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Why the 120/150 Rule Matters and Why It Should Be Changed

Unless you are in one of the handful of states that allow you to sit for the CPA exam with 120 units, either you went the overachiever route and got a Masters in Accounting or you did what any good slacker would do and took an extra 30 units in crap like basket weaving and German to fulfill your state’s 150 unit requirement. If you are in the second group, you probably forgot most of what you learned in advanced accounting by the time you got those extra 30 units in electives. That sort of story is exactly why the 120/150 rule matters and why the industry needs to look at its effectiveness. Can you really protect the public interest any better if it takes you three tries to get through the CPA exam because you have been taking night school French to meet your state’s 150 rule while working in public to pay off your student loans?

The Maryland Association of CPAs supports the 120 rule for future CPAs in Maryland as it allows for accountants to sit for the exam when their college experience is still fresh in their minds. No one is suggesting we do away with the 150 rule (though don’t tell California that) but instituting the 120 rule around the country means releasing our accountants from a burdensome and, frankly, silly rule that dictates they must have a Masters level education before sitting for an entry level exam. Does that make sense to anyone?

A few years back, the Virginia Board of Accountancy realized that the 150 rule was actually making them lose CPA exam candidates, who were taking the exam in other states with less stringent requirements. Remember, because the exam is a uniform examination, you can take any other state’s exam in your state if you meet that state’s requirements (residency in the state being a big one but many states allow out-of-staters to sit for their exam). Said the Virginia Society of CPAs before the rule was approved by the governor, “the Commonwealth doesn’t want to lose its valuable CPA candidates and wants to retain those Exam takers. In addition, reducing the requirement would have a positive impact on Virginia’s budget.” In May of 2009, Governor Tim Kaine signed emergency legislation allowing Virginia CPA exam candidates to sit for the exam with just 120 hours.

NASBA issued a draft in 2008 that stated “we have found no evidence of detriment to the public interest in those states allowing candidates to sit for the CPA examination at less than 150 hours of education and later fulfilling the 150 hours.”

We agree. We also feel the 150 rule is a bit arbitrary and silly (see reference to basket weaving classes above, please let us know what bullshit courses you took to meet your jurisdiction’s 150 rule in the comments) but will save that discussion for another day.

We sincerely hope the boards of accountancy are listening.