My state requires four hours of ethics CPE every three years, and I’m coming up on those three years. Which means the hunt for those four credits has begun.
Ethics CPE credits tend to be pricey, but if you don’t have the budget for them, free ethics CPE courses do exist. They’re just very limited.
Here’s everything you need to know about the ethics CPE requirement and where you can find free resources.
What is Ethics CPE?
As you’re probably already aware, continuing professional education (or CPE) is required for CPAs to maintain their license. It supports professional development in accounting professionals and equips them with the skills and competency needed to better serve their clients and the public.
While CPE requirements vary by state, the typical average is about 40 CPE hours a year. Most states also incorporate ethics requirements, which usually include a minimum number of ethics CPE hours and passing an ethics exam.
So why are there specific CPE requirements dedicated to the field of ethics?
It’s necessary because a strong ethical foundation is considered vital in helping CPAs maintain integrity and objectivity.
It encourages accountants to exercise prudent judgment and to protect public interest. It also grounds them in transparency and honesty in their financial and tax reporting, bookkeeping and consulting, among other responsibilities.
Common topics covered in ethics CPE include:
- Understanding independence rules
- Ethical decision-making
- Professional skepticism
- Corporate culture
By following ethical practices, CPAs can maintain their status as trusted professionals and advisors to the public.
Do Free Ethics CPE Exist?
Free ethics CPE are not as readily available as other CPE topics.
Even CPA Academy, a reliable source of frequent and free CPE resources, charges for their live and self-study ethics CPE webinars. (Although at $20 a credit, it’s still affordable.)
While free live webinars in the ethics field of study are rare, there are several self-study options available.
Free Ethics Self-Study CPE Courses from AICPA
AICPA offers two free self-study courses in the field of behavioral ethics. Both are intermediate-level courses for 2 CPE credits each, and they’re free to both AICPA members and non-members.
- Oversight of Corporate Culture: A Core Asset in Driving Performance focuses on culture in the workplace. This self-study course highlights practices on assessing and strengthening a company’s corporate culture and detecting fraud and misconduct.
- A New Focus on Corporate Culture: How to Assess Culture and Why explores how to set the right tone at the top of an organization to strengthen ethics and compliance. This self-study course shares how to analyze qualitative and quantitative data to effectively assess company culture.
Before you commit to these self-study options, check your state ethics CPE requirements. For instance, New York state only accepts professional ethics CPE, and behavioral ethics are not accepted as a substitute for professional ethics.
Because some jurisdictions have state-specific requirements, you’ll want to confirm whether your state will accept these credits.
Free State-Specific Ethics CPE Courses from Paychex and Wolters Kluwer
Paychex and Wolters Kluwer have partnered up to provide free self-study CPE courses, including a few options for the ethics requirement.
The free state-specific ethics courses are only available in certain states. A Basic Ethics Guidebook offers 4 CPE credits in the field of regulatory ethics. The courses cover basic ethical frameworks and state-specific content for the following states:
- New York
For CPAs licensed in other states, there’s an option for you too. Paychex and Wolters Kluwer also offer an ethics CPE self-study course in the field of regulatory ethics that you can take.
Regulatory Ethics Guidebook for CPAs: AICPA Code of Professional Conduct covers basic ethical frameworks and rules governing CPA practices and responsibilities. This self-study course also offers 4 CPE credits, but (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) make sure you check with your state to confirm whether these credits will be accepted.
How to Gain Access to the Paychex CCH CPELink Center
Gaining access to these self-study options can be tricky if you don’t know where to look. I went through some trial and error figuring out which portals to register for and how to find the free resources.
The trick is to register through the Paychex CCH CPELink Center. Paychex and Wolters Kluwer both have their own separate portals with CPE resources, but it’s the Paychex CCH CPELink Center that will activate the discount program that allows you to access these courses for free.
Follow these step-by-step instructions for free ethics CPE:
- Create an account with the Paychex CCH CPELink Center. This registration will give you access to the Wolters Kluwer CPE database and to the Paychex discount program, which allows you to take these courses for free. Keep in mind you’ll need to enter an address to complete the registration.
- Go to their Ethics CPE catalog.
- Select the state in which you’re seeking CPE credits, and click “Continue.”
- Register for the self-study course you want to take. There should be no fee for these courses since you’ve signed up for the Paychex discount program. If you see a fee associated with the self-study courses, check to see if you’re logged in. (You’ll see live webinar options on this page as well, but they’re not included as part of the discount program.)
- You should see the Paychex discount applied when you check out. You will not be required to enter credit card details.
Meeting the Ethics CPE Requirements
There’s a good reason ethics CPE are a requirement in most states. These ethics CPE hours serve as a reminder that maintaining independence and integrity is a priority in the accounting profession.
Most CPAs likely have already taken at least one hour of ethics CPE. Share your recommendations for ethics CPE resources in the comments below.