How to Become a CPA in Illinois

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Updated October 18, 2023

Do you have the education and experience you need to become a CPA in Illinois? Discover how you can get started in this remarkable career in The Prairie State.

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Illinois firms need certified public accountants (CPAs) to help lead, think, and analyze the future of their businesses. As home to Chicago, the nation's third-most populous city, Illinois offers ambitious CPAs an array of opportunities.

This diverse state also hosts extensive farmland, small towns, and major industry hubs, which provide distinct and fulfilling careers for accountants. Illinois CPAs can pursue work in healthcare, government, law enforcement, and public service, among other sectors.

Illinois CPA requirements include education, experience, and other considerations. Learn more about how to become a CPA in Illinois in the guide below.

Education Requirements for Becoming a CPA in Illinois

To become a licensed CPA in Illinois, you must complete 150 college credits, including a bachelor's or graduate degree. Illinois offers three options for meeting this requirement.

After completing an undergraduate program, you can complete a graduate degree in accounting from an accredited institution and an Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) accredited accounting program.

You can also pursue a graduate degree in business from an accredited school if the program includes 30 credits in accounting.

Finally, a candidate can earn a bachelor's or master's degree in any subject, with 30 credits in accounting and 24 in business. Since a bachelor's degree usually comprises 120 credits, an accelerated bachelor's-to-master's program can help students meet Illinois' additional 30-credit requirement.

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Concentrations, Credits, and Course Acceptance

The most straightforward way to meet Illinois CPA requirements is to major in accounting or business at a school with institutional accreditation. Your program should hold programmatic accreditation from the AACSB or ACBSP. The Illinois Board of Examiners accepts online coursework with a passing grade of "P" or a letter grade of "D-" or better.

The board also accepts CLEP, AP, Dante, IIC, or ACT/SAT course credits if they meet certain criteria. CPA review courses only count if you took them for credit at an accredited school. Then, you may count up to six credits toward your requirements.

You can also submit for-credit internships and study-abroad courses as part of your academic record. The board does not, however, grant credit for duplicate coursework.

You may not count life experience toward your academic requirements unless listed on your transcripts. These transcripts should also show significant taxation, auditing, financial accounting, and managerial accounting coursework. See the list below for Illinois' course requirements.

  • Managerial accounting
  • Taxation
  • Financial accounting
  • Audit
  • Business communication
  • Business ethics

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Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Illinois Experience Requirements

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation licenses candidates who have received CPA certification and completed at least one year or its equivalent of qualifying full-time experience. Illinois considers one year of full-time experience to be 12 consecutive months with an average of 20 days worked each month for a total of 1,500 hours completed.

Working 2,000 hours in a qualifying position over more than one year but less than four years can meet the equivalency standard for full-time experience. You can only count work performed after completing the required credits for the CPA exam. Typically, internship credits count toward the educational requirements and do not apply to the experience expectation.

The department credits work in industry, academia, government, or public practice. You do not have to perform the work under the supervision of a licensed CPA. The work must involve taxation, consulting, accounting, attest, financial advisory, or management advisory skills. Applicants document their work experience on CPA application forms.

  • 1,500 qualifying work hours completed in 12 months
  • 2,000 qualifying work hours completed in 13-48 months

CPA Exam Requirements

To become a CPA, you must pass the Uniform CPA Examination. This exam includes four sections: auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation.

Although the exam is uniform across the country, the eligibility requirements, scheduling process, and post-exam steps vary among jurisdictions. The following sections cover Illinois CPA requirements.

Eligibility to Take the Exam

In Illinois, you must have completed 150 credits to apply for the exam. These hours should include a bachelor's or master's degree in accounting or business and all required coursework.

When you submit your transcripts, the board evaluates your educational experience and determines if you qualify to sit for the exam. You will receive a letter that outlines any further academic requirements or approves you to sit for the exam.

Once approved, you have 18 months to pass all four sections of the CPA exam. You must also pass the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' (AICPA) Ethics Exam.

Illinois has no citizenship, Social Security, or age requirement to sit for the CPA exam. If you have taken all four parts of the exam in another state and want to transfer your scores to Illinois, you may complete the Total Transfer of Credit application and pay a $345 fee. If you have completed three or fewer sections, you must submit the Domestic or Foreign Credentials Evaluation application.

Applying for and Scheduling the Exam

Once you've met the eligibility requirements for the Uniform CPA Exam, you can submit the Initial Examination Request through the Illinois Board of Examiners. Test-takers must request ADA accommodations on the initial submission and each subsequent exam application. You can select up to four sections of the exam with your initial request, but you must pay in full and complete all sections within six months.

You have 90 days to pay your fees after opening an account. Exam applications fees are as follows:

Several days after the board receives your payment, you will get a Notice to Schedule (NTS) in your email. Use your NTS to register for your exam on the Prometric site. Once you've registered at a local Prometric location, you will be required to accept a Uniform CPA Examination Conduct and Non-Disclosure Agreement. This agreement details the code of conduct required for test-takers.

If you do not earn a passing score of 75 or higher on each section, you can reschedule that section for another sitting.

After Passing the Exam

After passing the CPA exam, you need to complete the AICPA Ethics Exam and submit the results to the Illinois Board of Examiners. The board will email a letter that includes your certification number. Use this number to apply for a CPA license through the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The department requires a $120 application fee.

You must also complete one year of full-time experience in an accounting-related field before submitting your licensure application. If you wait longer than four years after receiving a certification to apply for licensure, you'll need to complete 90 hours of continuing professional education.

Maintaining Licensure

In Illinois, CPA licenses expire every three years. CPAs will receive an electronic reminder to complete the renewal process.

To renew a CPA license, the state board requires an individual licensee to complete 120 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) within the licensing period. This training must include four hours of ethics and one hour of sexual harassment prevention training.

The training must come from an approved sponsor. Use the license lookup tool or the National Registry of CPE Sponsors to locate approved providers.

You are responsible for tracking and recording your CPEs. The department does not require you to send proof of your training, but you should keep copies of your attendance certificates for six years in case you are audited. For your first renewal, you are exempt from CPE requirements.

If you hold a CPA license in Illinois and another state, you must meet the renewal requirements in your home state. You do not have to complete two sets of renewal activities.

Questions About CPAs in Illinois

How do I become a registered CPA in Illinois?

Illinois discontinued the registered CPA designation in 2012, keeping only the licensed CPA. Licensure requires 150 hours of higher education, including a bachelor's and master's degree. Each applicant must also pass all four components of the CPA exam, complete the ethics exam, serve one year of qualifying full-time accounting work, and submit their application for licensure.

Who can take the CPA licensure exam in Illinois?

Applicants with 150 credits from bachelor's and graduate degrees in accounting- or business-related fields from institutionally accredited schools can take the exam.

How long does it take in Illinois to become a CPA?

It usually takes four years to complete a 120-credit bachelor's degree and 1-2 years for the additional 30 credits Illinois requires for CPAs. Applicants must pass all four parts of the CPA exam within 18 months and complete one year of full-time work. In total, becoming a CPA could take six or more years.

Is getting a CPA license in Illinois hard?

The road to CPA licensure can be more difficult than other careers but generally aligns with CPA requirements in other states.

How much does it cost to become a CPA in Illinois?

Each licensure applicant pays a $120 fee to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Aspiring CPAs also pay $226.50 for each part of the CPA exam.

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