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CPA Exam Cost: How Much Is It?

By Bob Haegele · June 17, 2022 · 6 minute read

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CPA Exam Cost: How Much Is It?

The average cost of the CPA exam is about $3,500, but the exact cost varies for each candidate. The biggest reason for this is that each state has its own board of accountancy, each of which sets its own costs for several items that are needed to sit for the exam.

There are also necessary costs that aren’t tied to the exam itself, such as licensing fees and continuing education costs. If you have to retake or reschedule the exam, you may have to repay registration and examination fees. Plus, the single most expensive part of the process tends to be the review course, the price of which can vary widely.

Passing the CPA exam can be expensive. Fortunately, there are many ways to cover the costs, and the price can be well worth it if you pass the exam.

How Much Does It Cost to Take the CPA Exam?

As just noted, the cost to take the CPA exam is about $3,500, but the final estimate will vary depending upon where you live. Hence, you could end up paying several hundred dollars above or below this amount. However, while the total cost can vary significantly, there are certain items that are common expenses for all exam candidates.

CPA Exam Costs

Application Fee $20 – $200+
Registration Fee $60 – $340+
Background Check $1 – $49
CPA Review Course $1,500 – $3,000+
Examination Fees
Auditing and Attestation (AUD) $226.15 (approx.)
Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) $226.15 (approx.)
Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) $226.15 (approx.)
Regulation (REG) $226.15 (approx.)
Grand Total $2,485.60 – $4,493.60

This is a wide range, but that is expected given that the costs can be different from one state to the next. Examination fees shown above are approximate; your state’s fees may be higher or lower.

In addition, the CPA review courses sometimes have tiered pricing, so even two people taking the same course and living in the same state may have different costs. There can be several differences between different tiers of review courses, such as 24-month access versus lifetime access.

Do You Need a Finance Degree to Take the CPA Exam?

Each of the 55 licensing jurisdictions (all 50 states, plus Washington, DC, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Mariana Islands) maintains its own licensing requirements. Because of this, each state may have slightly different requirements to sit for the exam.

All 50 states require a bachelor’s degree plus 150 credit hours in order to become a licensed CPA. However, rather than requiring a finance (or accounting) degree, states may require 120 credit hours of college credits plus 30 additional, accounting-specific credit hours to sit for the exam.

Still, you should review your state’s requirements before you begin preparing for the exam. Some states require 30 hours of accounting courses, while others require upper-level accounting courses. Your state or territory’s board of accounting website will list the specific requirements needed to sit for the exam.

Other CPA Exam Costs

There isn’t just one fee to sit for the CPA exam; candidates must cover several costs, all of which vary depending upon where you live. This is one of the reasons the cost can be quite different from one state to the next.

Ethics Exam

Your state may require you to take and pass an ethics exam in order to practice there. Some states have their own ethics exams, while others administer the AICPA exam exam. Currently, the AICPA exam costs $189 – $245 and can vary depending on the course option you select.

Registration Fees

Most states require a registration fee for each of the four exam sections. Fees vary but are generally $75 to $100 per section. Some states also have tiered pricing for registration, allowing you to save money if you register for multiple sections at once. If you choose to register for multiple sections at once, keep in mind that each section is estimated to take four hours, with a total of 16 hours for the entire exam.

Application Fees

Application fees are due when you apply to take the CPA exam. Because each state sets its own fees, these vary but are usually between $100 and $200. The fee is non-refundable, but you usually don’t have to pay the application fee again if you have to re-take the exam. But there are situations in which you may have to pay the fee more than once, such as if your application is rejected.

CPA Licensure

The CPA licensure fee is only necessary after you pass the exam; this is the fee you pay to your state accountancy board to be a licensed accountant. These fees also vary by state and can run anywhere from $50 to $500. This cost is an annual one, so you should expect to pay the fee every year to maintain your license.

Keep in mind that each state has its own licensing requirements and accountancy board. Hence, if you move out of state, you will have to be licensed in the new state to be recognized as a CPA there.

Background Check

Your state may require you to pass a background check as part of the licensing process. According to NASBA, the fee ranges anywhere from $1 to $49 if you are required to pass a background check. In the case of California, there is an additional “rolling” fee of $15 for fingerprinting.

Travel and Accommodations

Currently, the CPA exam cannot be taken online; it can only be administered at Prometric Testing Centers. You can find a testing center Prometric’s Pro Scheduler . Testing centers are only located in select cities, so you may end up spending hundreds of dollars on transportation and accommodations depending on how close you are to a testing center.

International Candidate Credential

If you want to take the exam outside the United States, you may be required to pay additional fees for international candidate credentialing. Most states allow international applicants to sit for the exam, but six states and two territories do not administer it. In addition to any domestic fees, you may also have to pay additional fees of $371.55 for each of the following: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting, and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG).

Covering CPA Exam Costs

Although the exact cost of the CPA can vary significantly, one thing is for certain: the exam and licensing process is expensive. Fortunately, there are many ways to cover the costs.

Private Student Loan

A private student loan can help you cover some or all of the cost of the CPA exam. For example, SoFi student loans have no fees, come with multiple repayment options, and have low fixed and variable rates. Everything is handled online and the application process is simple.

Private student loans are different from federal student loans. Federal student loans may have more consumer protection, but private student loans may offer more competitive interest rates. Consider both private and federal student loans if you need to finance your CPA exam costs.

Credit Card

You may be able to pay for some or all of your costs with a credit card. In fact, if paying online, payment by credit card may be required for examination fees. The same may be true for application and registration.

Exam prep courses are offered by third parties, so you should be able to pay for them with a credit card in most cases.

Personal Savings

Avoid tapping into your emergency fund, but any excess savings can help cover exam costs. If you aren’t able to pay for the entire cost with scholarships, grants, and student loans can help you pick up the tab. But personal savings can also be useful, particularly if you still owe money after considering other options.

Scholarships

There are several scholarships available that can help you cover much of the cost of the CPA exam. For instance, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants offers a scholarship of up to $1,500 to exam candidates. Another example is the Newt D. Becker scholarship, worth up to $2,399.

Your state board may also offer scholarships; for example, Wisconsin offers three $2,500 college scholarships to go toward your 150 hours required to sit for the exam. Check with your state board to see if the state offers any additional scholarships.

Employer Reimbursement

Some employers will reimburse you for the cost of the exam itself, review materials, or both. If you work for an accounting firm and the exam is relevant to your job, it’s a good idea to ask whether your employer reimburses these costs.

The Takeaway

There are many costs associated with CPA licensure, from prerequisite coursework all the way to maintaining your license each year. Each of the 55 licensing jurisdictions has its own requirements and fees, so where you live can affect not only licensing requirements but also the cost of the whole process.

However, what is for sure is that becoming a licensed CPA isn’t cheap. The price tag is likely to be four figures, which is high, especially before you are certified.

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FAQ

How much does the CPA exam cost to take?

The cost is about $3,500 on average, but the exact cost depends upon where you live. Each state sets its own fees, so they may vary significantly from one state to the other.

Are there any hidden costs to take a CPA exam?

Hopefully, there will not be any hidden costs of the CPA exam if you have considered all of the costs mentioned here. However, there may be some fees you don’t anticipate. For example, if you have to retake or reschedule the exam, you may have to repay the registration fee in addition to repaying fees per exam section.


Photo credit: iStock/ridvan_celik

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