify
- Part time work can count proportionately, but generally is given little weight
- Bookkeeping and elementary individual tax returns are not considered as qualifying experience
- Self-employment must be fully documented and presented in person to the board for review to be considered as qualifying experience
Experience equivalents include:
- Experience teaching advanced specialized accounting courses
- Experience in law when it involves responsibility for independent accounting decisions and requires a high level of accounting knowledge, competence, and judgment.
The Wisconsin Accounting Examining Board has ruled the these types of experience are equivalent to public accounting:
- Audit support
- Financial statement consolidation
- Trial balance/fixed asset/general ledger
- Financial statement preparation
- Analyzing financial buying and discounted cash flow
- Analyzing base case financial models and buyers’ lists
- Financial consulting
- Income tax preparation and projects, both corporate and individual
- Preparing journal entries
- Assigning accounting codes to invoices
- Conducting internal audits
- Researching accounting literature or tax codes
- Analyzing information flows and accounting processes
- Analyzing financial statements or budgets
- Capital budgeting support
- Developing and testing internal controls
- Product costing
- Budget preparing, operating and capital
- Tax payments and returns
- Payroll management
- Expense account analysis
- Account reconciliation
- Software conversion/installing financial systems
The Board has ruled that these experiences are NOT equivalent to public accounting:
- Bank teller
- Supervising purchasing clerks
- Analyzing insurance claims
- Bank trust department account officer
- Preparation of real estate closing statements
- Secretarial support
- Restaurant manager
- Cash register clerk
4. Get Your Wisconsin CPA License
Upon passing the Uniform CPA Examination and fulfilling the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing’s work experience requirement, you are eligible to apply for your state CPA Credential and license. Wisconsin will not grant CPA credentials until all requirements for licensure are met. Licenses are required to practice, and advertise as a CPA in Wisconsin and granted upon payment of licensing fees and a thorough review of your application packet. Use the following steps to determine your readiness to apply:
- Completed 150 semester hours of college education and received at least a bachelor’s degree through an accredited program.
- Passed the Uniform CPA Exam. Examination scores are sent directly to the applicant by NASBA. The Department of Regulation and Licensing receives the scores from NASBA after the applicant has been notified
- Completed one year of public accounting experience or the equivalent
b. Submit the Application for Certified Public Accountant Credential Form with all supporting documentation. Your completed application packet should include the following:
- Application for Certified Public Accountant Credential form (Form found here).
- Convictions and Pending Charges disclosure form as applicable (Form found here)
- Personal Chronological Resume of Accounting Experience form (Form found here)
- Verification of Employment and Experience Evaluation form (Form found here)
- Fees that total $150 ($75 for application and $75 for ethics test)
Candidates who sat for exam in Wisconsin starting May 1996 are prequalified and your transcripts are on file. Do not remit them again. If you are applying by endorsement or transfer of examination credit from another jurisdiction than you are required to submit an official transcript showing courses taken and degrees received. The college or university must send transcripts.
Mail all required documentation to: Wisconsin Department of Regulation & Licensing P.O. Box 8935 Madison, WI 53708-8935
c. Pass the Wisconsin Online ethics exam
- After receipt of your completed application and all supporting documents, you will be emailed or mailed a checklist with your authorized pass code and instructions on how to take the on-line ethics exam
- Exam is not timed, consists of 50 questions on the Wisconsin Statutes and Administrative Code governing the profession
- To see Code book click here
- Exam cannot be taken on a Macintosh computer, passing score for exam is 80%
- Once you’ve completed the exam your score is immediately calculated and will automatically be sent to the Department. Your score is available to check online in about 5 business days.
- If you fail the test you will need to complete the retake application and submit it with the retake fees to the Department. You will then be assigned another test.
Additional technical or exam content related questions can be directed to: email@example.com.
d. Wait Through the Review Process
Applications will be evaluated when all required documents and ethics examination are received.
Biennial license renewal is due by December 14th of the odd number year.
Practice Privileges for Out of State CPA’s
If you are a CPA that doesn’t resided in Wisconsin and the primary office is not located in Wisconsin, then under the Wisconsin practice privilege statute generally you have the same rights as a Wisconsin licensee. Residents of and primary offices located in Wisconsin must obtain a Wisconsin CPA license in order to practice.
Licensure by Endorsement
If you hold a CPA license in good standing in another state, you must meet all current Wisconsin licensure requirements before applying for CPA licensure, unless you can provide evidence that you have passed the Uniform CPA Exam and practiced as a CPA for five or more years. You must also pass the Wisconsin ethics exam. The Application for Certified Public Accountant Credential should be used.
If you hold a CPA license in good standing in one of the following countries, you must meet all current Wisconsin licensure requirements and pass the IQEX (International Qualification Exam) and the Wisconsin ethics exam prior to licensure in Wisconsin by endorsement:
- New Zealand
- Hong Kong
Reinstatement of Licensure
If you have failed to renew the credential within 5 years of the renewal date, you must contact the Board office for the required fee due, forms required, and authorization to take the ethics exam. The Application for Certified Accountant Credential (form #130) is not accepted for reinstatement.
- Request Reinstatement Packet by calling or sending an email to the Department with your name (prior names if changed), license number, and current address to:DRL@wisconsin.gov or call (877) 617-1565.
- Additionally 1 hour of continuing education credit for each month the credential was not renewed must be completed. Not to exceed 80 credits, the board will allow renewal upon verification of 40 hours of continuing education and allow completion of the remainder over the next two years. Any course hours completed during the 24 months prior to date of renewal are counted toward the initial 40 hours needed.
- Continuing education information must include course title, course content description, name of sponsoring organization, number of credit hours, and date taken.
- Acceptable coursework is offered by AICPA, NASBA, WICPA, and the IRS.
- Retain copies of all records so they are available upon request by the Accounting Examining Board.
5. Continuing Professional Education in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Department of Regulation and licensing does not require continued professional education (CPE) in order to maintain CPA licensure. Many CPAs; however, elect to join the Wisconsin Institute of Certified Public Accountants (WICPA), which does have CPE requirements. Requirements set by WICPA are as follows:
- New Member CPAs – New members of WICPA have no CPE requirement the year they joined. They are, however, required to meet the minimum CPE requirement for the two years that remain in the three-year block
- Member CPAs Actively Practicing– Within each three-year period, member CPAs are required to complete 120 hours of CPE with no fewer than 20 hours each year
- Members Not in Active Public Practice – In each three year reporting period, 90 hours must be completed with a minimum of 15 hours each year (AICPA membership has changed to 120 for members in industry, WICPA has yet to change the requirement)
- Reinstatement – If you are applying for reinstatement memberships you are required to complete the annual minimums (20 credits public accounting, and 15 credits not in public accounting) and complete the three-year requirements
a. Enroll in the correct courses. CPE credits must be earned through formal programs. The definition of this is outlined in AICPA’s Statement on Standards for Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Programs.
CPE credits must contribute to overall professional competence. Course can be taken for but are not limited to:
- Accounting, auditing, taxation, and advisory services
- Management advisory services (MAS), finance, information systems, behavioral and regulatory ethics, marketing, math, production, and economics
- Courses that contribute to the development and maintenance of other professional skills are also accepted
- Teaching CPE courses are accepted when they are determined to increases the instructor’s professional competence
CPE credits are measured in 50-minute contact hours that must be claimed in whole hours. WICPA will not accept claims of anything less than 50-minute units, for example claiming 25 minutes isn’t accepted. Credit hours can be achieved by attending:
- University or Colleges
- Self-study courses
- Internet-based programs
- Independent study (under the direction of a CPE program sponsor)
You can find qualifying CPE programs in Wisconsin via:
- Wisconsin Institute of Certified Public Accountants
- American Institute of CPAs
- Wisconsin colleges and universities
b. Maintain records of CPE completed. CPE course credit claimed is your responsibility. Maintain CPE records for at least 5 years. Include attendance records, course outline, date and title of the course, location and instructor, and number of CPE hours earned. WICPA’s Professional Conduct Committee verifies compliance with CPE requirements through random audits. If you are not compliant with the CPE requirements the WICPA grants a two-month grace period to comply.
Now That You’re a CPA in Wisconsin
Great job and well done! You are now a licensed CPA in Wisconsin!
You might want to consider becoming a member of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and join the local Wisconsin Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Both of these organizations present members with opportunities for professional development, continuing professional education programs, networking and professional guidance. Both also require CPAs in Wisconsin to complete a certain number of hours of continuing professional education (CPE) to maintain membership. Wisconsin doesn’t require CPE credits to maintain a CPA license unless the license has been expired for more than five years.
Think about specialization! Possibilities for specializing within the discipline of accounting in Wisconsin include forensic accounting and fraud examination, tax accounting, financial accounting and managerial accounting.