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 $82,620.

California at a glance

Population 39,250,000
Per Capita Income $30,441
Unemployment Rate 4.8%
Fortune 500 Companies 54
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

151,900 Employees2012
177,500 Employees2022
California 14.4% increase
1,275,400 Employees2012
1,442,200 Employees2022
United States 11.6% 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

\ $41,910

Payroll Clerks

\ $44,370

Credit Counselors

\ $50,800

Bachelor's Degree Recommended

Cost Estimators

\ $68,600

Tax Examiners and Collectors

\ $64,370

Master's Degree Recommended

Accountants and Auditors

\ $77,420

Budget Analysts

\ $78,700

Personal Financial Advisors

\ $99,910


\ $105,070

Financial Managers

\ $139,810
Source: BLS OES - Industry Profile

Top-paying cities for accountants

  1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara
  2. Sacramento-Arden Arcade-Roseville
  3. San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City
  4. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont
  5. Oakland-Fremont-Hayward
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics OES - State Employment Survey

Major firms headquartered in California

Count Firm Location 2014 Revenue (in millions)
1ArmaninoSan Ramon, CA$164
2Novogradac & Co.San Francisco, CA$117
3Holthouse Carlin & Van TrigtLos Angeles, CA$110
4Burr Pilger Mayer Inc.San Francisco, CA$75
5Frank, Rimerman & Co.Palo Alto, CA$74
6Nigro Karlin Segal Fieldstein and BolnoLos 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 RequirementNone
Citizenship RequirementNo
Residency RequirementNo
Social Security # RequirementYes for Licensure
Education Requirement for LicensureComplete 150 credit hours (including a bachelor's degree) and fulfill specific course requirements as outlined here
International ProgramsNo
Hours in AccountingTranscripts proving 24 semester hours or equivalent quarter hours in accounting and 24 hours of business-related courses
Exam Sitting RequirementsFour-year bachelor's degree or higher from a nationally or regionally accredited U.S. degree-granting educational institution
Experience Requirements1-2 years of general experience which includes any type of service or advice involving the use of accounting, attest, compilation, management advisory, tax or consulting skills.
Ethics ExamMust pass the California 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


[email protected]

California Society of CPAs


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

Phone Number