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When is the Best Time to Complete CPE?

Tax preparers play an essential role in today’s business world. But did you know there are 5 different types of tax preparers? This article will discuss each type and how they differ. I’ll also explain why you might pursue one credential over another based on your unique career goals.

Like many professionals, Certified Public Accountants and Enrolled Agents need to participate in continuing education to keep their certificates active. However, do you know when is the best time to complete your CPE or CE? And have you thought about the best way to accumulate all of these hours in addition to your busy week schedule? Believe it or not, there are proven strategies to keep you on top of it. With these tips, you won’t have to stress to maintain your CPA or EA credentials through continuing education.

Why Continuing Education Matters

In the accounting space, it seems that regulations and best practices change often. And that’s why continuing education is so important. CPAs usually talk about CPE, or continuing professional education. In contrast, EAs refer to their continuing education as CE. But at the end of the day, they are fundamentally the same. The goal is to keep professionals up-to-date so they can effectively carry out their essential services.

How Many Hours to CPAs and EAs Need?

I Pass the CPA Exam reports that CPA CPE hours can vary from state to state. But in general, the AICPA recommends 120 hours every 3 years. Therefore, most jurisdictions follow the AICPA’s lead and ask CPAs to gain 120 hours every 3 years. Roughly speaking, this breaks down to about 40 hours a year.

 In some jurisdictions, you can take whatever CPE courses are relevant to your job. However, others want CPAs to gain CPE hours in certain technical subjects. Plus, many jurisdictions also require an approved ethics course.

 The IRS mandates CE for EAs, too. However, the requirements are all the same for EAs, which is a big contrast from how CPAs do continuing education. Specifically, the IRS requires 72 hours every 3 years. However, EAs can’t wait until the end of that 3-year period and cram at the last minute. Instead, EAs must gain at least 16 hours per year. And of those 16 hours, 2 must be in an ethics course. Plus, 3 must include federal tax updates, and 10 should be on other topics related to federal tax law.

The Best Time to Gain Continuing Education Hours

Basically, the best time to start on your CPE or CE hours is right now.

 After all, it might seem like 2 or 3 years is plenty of time to accumulate your hours. And it might be tempting to put it off until later, especially with already busy careers. However, keep in mind that EAs are required to get at least 16 CE hours a year. And likewise, in many jurisdictions, CPAs also have to accumulate a certain number of annual hours. In fact, CPAs need up to 20 hours per year in some places like California. So don’t wait until the end of the reporting period to get started.

A Few Continuing Education Tips

  • Do it early. Each year, the earlier you can get started, the better. That way, you don’t have to so much stress at the end of your reporting period.
  • Do more than you think you might need at that point. When you’re working on continuing education courses, do more than you think you “need” at that point in the reporting calendar. For example, let’s assume you set aside a Friday to work on CPE all day. Maybe you planned on devoting 8 hours to CPE, but your course only took you 4. If you wrap up a course sooner than expected, don’t just quit and go home early! Take another course if you finish earlier. This will help you accumulate hours faster.
  • Make continuing education part of your regular schedule. Instead of stressing about when you’re going to squeeze in your CPE hours, mark continuing education time in your calendar. After all, it’s a career requirement that can’t be ignored. So make it a priority in your schedule.
  • Align your continuing education with your career. It’s inevitable that eventually, you’ll come across a challenge at work and won’t know how to solve it. For example, if you find yourself looking up information about the same regulation over and over, take note. Or, if your boss is planning to assign you new duties in the near future, do a little pre-planning. What skills will you need to strengthen to meet this new expectation? If you cater your CPE courses to your daily work, it will be a lot more relevant. And you’ll probably enjoy the experience more, too, because you’ll see a direct connection to your job.
  • Use quality continuing education materials. The benefits of CPE are only as good as the educational materials. That is, you’ll get the most out of your CPE hours if you choose high-quality courses with experienced instructors. But how do you find those materials? Well, actually, the IRS requires EAs to use an approved review provider. And for CPAs, NASBA’s National Registry of CPE Sponsors lists CPE programs that meet certain educational standards. In fact, many jurisdictions even insist that CPAs use a provider in the registry.

Finding a Continuing Education Provider

Before the days of the internet, locating CPE courses was a real pain. You either had to take a correspondence course or find an in-person seminar. But now, many good options are available online and on-demand.

 For example, Lambers is a possibility to consider. Lambers Review is an approved continuing education provider for the IRS. Plus, it’s on the NASBA registry, too. The Lambers catalog includes topics like accounting, auditing, federal tax law and tax updates, information technology, management, marketing, personal development, and more. They even have ethics courses approved for CPAs and EAs, too. In addition, the Lambers instructors are all subject matter experts with at least 10 years of teaching experience, so you can trust them. And with on-demand videos, self-study courses, and live webinars, you’re sure to find a delivery method that matches your learning style.

Last Thoughts

Continuing education doesn’t have to be a drag. Instead, it can provide you with valuable skills and essential updates. So if you start your hours early, do more than you think you need a sitting, and stick to proven CPE providers, continuing education can be a boost to your professional career.

About Stephanie: Stephanie Ng is the Executive Committee member responsible for Finance at New Sight Eye Care, a charity registered in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. She oversees the financial aspect of New Sight in Hong Kong, including accounting, taxation, financial management, and compliance.

She began her career as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers in New York and Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong before joining her client to work in the Group Finance Department, where she spent five years specializing in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, and debt refinancing. She also extended her role to management accounting and financial accounting and obtained her US CPA qualification.

Stephanie also is a published author of the book How to Pass the CPA Exam. Additionally, she created I Pass the CPA Exam, the first CPA help site in 2010. Her guidance and mentorship have helped hundreds of thousands of candidates pass their exams.

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