What is a CPA?

CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant, although the term is much narrower than the role many CPAs fulfill. Certified Professional Advisor, as a leading CPA once proposed is probably more apropos. Because of the stringent requirements for education, experience and testing, most CPAs do indeed live up to the higher level of respect they enjoy compared to other professionals. Their keen ability to analyze data, record it, interpret and compare it, make them a critical ally in many if not most important personal and business decisions. They tend to be more objective and independent, as a result of their training as an auditor.

In order to qualify to sit for the certified public accounting exam in Wisconsin, you must have earned 150 credit hours from an accredited college with an emphasis in accounting and have been granted a bachelor degree.

Upon passing the exam, application for a license can be made. Applicants for licensure must meet the appropriate experience requirements and pass a comprehensive ethics exam.

CPAs are licensed by the respective agency responsible for professional licensing in their state. In Wisconsin, this is the Department of Regulation and Licensing. Not all CPAs are currently working in public accounting firms. There are over 660,000 CPAs in private, public, and government employment as of September 2014.

CPAs may maintain an "active" status license if they meet the mandatory minimum continuing education requirements of their respective state. In some states a CPA may be granted an "inactive" status without jeopardizing their license.

The AICPA and the state CPA societies are not responsible for the licensing of the CPA profession. Membership in these organizations is voluntary.

CPAs are relied upon so much not only because of their keen analytical and decision-making skills but also their objectivity, integrity and dedication to service. Many CPAs provide services well beyond accounting, auditing, and reporting. Some are business and management consulting, information technology consulting, tax planning and preparation, personal financial planning, valuation services, elder care services, and compliance. The consumer often expects a CPA to be proficient at many specializations, even those indirectly related to the traditional role of an accountant.

How is a CPA different from an accountant?

A CPA is different from an accountant in several significant ways but most importantly, credentials. An accountant is a person who is not licensed, possibly has no formal education and no professional affiliation. A CPA has passed an exam, completed 150 hours of college level study acquiring a bachelor degree and completed an experience requirement.

Do it yourself?

In many matters, you simply cannot do it yourself. It would take too long to acquire the necessary level of knowledge and skills. But in many matters, you may be able to do it alone - whether it is accounting and recordkeeping, preparing income tax returns, developing internal controls and procedures, establishing a valuation, starting or restructuring a business, setting personal financial plans, making financial decisions, or a thousand other money-related matters.

Professional Affiliations

Wolfgang Ritter CPA, S.C. is a member of the Wisconsin Institute of Certified Public Accountants (WICPA) and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

To maintain membership in the WICPA we must maintain certain standards and undergo a peer review every three years. A peer review is a review of our office policies, procedures, and workproducts in all three classifications of engagements. All CPAs are required to complete 120 hours of continuing professional education within the three year period.

Membership in the AICPA requires a peer review, continuing professional education, and adhering to the AICPA Bylaws and Code of Professional Conduct.