Young accountants preparing to take the CPA Exam and college accounting students looking to plot a career must answer several questions. One of the most basic, and most important, is “Where?”
Where should I take the CPA Exam? Where will I work? Where should I get licensed?
The answer was simpler in the days when many CPAs mostly just served local clients. Today, technological advances and the ease of travel allow accountants to work at firms operating in multiple states, accept new jobs across the country, and serve clients virtually anywhere.
The dissolution of geographic boundaries has freed accountants to pursue innumerable opportunities in myriad locations, but it also raises numerous questions about licensure, doing business in or relocating to different states, and state regulations for CPAs on the move. This can be especially confusing for college accounting students who are about to embark on a career but aren’t always sure where to first set up shop, given their areas of interest.
The AICPA sat down with our own Lindsay Patterson, communications manager–State Regulatory & Legislative Affairs, to discuss the complicated topic of “CPA Mobility.”
Can you explain the history behind reciprocity and highlight any recent changes?
Patterson: Reciprocity refers to a CPA’s ability to work across state lines, which is something that is absolutely necessary in today’s marketplace. In 2006, the AICPA and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy announced a nationwide initiative to have all states pass laws that would allow a CPA license to work the same way that a driver’s license works: CPAs would only have to obtain one license in their principal state of business, and they could use that license to work across state lines temporarily.
Since this initiative started 10 years ago, 49 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have all adopted mobility for nonattest services, or individual mobility. This means that a CPA in, say, Texas can provide tax or consulting services in any state except Hawaii.
Fifteen states have also adopted mobility for attest services, sometimes known as firm mobility. In those states, CPAs and firms can offer services such as audits and reviews without having to get a license, notify the state board of accountancy, or pay any additional fees. In states with firm mobility, you have to meet that state’s peer review and firm ownership requirements.
Washington state became the 15th in the nation to adopt firm mobility, and bills are making their way through the Illinois and Louisiana legislatures right now to do the same in those states. We expect a half-dozen more states to look at adopting firm mobility in 2017. That’s great news for CPAs, who will be able to offer more and more services across state lines.
If an accounting student, for instance, lives in Minnesota but has job offers in a few other states (other than Hawaii), what does he or she need to know about mobility?
Patterson: That student will be able to offer nonattest services such as tax and consulting services in any of those states. If the student wants to offer attest services, however, it requires a little bit more consideration. If the state they are attending college in doesn’t allow for firm mobility, but the state they grew up in does, I would recommend they get their license in the state in which they are attending college. That way they can perform audits in that state with their license, and they can also perform audits in the state they grew up in, under that state’s mobility laws. Of course, if a student wants to perform attest services in two states and neither has firm mobility, then they would need a license in both of those states.
If a student takes the CPA Exam in one state but also wants to get licensed in another, how does that work?
Patterson: CPA Exam scores can be transferred to any state for the purpose of getting a license, so a student can take the exam in whichever state works best for them.
If a CPA travels or has clients in different states, what does the CPA need to know about mobility?
Patterson: You are required to be licensed in the state in which you live and practice. If you have clients in multiple states, make sure that you are meeting the states’ requirements. If you want to offer attest services to an out-of-state client, make sure that the state in which your client lives allows for firm mobility. If they do, check their peer review and firm ownership requirements to make sure that you meet those. If the state does not have firm mobility, you have to get another license and apply to the state board of accountancy. This is not something that is done in a few hours or overnight, so start the paperwork as soon as possible.
What else should students know about CPA mobility?
Patterson: Keep track of what states are adopting firm mobility for attest services. The AICPA offers a map showing which states have done this already. I’d also encourage students to make sure they meet the licensing requirements for where they want to get their license.
More questions about mobility? Check out CPAmobility.org, created by the AICPA and NASBA.