February 27, 2021

Should New CPAs Put ‘CPA’ On Their Business Cards Or Is That Too Douchey?

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Hey Adrienne,

Can you help me out?  I am new CPA and was wondering if it is acceptable to have CPA after my name on my business cards?  Whenever I see someone with an alphabet after their name I roll my eyes. I don't want to be douchey, but want to add some legitimacy to my position and let everyone know what a bad ass I am. Being new at this, I didn't know what the standard practice is.
Ugh, what a douche… kidding! Congratulations on your accomplishment, I can totally see why you'd be excited to show it off to the world. But before you do, there are a few things to keep in mind that have little to do with proper etiquette and more to do with not getting that fancy new license of yours taken away.
 
Before you do anything, check with your state board of accountancy directly as some have specific rules about this. On the AICPA side, they defer to the states (but you'll get in trouble with them if your state board determines you've broken the rules). The AICPA has an exposure draft outstanding with some new Interpretations that make clear use of the CPA designation is a state board issue. The proposals state the following and can be found in the ED here:
Text of Proposed New Interpretations Under Rules 501 and 502
501-11—Use of the CPA Designation
A member should refer to applicable state accountancy laws and board of accountancy rules and regulations for guidance regarding the use of the CPA designation. A member who fails to follow his or her state accountancy laws, rules, and regulations on use of the CPA designation would be considered to have used the CPA designation in a manner that is false, misleading, or deceptive and in violation of Rule 501, Acts Discreditable (AICPA, Professional Standards, ET sec. 501 par. .01).
 
502-6—Use of the CPA Designation
A member should refer to applicable state accountancy laws and board of accountancy rules and regulations for guidance regarding the use of the CPA designation. A member who fails to follow his or her state accountancy laws, rules, and regulations on use of the CPA designation would be considered to have used the CPA designation in a manner that is false, misleading, or deceptive and in violation of Rule 502, Advertising and Other Forms of Solicitation (AICPA, Professional Standards, ET sec. 502 par. .01).
All that to say you better clear it with your state board before you do anything just to be safe.
 
Chances are no one will report you for misusing the CPA on your cards (unless you are a fake and haven't been licensed) but better safe than sorry. I have seen CPA exam candidates add "CPA" to their email signatures as soon as they pass all four parts of the exam which would be a bigger issue considering they haven't actually been licensed at that point and are not technically CPAs until they meet the experience requirement as well. Just to be extra safe, you should wait until you have a certificate in your hands or official confirmation from your state board that you are, in fact, a full-fledged CPA and not just almost on your way to being one before you even consider adding CPA to your name anywhere, be it email, business cards or even LinkedIn.
 
Now, are you in public or private? That matters. If you're in public (a real firm, not a podunk firm), chances are no one in your office has CPA on their cards. Why? Perhaps because clients are stupid and don't realize that a non-CPA second year is really not all that different from a CPA second year; all it means is that the CPA was disciplined enough to complete the exam in a shorter frame of time than the non-CPA. You could see how this might get awkward with those dumb clients demanding only CPAs working on them. Or maybe it's that the firms want to make everyone seem equally skilled, who knows. On the other hand, if you are in private (which you probably aren't but might be heading to now that you got your experience out of the way), your CPA is really only valuable to your employer (and that's debatable since you don't technically need it) and you are not a practicing public accountant, so you don't need it there either.
 
The only time your business cards should say CPA on them is if you have your own practice, really. Here's the thing: it's about liability, not douchiness. I realize you're proud of your accomplishment and you should be but putting CPA on your cards or email signature really just opens you up for tricky situations where people might say "well, my friend the CPA said…" or "well my CPA said…" Unless you've got your own practice, you don't need that kind of heat, let your firm handle all that.
 
Express your true badassery by being a badass CPA, not slapping it all over your cards.

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