Major differences between US CPA Certificate and US CPA License

Major differences between US CPA Certificate and US CPA License | Uplift Professionals

It often comes confusing when one talks about the CPA US certificate and License. Briefly speaking, the former is an acknowledgment for passing the CPA exam while the latter counts for granting permission to practice by the respective state accounting body. Although they look the same yet major differences exist.

They provide different legal authorities and responsibilities to handle their work. Thus, an understanding of the key differences between these two credentials can help a CPA US aspirant to design his/her accounting career in a more fruitful manner. Let us discuss this.

  • US CPA Certificate

A CPA certificate is the first step of acknowledgment which indicate that the candidate has successfully passed the unified US CPA examination. To obtain this, it is not necessary to have mandatory work experience in the accounting field or to go through any continuing education (CE) norms. On the other hand, a CPA certificate holder cannot sign audit reports and tax returns or use the CPA title on legal or official reports.

Since CPA certificate holders cannot own a CPA firm (either as a sole owner or partner) or sign audit reports, the work potential gets limited. However, some US states allow to refer to a certificate holder as a CPA without public practice other states do not permit the same.  Since the CPA US exam scores are permanent, the certificate requires no renewal for any continuation.

  • US CPA License

A CPA US license is the second step in the process when a CPA US certificate holder wants to expand their professional skill in the domain of public accounting. To achieve this, a CPA certificate holder must clear the AICPA Ethics exam after passing the CPA exam. It also requires 1-2 years of working experience supervised and/or verified by a CPA license holder. Moreover, to hold the license in continuity, it is imperative for such candidates to complete 40 CE hours every year.

Unlike the CPA certificate holder, a CPA license holder can further sign tax returns and audit reports and use the CPA title on legal, official, and unofficial documents. US CPA license holders are also eligible to be a partner or an owner in a public accounting business.CPA licenses require annual renewal fees, which may vary from state to state.

US CPA Licensure-the Single and Double-Tier Jurisdiction

Since the CPA US certification and licensing are governed by individual state accounting bodies, some differences exist in the requirements. In certain so called single-tier state boards, you get both the CPA certificate and license by passing the single CPA Exam and gaining a certain amount of education and experience.

On the contrary, the so-called double-tier state boards require to pass the CPA exam first and then need to complete a minimum of one year of experience (more in some states) before applying for the CPA accounting license.


The CPA US is one of the top most recognized and coveted designations in accounting. One can either pursue a CPA certificate or a CPA license, that suits the need and usage having own pros and cons. Earning the CPA US certification is itself a long, laborious process that often tempts to stop the process and not fulfill the additional requirements for CPA licensure. It is to be noted that the CPA license carries a degree of prestige and respect far beyond CPA certification.

Holding a CPA license means that one is committed to the profession and are ready to take on serious and important work. Depending on the suitability and career goal, one can decide whether to stop after getting the CPA US certificate or to complete the process by obtaining the license, though it is advisable to complete the total process and be a CPA US license holder.

For Further Information/Assistance, Contact: