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In addition to its Pacific coasts, mountains, and forests, Washington state hosts a thriving economy. Multiple corporations — including tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft — maintain corporate headquarters in the Seattle area. Washington is also home to a diverse employment landscape offering higher-than-average wages.
As of May 2023, the state government's Employment Security Department includes accountants and auditors in its official Occupations in Demand list. Accounting professionals in Washington also earn average salaries that rank among the highest of any U.S. state.
To become a certified public accountant (CPA) in Washington, you must earn a bachelor's degree with an accounting major or concentration. You also need at least one year of relevant experience and passing scores on the Uniform CPA Examination. Explore these eligibility requirements in detail with our guide to becoming a Washington state CPA.
Education Requirements for Becoming a CPA in Washington
Washington maintains separate eligibility criteria about when accountants can sit for the Uniform CPA Examination and when they can attain CPA licensure. To sit for the CPA exam in Washington, you need a bachelor's degree with at least 120 semester hours of coursework. However, to qualify for licensure, you need at least 150 semester hours.
Standard bachelor's programs usually include 120 semester hours, meaning Washington state CPA licensing requirements include at least 30 additional coursework credits. Though master's degrees in accounting are not required in Washington, they can help prospective CPAs fulfill the 150-credit stipulation while earning an advanced credential, which can qualify them for higher salaries and advanced roles.
Accelerated bachelor's-to-master's accounting programs offer a streamlined path to fulfilling the elevated credit requirements. These programs are specifically designed to deliver the 150 semester hours required for CPA licensure in Washington and other U.S. jurisdictions.
Concentrations, Credits, and Course Acceptance
To sit for the Uniform CPA Examination in Washington, you need a bachelor's degree with at least 120 semester hours completed. State CPA guidelines consider 180 quarter hours equivalent to 120 semester hours.
Your degree must include a major or concentration in accounting. Washington state CPA guidelines define an acceptable accounting concentration as:
- 24 semester hours (or equivalent) in accounting courses, including at least 15 semester hours of upper- or graduate-level coursework
- 24 semester hours (or equivalent) in business administration
The same accounting major/concentration requirements also apply to candidates for CPA licensure, though to complete the licensure application, these prospective CPAs need at least 150 semester hours of college-level coursework.
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CPA Washington State Experience Requirements
To become a CPA in Washington state, you also need at least one year of relevant professional experience. This year of experience must cover at least 2,000 hours of employment accrued over a minimum of 12 months.
The Washington State Board of Accountancy recognizes both paid and unpaid employment toward these 2,000 hours. This means experience gained through internships or volunteering is valid, as long as it develops the competencies outlined below.
The Board of Accountancy cites the following as core competencies required of CPA candidates:
- Understanding accounting information systems and transaction streams
- Assessing economic and financial risks
- Developing analysis-oriented critical thinking, problem-solving, and/or decision-making skills
- Determining whether an organization has achieved its financial objectives
- Documenting and analyzing data
- Communicating accountancy-related findings and job scopes
You can gain this experience in industry, government, or public accounting practice. Washington state licensing officials may also accept experience in academic settings if you work in roles that develop the state's core accounting competencies.
A CPA with at least five years of valid licensure must verify all experience for prospective CPAs. You must complete this supervised work in the eight years before you submit your licensure application to the state's accountancy board.
CPA Exam Requirements
All Washington state CPA candidates must pass the Uniform CPA Examination. The test consists of four sections that challenge your advanced accounting knowledge.
Every U.S. jurisdiction uses the same version of the CPA exam. However, eligibility requirements and some other details vary by state. Consult the subsections below for information specific to the Evergreen State.
Eligibility to Take the Exam
To sit for the Uniform CPA Examination, Washington state requires applicants to have a bachelor's degree covering at least 120 semester hours.
If you complete your education in the United States, you must ensure the Washington State Board of Accountancy recognizes your institution. If you complete your schooling in another country, a Board-endorsed service must evaluate your credentials.
Applying for and Scheduling the Exam
Washington state CPA candidates apply for the Uniform CPA Examination on the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) website. Note that the application, approval, and scheduling processes are distinct preparatory steps.
The application phase means you ask the Washington State Board of Accountancy to review and endorse your credentials. Approval to sit for the exam signifies the Board's approval of your application package.
To achieve this approval, you must submit official academic transcripts to the Board. Transcripts must specify your degree designation. The Board accepts electronic transcripts, but your educational institution(s) must submit electronic records on your behalf. You can also submit sealed, registrar-certified hard copies of your academic records.
If the board approves your application, you will receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS) from NASBA. The NTS prompts you to select a location, date, and time for the exam section(s) you wish to take.
Washington state allows candidates to apply for one or multiple Uniform CPA Examination sections at a time, including applying for all four sections simultaneously. You must pass all four sections within an 18-month period. Passing scores expire after 18 months.
As of June 1, 2023, the following fees apply:
- $170 first-time application fee
- $90 registration fee for re-examination candidates
- $238.15 examination fee per test section
After Passing the Exam
You may apply for your Washington CPA license after you pass the Uniform CPA Examination and meet all other requirements. In addition to education and experience standards, you must:
- Complete a Code of Professional Conduct course offered through the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
- Earn a score of at least 90% on the AICPA's Professional Ethics Exam
- Review the Board of Accountancy's Washington CPA Essentials video
Washington state does not impose age, citizenship, or residency requirements on prospective CPAs. However, all applicants need a U.S. Social Security number.
If you passed the Uniform CPA Examination at least four years ago, you must also complete continuing professional education (CPE) courses. The courses must total at least 120 hours. Finally, you must attest that you meet Washington state's character requirements by answering a set of questions included in the license application packet.
Accountants holding a valid Washington state CPA license have two ways to verify their standing to employers or clients: First, the Washington State Board of Accountancy supports a CPA Search tool. Alternatively, Washington participates in NASBA's CPA Verify program.
Your Washington state CPA license expires every three years. In expiry years, you must renew between January 1 and April 30 to maintain your credential. The state charges a $230 fee per renewal. Late applications submitted between May and June are charged an additional $100 late fee.
You must include documentation of completed CPE with your application. All CPAs need to complete at least 120 hours of coursework per renewal cycle, including a minimum of 20 credits per year. Additionally, nontechnical subjects can account for no more than 60 hours per renewal period. Nano learning can account for no more than 12 hours. You must also complete at least one Washington-specific CPA ethics course each renewal cycle.
Washington's CPA standards offer licensing opportunities to qualified candidates seeking interstate or international reciprocity. Washington also maintains interstate reciprocity and international reciprocity regulations.
You can own a CPA firm in Washington without a CPA license. However, you must reside in Washington and register with the Board of Accountancy as a resident nonlicensed owner.
FAQ About How to Become a CPA in Washington State
How much does it cost to take the CPA exam in Washington state?
Each section of the Uniform CPA Examination costs $238.15. You must also pay a $170 application fee if you are taking the exam for the first time. A $90 registration fee applies to reexamination applicants.
How long does it take to become a CPA in Washington state?
Washington's education and experience requirements typically take 5-6 years minimum. This timeline assumes that you complete 150 credits of college-level coursework, pass the Uniform CPA Exam, and work full time to gain your supervised experience.
Does Washington require an ethics exam for CPAs?
Yes. You must pass the AICPA Professional Ethics Exam as a first-time CPA license applicant to receive your credential.
Who issues CPA licenses in Washington state?
The Washington State Board of Accountancy issues and administers CPA licenses in the Evergreen State. The Board is an agency of Washington's state government.
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