CPA INSIDER

Are you really able to use the term CPA?

Check your status to be sure.
By Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA

Warning: If your CPA license is inactive, expired, or was issued in a state other than the one where you live or work, you may not be able to use the term "CPA" alongside your name.

Boards of accountancy use different terms for various CPA license statuses. Besides "active," they include "active certificate" (Kansas), "registered" (Louisiana and New York), "inactive" (several states), "inactive with experience" (Alabama), "expired" (Indiana), "lapsed" (Georgia), and more!

States also have different laws and regulations regarding how CPAs should represent themselves. For instance, some states stipulate that CPAs with inactive status not use the term CPA.

Accountants often aren't aware of these regulations. Thus, they may inadvertently violate their state board's rules when describing their credentials on their resume, LinkedIn profile, business card, email signature, in an engagement letter or business proposal, or elsewhere.

Case in point: I work as a recruiter based in Maryland, yet I had a Virginia CPA license. I found out that to be able to use the designation CPA in Maryland without changing my marketing materials and online presence to reflect the fact that I was only licensed in Virginia, I would need to be licensed in Maryland as well. I worked extremely quickly to apply and also get myself licensed in Maryland!

The professionals who hire CPAs often aren't aware of these regulations either, and they may not realize the importance of verifying a job candidate's status. I recommend that hiring personnel always check whether job applicants have the credentials they claim to. CPAs should also check their status if they have any doubts about it. They can do so on their state board's website or on the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy's CPAverify.org website. Most U.S. states and territories participate in the platform (the exceptions are American Samoa, Delaware, Hawaii, and Utah).  

You can usually find your state board's regulations regarding representation on its website. If you are concerned about how to present your credentials, I suggest that you contact the state boards in the state(s) where you are or intend to present yourself as a CPA and ask what they would recommend.  A listing of all state boards of accountancy with their contact information can be found at nasba.org/stateboards.

It's important to represent yourself correctly. Not doing so could cause you problems down the line, such as not being hired when a potential employer discovers the misrepresentation, or even being reported to your state board and disciplined.

"We have had many disciplinary cases heard regarding CPAs (or former CPAs) inappropriately using the title," said Wade Jewell, retired executive director of the Virginia Board of Accountancy and current director of NASBA's International Evaluation Services Department.

Be sure to pay attention to any communications from your state board. As Jewell noted, "Board statutes, regulations and rules often change and can have an impact on how and when CPAs can use the CPA title." Virginia publishes any such changes in its biannual e-newsletter, he said.

"In the end, CPAs must take responsibility for and be proactive when it comes to knowing the rules for licensure and use of the CPA title in their respective states," said Jewell. "Not only is it the right and ethical thing to do, but is also a public expectation of the CPA profession."

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to better reflect the particulars of Beth Berk’s licensing situation.

Beth Berk, CPA, CGMA, is an independent recruiter based in Maryland. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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