How to Compare CPE Providers

The number of online CPE (continuing professional education) providers for Certified Public Accountants and other financial professionals has dramatically increased in the last year or two.

We have prepared the following checklist to help you compare CPE providers.
1. Is the CPE provider's website professional in appearance? Does it have secure checkout to protect your identity? Does it provide contact information?

2. Assess the age of the courses.  Courses should be reviewed and updated annually. Do the courses show a revision date, or last date updated?

3. Check for pilot testing procedures
If the CPE provider's website does not have a pilot tester signup, it is doubtful that they conduct pilot testing. It is time consuming and expensive to conduct pilot testing--but it is a "cost of doing business."

4. What credentials does the CPE provider have? Here is a short list of the "rule makers" for CPE providers:
    Note: Many states do not registration of any type.

   IRS Department of the Treasury: Office of the Secretary regulates IRS Enrolled Agents and related CPE.

   NASBA (National Association of State Boards of Accountancy), working jointly with the AICPA issues regulations for CPE for CPAs on a national basis. States can opt to follow NASBA guidelines or use their own state requirements.

   NASBA-QAS Quality Assurance Service is a set of regulations governing self-study CPE for certain states that is more stringent than the standard NASBA requirements. Currently QAS courses are required for AR, FL, KS, MN, OR, TN and WV.

   While all states have specific CPE requirements that must be followed, most states do not require registration of CPE providers, and several states accept CPE from providers registered in another state.
 Because the fees to join the NASBA are significant, you will probably pay more for CPE from these providers.

5. Compare the total cost. Self-study CPE can include the following costs: 
  • Study materials
  • Exam
  • Shipping and handling
  • Expedited shipping
  • Grading fee and re-grading fee if you don't pass
  • Expedited grading fee (if you need quick turn-around)
  • Restocking charge, if materials are returned

6. Does the CPE provider's website offer a  state acceptance listing?
CPA state requirements are often confusing and ambiguous, and can change frequently. State acceptance listings can vary from one CPE provider to another due to interpretations of the requirements or infrequent updating.

Ultimately, it is your responsibility to be aware of your state's requirements and email the cpe provider before taking an exam if you are unsure if the provider's CPE meets your needs.

Unlimited CPE for CPAs

Per NASBA regulations, CPE Sponsors must have a mimimum of three CPA's "pilot test" new Continuing Education course programs.

Some CPE Sponsors offer the CPE credits totally FREE to CPA's who pilot new CPE courses. In exchange for the FREE continuing education credit, the CPA will provide feedback regarding hours required to complete the course and any suggestions or corrections to innacurate material. The process is realatively simple and painless if you work with a reputable company.

As a self employed CPA, I had previously spent up to $10/hour for my 120 hours of CPE credit to renew my CPA license. After discovering pilot testing, I have an extra $1200 in my pocket this year!

I recently discovered an online CPE provider, 1st Choice CPE that is currently offering free CPE for pilot testing their CPE courses.

Even if I don't want to pilot test for my CPE this year, I have bookmarked their site, as they have what appears to be an excellent concept of unlimited CPE for only $99.