What are the Five Biggest CPA Exam Costs?

CPA Exam Costs
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What are the Five Biggest CPA Exam Costs?

Passing that final exam to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a real achievement. It marks a completely new chapter in your career as you suddenly become qualified for a whole new raft of accounting and finance roles, but a question we get asked a lot is “how much do the CPA exam costs?” So, when you factor in how much the CPA exam costs and whether it is worth the expense, you need to consider it a career investment.

Yes, the CPA exam fee is not a small amount, especially if you’re self-funding. However, when you consider that you’ll earn more than your non-licensed colleagues and benefit from increased job security, the initial outlay (and ongoing costs) make sense.

So, what are the five biggest CPA exam costs and how much do you need to budget for certification? We explore each in turn before summarizing the merits of licensure.

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1) Cost of a CPA Review Course

There’s a good reason people are given an 18-month window to pass the CPA exam. The four-part assessment is notoriously rigorous for even the most accomplished accountant. With an average first-time pass rate of around 50%, it’s a good idea to factor in the cost of a CPA review course as part of your overall CPA exam cost to give yourself the best chance of success.

A good CPA review course should function as an invaluable guide for all four parts of the CPA exam. If you’re not sure what these are, they are:

Each exam is a four-hour test covering a selection of topics and concepts, and to become a CPA, you must pass all four sections with a core of 75 or more.

Therefore, when you look at the CPA exam fee, you should also include exam preparation costs. Our best advice is to choose a CPA review course that gives you flexibility over learning and payment methods.

For example, at Universal CPA Review, you have three packages to choose from as part of your CPA exam cost, including:

  • Monthly subscription – costing $99 per month, the subscription includes highly interactive test preparation materials, videos, practice questions, and direct guidance on all four CPA exams. You also have the option to cancel on a monthly basis.
  • Individual exam preparation – you may choose to pay for each of the four CPA preparation courses in turn. For a one-off fee, you can access all the guidance and tools within the monthly subscription, just for your chosen test area.
  • Complete package – if you prefer to pay upfront for lifetime access to all materials and support (across all exams), you can pay a one-off fee.

For both the individual exams and the complete package, financing options are available (3-12 months).

All three options include CPA course preparation materials that are mapped to the latest AIPCA Blueprints so that you can be sure that what you’re learning correlates with the exams.

#2 - CPA Exam Application Fees

It’s impossible to give an exact figure for CPA exam application fees, but you can expect to pay anything from $50 to $200. Each state board sets the cost and paying the CPA application fee permits you to submit your application to take the CPA exam.

As you may already know, there are certain conditions you must meet before being granted permission to take the CPA exam. These conditions, again, can vary from state to state. However, most states require that you have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting. You will know when your CPA exam application has been approved as you’ll receive what’s called an Authorization to Test (ATT) notice.

When budgeting for your CPA exam fee, it’s important to remember that you will have to pay again if your application is denied. So only apply when you know you meet the correct criteria.

#3 - CPA Exam Fees

Typically, you can expect to pay a CPA exam cost of around $200 per exam section. But, again, as with the other CPA exam fees, the amount it costs to sit each section of the CPA exam depends on the state where you wish to work.

We know that this may cause a little uncertainty, but there’s an easy way to check your state’s fees and that’s on the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s (NASBA) website, where you will also need to make the payment. 

You will be expected to select the CPA exam section that you plan to sit and pay the associated CPA exam fee.

Most people take the CPA exam in stages, so you might decide to just pay for one or two exams simultaneously. It’s entirely up to you.

Just remember that there is no discount for re-sitting CPA exams and that there are fees for rescheduling an exam ($25-$83).

#4 - Registration CPA Exam Fee

At the time of paying your CPA exam fee, you will also need to pay a registration fee, which can differ between states. Again, the NASBA website provides a helpful breakdown of this CPA exam cost.

Many states follow a tiered payment structure for CPA exam registration, meaning that it is cheaper to pay for more than one exam at a time. For instance, paying for all four at once may be up to half the cost per exam.

After you have paid your CPA exam cost and registration fee, you will receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS), which is valid for six months. This means that if you do not take the exams in that time, you will have to pay the fees again.

Again, that’s why investing in the right CPA preparation course is so important. It helps you pass in the quickest possible time and stops you from making repeat payments.

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#5 - Ethics CPA Exam Fee

The CPA Ethics Exam, which can be taken before or after the CPA exam, is pretty simple, despite what its name suggests. Although not all states require you to take it to become fully licensed, most do. Conducted by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA), the CPA ethics exam must be factored into your overall CPA exam cost.

It’s not a terribly huge cost though – it’s usually between $150 to $200.

Plus, one of the biggest benefits of CPA license is that you’ll have far more tax code and auditing knowledge than your non-licensed peers.

Ongoing CPA Fees

After you pass your CPA exams, you will have ongoing CPA related fees to pay. While they are not CPA exam fees, they must still be factored in.

CPA licensing fees are between $50 to $500 per year (depending on the state) and must be paid to maintain your license to practice.

Continuing Professional Education (CPE) fees. The AICPA exists to ensure that CPAs maintain an assessed standard of competence and knowledge after the initial examination. So, you will be expected to participate in certain courses dictated by your state every year – usually costing around $1,000 each year.

Are the CPA Exam Fees worth it?

Now that we’ve answered the question of how much does the CPA exam cost? , let’s explore another equally important question. How much is the CPA exam worth?

A lot, it seems. For a start, CPAs earn more than non-licensed accounting professionals, at least for the first few years of their careers.

Let’s take a quick look at research released by Franklin University comparing the salaries of CPAs and non-licensed accountants. First, there’s a starting salary difference of around $9,500 (CPAs can expect an average salary of $69,500 in their first three years compared to $60,000 for non-licensed accountants). Second, those who pass the CPA exam can expect to earn 10-15% more than their non-licensed colleagues, justifying the CPA exam costs and ongoing licensing fees.

Of course, passing the CPA exam is invaluable if you want to work in a public accounting firm or wish to apply for specialist taxation or auditing roles.

Whether you become a CPA or not all depends on your career aspirations. If you’re unsure whether it’s the right route, it’s a good idea to sign-up for a free 7-day subscription to Universal CPA Review’s free trial.

As the only visual learning CPA review course on the market, our CPA review course gives you a good insight into what to expect from each exam section and places you on the right path to passing the first time (our client CPA exam pass rate is 90%).

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