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North Carolina is one of the nation's strongest business regions. The state has one of the most competitive corporate tax climates and the third-largest financial center in the country. This environment creates plenty of accounting career opportunities for certified public accountants (CPAs).
CPAs offer advanced and comprehensive accounting services, including tax services, audits, and financial analysis and counseling. CPA services also come with a fiduciary responsibility to the client, which makes these professionals attractive partners for many organizations.
To enter the profession, candidates need to take a prescribed set of steps and meet rigid North Carolina CPA requirements. Throughout this page, we uncover what prospective CPAs need to acquire and maintain licensure in the state. We also highlight some of the accounting programs in North Carolina, the examination specifics, and options for gaining professional experience.
Education Requirements for Becoming a CPA in North Carolina
According to the North Carolina State Board of CPA Examiners, CPA candidates must possess a bachelor's degree consisting of 120 credits to qualify for the Uniform CPA Examination. The applicant must have an accounting concentration and the appropriate number and type of accounting and tax courses.
For CPA licensure, candidates need a total of 150 credits, including an accounting concentration and coursework that covers diverse topics. Applicants with a bachelor's degree can earn the additional 30 credits in undergraduate or graduate classes. Many schools offer accounting bachelor's-to-master's programs to streamline the CPA pathway.
Concentrations, Credits, and Course Acceptance
Per the state board, North Carolina's CPA requirements include a bachelor's degree with 120 credits for the exam and 150 credits for licensure. Both stages require an accounting concentration.
A valid accounting concentration for the examination must include 30 undergraduate accounting credits, including a maximum of six accounting principles credits and three business law credits. Candidates can also qualify with at least 20 graduate accounting credits.
For licensure eligibility, the accounting concentration must include 24 accounting credits, including three credits in at least eight of the following subjects:
- Computer technology
- International environment
Every eligible credit must be documented on a transcript from an accredited school. This makes transfer credits ineligible. CPA candidates also need to complete an eight-hour ethics and accountancy law course at least one year prior to applying for state licensure.
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North Carolina Experience Requirements
According to the State Board of CPA Examiners, CPA candidates in North Carolina need at least one year of professional accounting experience to qualify for licensure. In order for the experience to be eligible, it must be completed under the supervision of a licensed CPA. While part-time work can qualify, it must be equal to a full-time job of 30 hours per week over 52 weeks.
Other eligible experience includes:
- Four years of teaching accounting at an accredited four-year college or university
- Four years of unsupervised accounting experience
- Four years of teaching accounting in an accredited community college or technical institute
- Any combination of the above
Candidates must document their work on the experience affidavit. As a one-tier state, North Carolina allows CPA applicants to complete the experience requirements before or after their exam. In two-tier states, applicants need to pass the exam prior to gaining experience.
CPA Exam Requirements
The Uniform CPA exam comes from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). While the CPA requirements vary by state, the test stays the same across the nation. The CPA exam features four sections:
- Auditing and attestation
- Business environment and concepts
- Financial accounting and reporting
The sections below examine the specific requirements for North Carolina candidates.
Eligibility to Take the Exam
CPA candidates in North Carolina need a bachelor's degree and 120 credits to take the exam. This includes an accounting concentration with at least 30 accounting credits and a maximum of six credits in accounting principles and three credits in business law.
Candidates may apply prior to completing the education requirements as long as they finish them within 120 days of submitting the application.
Other exam requirements include:
- U.S. citizenship
- State residency
- Social Security number
- 18 years of age or over
- Good moral character
While candidates do not need to take AICPA's ethics exam, they do have to complete a North Carolina accountancy law and ethics course.
Applying for and Scheduling the Exam
First-time exam applicants must complete and submit the initial examination application, along with an administrative fee of $230. Applications include two photos, official transcripts sent directly from the schools, moral character references, and background check authorizations.
Applicants must indicate the order in which they wish to take the test sections. Each section has a $238.15 testing fee. The board processes applications in approximately 10 days. Incomplete applications will be discarded, and reapplications cost $75.
Once approved, exam applicants will receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS) from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. All test sections applied for must be scheduled and completed within a six-month window. CPA candidates have 18 months to complete all four exam sections.
After Passing the Exam
After candidates have passed all four exam sections, they can apply for state licensure. Exam results do not expire in North Carolina, so they can take their time.
A complete licensure application package includes:
- Identification photo
- Proof of completion for the North Carolina accountancy law and ethics course
- $100 fee
- Certificate of moral character
- Experience affidavit
- Education transcripts
- 150-credit worksheet (Required for candidates who do not have a master's degree or higher)
Employers can use the State Board of CPA Examiners database to verify CPA licenses.
Once licensed, North Carolina CPAs need to renew their licenses every year before July 1. If CPAs miss the renewal deadline, the board will issue a Letter of Demand, which gives licensees 30 days to complete the renewal.
CPAs also need to complete a minimum of 2,000 minutes of continued professional education (CPE) each year. Within those minutes, 50 minutes must be in topics related to professional ethics.
Eligible sources of CPE minutes include:
- Accredited college courses
- Approved self-study
- Authoring a publication
- Group activities
- Nano learning
- Teaching a college course
CPAs need to report their CPE within their renewal application. They also need to keep study records for up to five years in case of an audit.
CPAs with licenses in another state may provide accounting services within North Carolina. However, they can also apply for a reciprocal CPA license. Non-CPAs can own accounting firms in the state as long as the majority of ownership has valid licensure.
Questions About CPAs in North Carolina
How do I become a CPA in North Carolina?
North Carolina's CPA requirements include an accounting concentration and 150 credits. You also need a passing score on the Uniform CPA Examination and at least one year of supervised accounting experience.
Who can take the CPA licensure exam in North Carolina?
In North Carolina, CPA exam candidates must possess a bachelor's degree with at least 120 credits and an accounting concentration. A concentration includes at least 30 accounting credits, with six accounting principles credits and three business law credits maximum.
How long does it take to get a CPA license in North Carolina?
The time to complete the North Carolina CPA requirements varies, but it typically takes candidates 7-8 years. In most cases, the 150-credit requirement takes about five years, the exam takes about 18 months, and the experience takes one year.
Is the NC CPA exam hard?
The Uniform CPA exam can be challenging. Test-takers should commit a good amount of time to preparation. According to AICPA, the exam's nationwide pass rates were between 44% and 60% for the different sections in 2022.
What is the ethics requirement for CPA in NC?
North Carolina's CPA candidates need to complete an eight-hour ethics course to qualify for licensure. They also need to complete at least 50 minutes in ethics CPE annually to qualify for license renewal.
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