From Armed Forces Accountant to Civilian CPA


If you’ve been serving as an accountant in the armed forces and are considering continuing your career as a civilian in the United States, there are some actions you may need to take in order to ensure the skill set you have developed does not go to waste. If you did not obtain your CPA license before entering the service, this is one of the first things you need to pursue in order to solidify your accounting career as a civilian.

Despite your experience of serving as an accountant in the armed forces and regardless of which government arm of accountancy you belong to -- be it Army Navy or Air Force -- in order to practice public accounting in the United States, you will need to obtain your CPA license. You can continue performing services as an accountant without obtaining your CPA, however this will limit your career opportunities and job prospects may be fewer.

In order to sit for the CPA exam as well as earn your CPA license, you will need to meet a few requirements. For regular non-service members requirements do vary by state; however, for returning servicemembers compared to normal non-servicemembers, the qualifications to sit for the exam and apply for licensure are the same. Specific questions should be directed to your state board of accountancy. In most cases, you must have at least 150 hours of education, including core accounting courses. This usually equates to at least a bachelor’s degree. You will also need to pass all four sections of the CPA Exam prior to applying for licensure. Depending on your state, you may also need to complete an ethics course, meet experience requirements or fulfill other obligations such as residency and age. It is a common misconception that successfully passing each section of the CPA exam automatically qualifies you for licensure. There is in fact a difference between applying for the CPA exam and applying for CPA licensure.

Arguably the hardest part of this process is passing the exam itself. Considered to be one of the toughest professional exams in the country, it can take up to 18 months and 500 hours of studying to pass all four sections of the exam. Even if you’re still in the armed forces but are planning for when your tour of duty is completed, you can start a CPA review course now. It’s actually suggested since there is so much in depth preparation necessary to pass the exam.   Though becoming a dedicated member of our armed forces is a challenge that most never dream of, separating from your branch of service and returning home can be a challenge as well. Where do you look for work? Who is hiring? Who can help guide you? Regardless of your Military Operational Status (MOS), Navy Rank, or Air Force Service Code (AFSC), rest assured there are programs available that can help you and your family transition to civilian life. If you haven’t discovered it yet, the Transition Assistance Program is designed to give separating military personnel an opportunity to understand the careers available to them upon separation.

For service members that were injured while on duty and are now disabled as a result, you qualify for the Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP). This includes a three-day TAP workshop plus additional individual instruction to help determine employment readiness and to address the special needs requirements of disabled veterans.

Employment Rates and Salaries

The employment rate for CPAs in 2011 was extremely high. To be exact, 96.5% of all CPAs were employed while only 3.5% were unemployed compared to the national average unemployment rate of 9.1% at the time. Per, the current collective unemployment rate in the U.S. is 8.2% but for accountants and CPAs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has determined a 10-year growth rate for the CPA profession at 22% which is much higher than the average for all other careers. In fact, public accounting firms cite hiring new staff one of their major concerns for 2012. This is simply great news for returning service members looking for employment within the accounting industry

The average salary for college graduates in 2011 was $41,701. However, according to the 2012 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey those who graduated with a degree in accounting averaged $50,500. Those who go on to earn their CPA license can expect a median salary of $73,800, with top salaries around $124,000. As you can see, upon returning home, obtaining your CPA designation is key.


Grant Webb works with Bisk CPA Review. Knowing the differences between applying for the CPA exam and applying for CPA licensure is key for returning service members in search of employment in the accounting industry. Grant is proud to support members of the U.S. Armed Forces. For more information and support contact Bisk Education directly at 800-874-7599.

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Military Transition