California is the largest economy in the U.S., leading the nation in several industries, including technology, biotech, agriculture, entertainment, manufacturing, and tourism. All the “Big Four” international CPA firms have offices in California (Deloitte & Touche, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Ernst & Young), and the state is home to many of the country's largest and most important businesses, such as Apple, Disney, Chevron, and Wells Fargo. California is the largest employer of CPAs in the country, and more than 147,00 accountants and auditors play a key role in keeping these industries successful and competitive. The state is also one of the top paying for accountants, who earn an annual mean wage of $83,540.

California at a glance

Population 39,536,653
Per Capita Income $30,441
Unemployment Rate 4.1%
Fortune 500 Companies 55
Licensed CPA Firms 6,362

Accounting Programs in California

Search our comprehensive school directory to explore the accounting programs in California, including campus-based, online and hybrid programs.

Accounting Salaries and Employment

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of accounting jobs in California will rise by nearly 17% between 2012-22. That increase amounts to more than 25,000 new accounting jobs created each year in the Golden State.

California's anticipated rate of growth for CPAs outpaces the expected national average by almost 4%. With a mean annual income of $78,000, California CPAs are the highest paid in the nation.

Projected Job Growth for Accountants

143,670 Employees2016
179,700 Employees2026
California 20.1% increase
1,397,700 Employees2016
1,537,600 Employees2026
United States 9.1% increase
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics OES - State Employment Survey

Accounting Salaries by Specialty

California Avg. Annual Wage United States Avg. Annual Wage

Associate Degree Recommended

Bookkeeping and Auditing Clerks

\ $46,700

Payroll Clerks

\ $50,430

Credit Counselors

\ $55,420

Bachelor's Degree Recommended

Cost Estimators

\ $75,570

Tax Examiners and Collectors

\ $63,130

Master's Degree Recommended

Accountants and Auditors

\ $83,540

Budget Analysts

\ $87,400

Personal Financial Advisors

\ $141,100

Financial Managers

\ $154,310
Source: BLS OES - Industry Profile

Top-paying cities for accountants

  1. San Rafael Metropolitan Division
  2. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara
  3. San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco Metropolitan Division
  4. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward
  5. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics OES - State Employment Survey

Major firms headquartered in California

Count Firm Location 2014 Revenue (in millions)
1 Armanino San Ramon, CA $164
2 Novogradac & Co. San Francisco, CA $117
3 Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt Los Angeles, CA $110
4 Burr Pilger Mayer Inc. San Francisco, CA $75
5 Frank, Rimerman & Co. Palo Alto, CA $74
6 Nigro Karlin Segal Fieldstein and Bolno Los Angeles, CA $56

Accounting Today named these firms among the highest performing in a multi-state region. Rankings as based upon reported net revenues from 2014. Source: Accounting Today, "Top 100 Firms and Regional Leaders"

Becoming a certified public accountant (CPA) in California

The rules for becoming a CPA in California are in a state of transition. There are currently three active sets of criteria two of which only apply to individuals who passed all four parts of the Uniform CPA Exam prior to December 31st 2013. The third set of standards applies to all others but will only remain in effect until January, 2017 when a permanent set of standards that includes 10 credits of ethics education take effect.

When these changes in California's CPA requirements take full effect in 2017 their licensing requirements will become the most rigorous in the United States.

Eligibility for CPA Licensure in California

For now, California closely follows the same national standards as other states. Therefore candidates are required to complete 150 credit hours of postsecondary education and posses at least a bachelor's degree before they are eligible to sit for the CPA exam.

California's work experience requirements for licensure depend upon if and when the applicant passed the Uniform CPA Exam. The education requirements are available in the CPA Licensing Handbook.

Age Requirement N/A
Citizenship Requirement No
Residency Requirement No
Social Security # Requirement Yes
Education Requirement for Licensure Bachelor's degree (150 hours)
International Programs No
Hours in Accounting 24 semester hours
Exam Sitting Requirements 120 hours
Experience Requirements 1 year of accounting experience
Ethics Exam CA Professional Ethics Exam

In 2012 California enacted the Practice Privilege Provisions which apply to CPAs who are licensed in other US states and Canada.

Source: The American Institute of CPAs

Source: The American Institute of CPAs

CPA exam fees in California

  • Application Fee $100
  • Auditing & Attestation $208
  • Financial Accounting & Reporting $208
  • Regulation $208
  • Business Environment & Concepts $208

Special Fees: $50 re-examination application fee (If you fail one section of the exam you can pay to re-register for just that portion of the exam. All sections must be passed within 18 months of your first test date.)

Source: California Board of Accountancy

Certifying and Professional Organizations

California's CPA eligibility and licensing requirements; current and pending, are enumerated in Title 16 of the California Code of Regulations. They are available online through the California State Board of Accountancy.

The California Board of Accountancy has made a report title the Sunset Review Report detailing pending changes in regulations.

California Board of Accountancy


2000 Evergreen Street, Ste. 250
Sacramento, CA 95815

Phone Number

(916) 263-3680

California CPA Education Foundation


1201 K Street, Ste. 1,000
Sacramento, CA 95814


California Society of CPAs


1800 Gateway Drive, Ste. 200
San Mateo, CA 94404

Phone Number