Calculating the Cost for CPA CPE License Renewal

When it comes to continuing education, the automatic visceral response seems to be a sense of distaste that wavers between two unwanted costs: time and money. But for members of organizations like the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (henceforth referred to as AICPA), continuing education is a nonnegotiable -- at least, so long as the licensee wants to keep practicing their craft. In order to maintain their prestigious designation, CPAs generally have to take around 120 hours of continuing education per three-year period, which doesn't come cheap. However, calculating the exact cost for any particular licensee is difficult, because there are a combination of factors which have the potential to alter the overall price, such as organization, location, preferred continuing education method, state limitations and more. So, in many cases, determining the cost of recertification amounts to a jigsaw puzzle of different, strangely-shaped pieces that somehow have to fit together.

However, when the cost of continuing education is broken down, and the pieces of the puzzle are separated into their own, specific piles, the overall picture becomes clearer, and it is easier to recognize which pieces need to fit where in order to determine the best path forward.

In order to begin separating the pieces, some concept of cost categories has to be determined. When looking at the recertification process, there appear to be at least three main areas of cost:

  • Cost of Continuing Education (Preferred Method)
  • CPA Membership Renewal Costs
  • CPA State Registration Fees

Compare the Cost for VTR CPA CPE Online Courses vs. Other Online CPE Providers

The cost of CPA CPE is exactly what it sounds like: the amount an individual must pay for courses, webinars, conferences or other methods that offer Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits for completion. Broadly speaking, this category is likely to be the most expensive for the entire recertification process. Webinars and conferences can easily cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, and though individual online, self-study courses generally come somewhat cheaper, it can still be costly to purchase multiple courses to cover the full continuing education requirement.

As seen by the table below, there are many providers of online CPE self-study courses, and the prices and methods differ. Some, like VTR Learning, offer pay-as-you-go courses, where a CPA can add a course to their cart, pay for it and take it whenever they want. Here, courses are bought individually and intentionally. However, other providers, like Sequoia CPE, offer subscriptions, where an annual payment unlocks the full library of courses to be taken at any point within the subscription period.

One difference between the two types of providers is the proliferation of courses that are worth large amounts of CPE. VTR Learning, for example, has multiple courses worth large amounts of credit, and though the courses must be purchased individually, a single one can cover nearly one-fourth of the necessary CPE hours per recertification period. Subscription-type providers often offer a multitude of smaller courses, which are worth one to four credits, meaning CPAs may have to take approximately eight to sixteen courses to cover what one larger course could. The table below highlights several prominent providers of online CPE courses, including the credit and price ranges per organization.

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Cost for CPA Membership Fees

The CPA membership renewal cost is the price a CPA pays to the AICPA to continue membership. Here, as with the overall cost of recertification, there is no set number, because the cost fluctuates with several factors, primarily industry, role and work status. For example, a sole practitioner in public accounting would pay $475 for membership renewal, while an internal auditor in business or industry would be charged $285. Furthermore, it should be noted the aforementioned prices are set for the year 2020, and are also subject to change with time. This table is an extremely helpful resource for determining the annual cost of membership for individual CPAs, and because it is hosted by AICPA's site, should give accurate information regarding the price for any given year.

CPA License Renewal Fees

The last of the three main cost categories represents the actual cost of renewal, to be submitted to an individual CPA's state Board of Accountancy alongside the appropriate forms for license recertification. Since each state is regulated by a Board, the fees for license renewal vary with location, so it is important for those seeking recertification to check with their state's Board website to determine the exact cost.

Cheap CPE Online Courses

Having looked at the cost categories for license renewal, it's possible to begin trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. When it comes to AICPA annual membership fees, the price for individual renewal never exceeds $500, and for application and license fees with a state Board, the cost seems to fall between $100 and $300, depending on location. However, as mentioned earlier, the cost for CPA CPE credit can be astronomical in comparison with the other two categories.

Looking at AICPA's course catalog specifically, there are self-study options worth only one credit, costing between $59 and $109. Even using the low number and calculating to half of what an individual CPA needs per recertification period due to state-specific self-study limitations, it's possible to spend up to $3,600. To be fair though, it's extremely unlikely for an individual to take all of their self-study CPE from one-credit-hour courses, and the price is far cheaper for single courses with larger credit worth. For example, AICPA offers another course worth 55.5 CPE credits that costs only $385, so there are available options for obtaining cheap CPE credits for CPAs.

VTR Learning's highest credit-level course is worth 28.5 CPEs, and the cost is $229. Comparatively, AICPA offers a 28 CPE hour course for $305, making VTR Learning the cheaper option in terms of price per credit. The difference is extremely apparent when looking at courses with fewer credits. Again, a one-hour CPE course from AICPA can cost between $59 and $109. VTR Learning offers courses for comparable prices that are worth more than twice that amount. The course, Characteristics of Effective Leadership, is a prime example, at $129 for 8.5 CPE credits.

Like many other online providers of self-study courses, VTR Learning's options are all self-paced, meaning they can fit around the busy schedules of most CPAs. However, unlike other providers, there is no subscription or membership fee. Each course can be purchased individually, so CPAs get exactly what they want without having to overspend for credits they might not need. A full list of VTR's cheap CPE credits for CPAs can be found in the shop.

VTR Learning Offers Free CPA CPE Online Courses

Perhaps the most unique aspect of VTR Learning's style of CPE is that each course is narrative-driven (with the exception of the Medicare-centric courses). Rather than a series of slides or a recorded webinar, they cast the learner as an intern at a fictional company called Central Products, where they interact with characters and events based on real-life people and situations. Though the learning content is largely video-based, there are also readings an quizzes throughout to ensure the learner comprehends the concepts being taught.

Furthermore, it's worth noting that VTR Learning offers two free courses, each worth a small amount of CPE credit, so anyone interested in trying out a different style of continuing education can do so without the financial obligation required by other providers.

For confirmation of VTR Learning's status as an approved provider of CPE credit for members of AICPA, view NASBA's National Registry of CPE Sponsors.

Find Your CPA CPE State Requirements

None of the pieces of the continuing education puzzle can be accurately put together without understanding the requirements and limitations for CPE as set by each state or territory's Board of Accountancy. For example, some states have a full, three-year recertification, while others have biennial or even annual periods for license renewal. Often, the exact number of required credits depends upon the number of years in between each instance of recertification. Furthermore, there are quotas and limitations on the number of CPE hours CPAs can take in particular subjects and on the methods for earning credit, and if these stipulations are not carefully followed, the recertification process can quickly turn disastrous. So, before deciding on any path for completing recertification requirements with as little cost as possible, CPAs must be aware of what those requirements are.

This link leads to a blog that gives the state-specific requirements for CPA CPE license renewal, including:

  • License Renewal Date
  • CPE Reporting Period
  • Total Number of CPE Hours Required
  • Limitations on Self-Study Credits

So, if there is any uncertainty regarding the best path forward when it comes to earning cheap CPE credits for CPAs, understanding your state's requirements is the best place to begin.

Braden Norwood

Braden is a proud husband and a father to a very rambunctious little boy. A few of his many interests include reading, writing music, and playing games. He is the Product Quality Manager for VTR and has been with the company since early 2017. In conjunction with his love for storytelling, he has a passion for story-based learning, believing that narrative is one of the most elementary ways humans can learn. A true nerd at heart, when not working on his premier novel, he can usually be found playing an RPG, reading comics, or watching Star Wars.

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