How to Get Free CPE Credits for CPA

When it comes to license recertification with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the process certainly isn't cheap. Between fees for license renewal, membership dues and the cost for continuing professional education, the expense can soar to well over $1,000 -- and that's on the lower end of the financial spectrum. However, many providers of online CPE options who are preapproved with NASBA's National Registry of CPE Sponsors offer several options for free credit, which can help reduce the amount an individual CPA must pay for continued membership with the organization.

There are two primary options when it comes to free CPE credits for CPAs in an online format: self-study courses and webinars. Self-study courses are ones which learners can take at their own leisure, with no set time restrictions or completion dates for certain tasks or sections. However, many self-study courses are not open for an unlimited amount of time. For example, with VTR Learning, CPAs purchase a course and have a year to complete it. So, while there are no restrictions or due dates on the contents or lessons, the course as a whole might have a long-term limit for access. Online webinars are another method for obtaining free CPA CPE credits. Depending on the provider, these webinars might be live-attendance only or accessible after the fact as well.

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Free CPE CPA Online Courses from VTR Learning

VTR Learning is one such provider of free CPE online courses, offering 5.5 CPE credits for no cost. Unlike other methods of continuing professional education, VTR Learning's courses plug the learner in at a fictional company called Central Products, where they have the opportunity to "intern" for various departments, including Accounting, HR and Management. The narrative aspect provides a true-to-life business setting, so CPAs can see the concepts and principals play out as they might in the real world through example. The book-like format for VTR Learning's courses breaks them down into modules, sections and individual scenes, almost like chapters, sections and sentences, and because every piece is automatically bookmarked, CPAs can go at their own pace and stop whenever they need a moment.

The two free CPE online courses VTR Learning currently offers are Managerial Accounting: Financial Performance Analysis and Managerial Accounting: Cost Benefit Analysis, worth 2 and 3.5 CPEs respectively. In order to receive the free courses, CPAs need only create an account, go to the shop and add them to their dashboard. The below links lead directly to the shop pages for these courses:

Once the courses have been completed, CPAs will have access to a certificate of completion, which must be submitted with their renewal forms for credit. VTR Learning is preapproved with NASBA as a provider for online continuing professional education credit, so CPAs can rest assured that the two courses will be counted as an acceptable method for CPE. NASBA's National Registry of CPE Sponsors can be seen here.

Free CPE CPA Online Courses from AICPA

Another primary provider of free CPA CPE webinars and online courses is AICPA itself, which currently offers approximately 17 CPE credits through a combination of both mediums. Seven of the twelve options currently available for free CPA CPE are webinars, covering subjects such as leading practices for successful business performance, issues in budgeting and federal tax briefings. Most of the available webinars are not on-demand or self-paced, and must be attended on a specific day, at a certain time in order to receive credit.

Contrastingly, the five self-study courses currently offered through AICPA can be taken at any time, and include fields of study like auditing, behavioral ethics and personal development. It should be noted, however, that each state has different requirements for CPA recertification, and some place limitations on fields of study, so some licensees might not be able to benefit from every free course offered, especially for subject areas dealing with personal development.

All of the available free content from AICPA can be found in their shop by sorting the search results according to price. As the majority of the offerings are webinars set for specific dates, CPAs can expect the available options to change and update regularly.

Additional Free CPA CPE Online Course Providers

Beyond AICPA, there are at least two reputable providers of free CPE online courses: Corporate Finance Institute (CFI) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). CFI offers a suite of accounting courses totaling 115.5 CPE credits, five of which can be taken without cost for a total of 10.5 hours of free CPE credit. These courses include:

  • Excel Crash Course
  • Introduction to Corporate Finance
  • Fundamentals of Credit
  • Forms of Business Structure
  • Introduction to Derivatives

A full listing of CFI's free courses can be found here, however it should be noted that several included therein are not worth CPE credit, so CPAs who need continuing professional education should be sure to confirm whether a course is one of the five listed above before taking it.

Technically, PwC's available courses are webinars, but because they have been recorded and are on-demand, they can be viewed at any time for free CPE credit. There are currently three quarterly accounting webcasts which can be taken, provided CPAs didn't participate in the live version of the event, in which case no further CPE credit will be awarded. Each of the three webinars is worth 1.5 free CPE credits, and can be viewed here (under the CFOdirect tab).

Free CPA CPE Webinars

While many CPAs might enjoy the opportunity to complete their CPE requirements through self-study methods, since doing so affords them the ability to move along at their own pace, there are also others who thrive in a live webinar environment, where it is possible to interact with peers, answer questions and learn directly from experts in the field. There are several acclaimed providers of such webinars who offer various options for free CPA CPE, including AICPA, Ernst and Young (EY) and Deloitte.

Although AICPA's webinar options for online free CPE CPE have already been discussed, it should again be noted that unlike the courses offered by the organization, they are not on-demand and must be attended in real-time to obtain credit. Because there are new webinars being added consistently, CPAs can expect the list of available options to change frequently. Likewise, the available credit for attending may fluctuate and be inconsistent over time. The list of available webinars through AICPA can be viewed here, and it is possible to sort them by price to determine which ones are free.

While EY provides recorded versions of their webinars for later viewing, free CPE credit can only be earned by attending the live version of the event online, during which CPAs must meet the minimum viewing time and answer a set number of polling questions. Most of the available CPE credit falls between 1 and 2 hours per instance of webinar attendance, and the full list of options can be found on their site.

Webcasts provided by Deloitte fall into several categories, which helps determine the amount of CPE credit to be afforded per instance based on a certain set of viewing requirements. If an attendee to a 60-minute webinar wants to receive free CPA CPE credit, they must view the event for at least 50 minutes and answer 3 polling questions. Likewise, viewers of 90-minute webinars have to watch for at least 75 minutes and answer 5 questions. Finally, for 120-minute webinars, CPAs must attend for at least 105 minutes and answer a minimum of 6 questions. Deloitte's webinar opportunities can be viewed here.

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Low-Cost CPA CPE Online Courses

Despite the prevalence and availability of free CPE credits through online courses and webinars, it generally isn't the case that CPAs can complete the full requirements without having to pay. However, that doesn't mean there aren't low-cost options available. VTR Learning offers pay-as-you-go pricing, so there is no need to pay an annual subscription or membership fee, and CPAs can be sure they are only purchasing as many credits as they need at a time. Buying a course with VTR is as simple as finding one which meets the individual's needs, putting it in the cart and checking out. Individual courses start at $99 and go up to $229, and the available credit per course ranges from 5.5 to 28.5 CPEs. All VTR Learning courses available for CPAs can be viewed in the shop.

Find Your CPA CPE State Requirements

As mentioned earlier, not all free courses will be equally applicable for CPAs in different locations, because state Boards of Accountancy are responsible for regulating and determining the requirements for recertification for their individual jurisdictions. That means some CPAs will have limitations on subject areas which others do not, and this will affect which free options are helpful for license renewal. CPAs should make sure they are aware of their specific locational requirements, so as not to accidentally take courses or attend webinars which will not count toward their recertification period requirements. The state-specific regulations should be read, as well as membership requirements for AICPA. Finally, CPAs can use the Fields of Study Requirements Guide to ensure the free CPE they obtain will count toward their maximum.

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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