Center for Plain English Accounting: A Review

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing

Nov 19

Do you ever need a heavy-weight to assist you with a complex accounting issue? Or do you ever wonder how you’ll ever keep up with all the new FASB and AICPA standards? The Center for Plain English Accounting (CPEA) might be your answer. 

Last week I was working with another partner to resolve a nonprofit accounting issue. He had one opinion and I had another. Both were logical. Each appeared to be possible. But we needed a single answer. What did we do? We submitted our question to the CPEA. Within twenty-four hours we had an answer–in writing. (I would say who was right but I might embarrass myself.) And with it, we documented our consultation per our firm’s quality control document. Now, if the issue comes up in peer review, we have a solid answer for our position. 

Below I provide you with a review of the CPEA and whether the annual dues are worthwhile. 

Center for Plain English Accounting

Why Join the Center for Plain English Accounting?

My firm joined the CPEA about four years ago. What led to that decision? We had used the free AICPA Hotline service for years, and the experience was positive. But as you may know, the AICPA Hotline does not offer written responses. I would send the Hotline an email with an inquiry, and the AICPA would call me with an answer, usually within 24 hours. I would document that discussion in my engagement file. But, in the back of my mind, I always longed for a written response. Why? These were usually thorny, high-risk issues. And I wanted black-and-white written answers. Something I could bank on. This is part of what the CPEA does: they provide written answers to technical questions.

Center for Plain English Accounting Mission

The CPEA provides other services as well.

As a member, you receive a monthly report (see example below) covering a variety of accounting and auditing issues. You also receive emails with alerts and special reports about hot-topic issues. The last alert informed members about the delay in the effective date of the lease standard. These technical reports and alerts are accessible online, so you have a library of past articles to assist you. 

Here’s my latest monthly special report email.

center for plain english accounting

Additionally, the CPEA offers CPE at reasonable rates. These are online sessions, though they do offer an in-house option. 

In short, the CPEA provides information about evolving technical issues and answers to specific accounting and auditing questions.

I have found their staff to be accessible and easy to work with. They are some of the best in the business. 

Here’s an excerpt from their website regarding what they do:

The Center for Plain English Accounting (CPEA) is the AICPA’s national A&A resource center, sponsored by the Private Companies Practice Section. The CPEA’s team of experts assist members with accounting, auditing, attest, review, and compilation needs by sharing technical advice and guidance. The CPEA’s straight-forward and clear style of writing and speaking gives practitioners the opportunity to understand the applicability of the professional literature when preparing financial statements and when auditing, reviewing, and compiling those financial statements.

Cost of CPEA Membership

What’s the cost of joining the CPEA? $1,700 per year. So it’s not cheap. But I feel like my company receives its money’s worth. We pose several questions each year, and we receive timely written responses–every time. For firms that don’t have a national office (and most don’t), this is an excellent solution.

There are also smaller firm options. If you have five or fewer professionals, the annual fee is $795. If you are a sole practitioner, it is $450. Additionally, if you are not a member, you can pay a per-inquiry fee of $300. 

Here’s additional information about membership

Submitting Questions to the CPEA

How do you submit your questions to the CPEA? With an online form such as the following:


Worth the Money?

For me, the cost of membership has been worth the money. If your firm desires to keep up with evolving standards and needs written answers to technical questions, the CPEA is an excellent choice. 


About the Author

Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty-five years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention, The Why and How of Auditing, Audit Risk Assessment Made Easy, and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.

  • Charles Hall says:

    Glad to assist John.

  • John says:

    Thanks Charles!

  • Charles Hall says:

    Thanks Greg for your comment.

  • Greg Hagarty says:

    Good article. I have never heard of this entity. Thanks!

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