When you are deciding where to sit for your CPA exam, its not enough to just look at which state has the lowest exam costs and most accessibility; you must also consider whether it is a place where you would be happy living, possibly for the long haul.  There are a number of factors to consider, such as accessibility to friends and family, age demographics, and salary. Below, we have provided some useful information pertaining to the more pragmatic side of the equation.

By Salary

This is obviously one of the major attractions for most people who decide to take the CPA exam in the first place. Therefore, it makes sense that they would also want to know in which states they would be most likely to make their money go furthest.  

According to Indeed.com, the highest paying state is Alaska, which pays 21% above the national average.

The next above average states from 5%-14% above average are (from highest to lowest): Maryland, California, New Yok, Massachusetts, Washington and Virginia.

The lowest paying states of between -15~-18% of the median average (from highest to lowest paying) are: Kentucky, South Dakota, Arkansas, and Wyoming.

The lowest paying State is North Dakota, which pays around -20% below the median national average.

By cost of living

As we already know, gross salary is not a good indicator of net income. Many times, the cost of living in a state cancels out the higher- or lower-than-average salary that they appear to be earning. This is why we have done some research into where you can hope to stretch you income furthest.

The cost-of-living index used by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, has been compiled by taking into account the grocery, housing, utilities, transportation health and miscellaneous cost of things in each state and then calculating the cost-of-living index of each state based on the median average of 100.0. According to their data, the lowest cost of living index is held by Mississippi with an index of 85.1, while the highest is held by Hawaii at 185.6.

We have drawn a comparison of the earnings against cost of living per state by average CPA salary data per state from Indeed.com with the Missouri government’s cost of living index from the third quarter of 2021 and concluded the net earnings of the best and worst states to be as follows:

The top ten ranking states

StateCost of Living IndexCost of living – below or above average %Salary – below or above average %
1. Illinois90.5-9.5%+2%
2. Texas92.6-7.4%0%
3. Indiana91.1-8.9%-5%
4. Mississippi85.1-14.9%-11%
5. Oklahoma88.2-11.8%-8%
6. Louisiana92.8-7.2%4%
7. West Virginia90.1-9.9%-7%
8. Kansas86.9-13.1%-11%
9. Nevada103.3+3.3%-2%
10. Ohio92.9-7.1%-6%

The 10 lowest ranking states

StateCost of Living IndexCost of living – below or above average %Salary – below or above average %
1. Hawaii185.6+85.6%-5%
2. New York143.7+43.7%+9%
3. California146.9+46.9%+11%
4. Oregon127.5+27.5%-1%
5. Maine110.9+10.9%-10%
6. Rhode Island115.8+15.8%-5%
7. Vermont114.8+14.8%-5%
8. Connecticut119.5+19.5%+1%
9. New Jersey118.3+18.3%+1%
10. Massachusetts132.5+32.5%+9%

Job availability

Another important consideration on is whether there are enough job options available in the state you are considering working in. After all, you do not necessarily want to settle for whatever there is from the limited pool of available jobs. You will want to try working in the industry that interests you. According to NASBA, there were 669,130 actively licensed CPAs as of August 24, 2021, and as of November 2021, there were 66,313 CPA jobs listed on Indeed.com.

The 10 states with the most jobs listed were

  1. California – 8,589
  2. Texas – 5,985
  3. New York – 4,243
  4. Florida – 4,041
  5. Pennsylvania – 3,221
  1. Illinois – 3,170
  2. Ohio – 2,704
  3. Virginia – 2,380
  4. New Jersey – 2,096
  5. Georgia – 2,076

The 10 states with the fewest jobs listed were

  1. Wyoming – 72
  2. North Dakota – 86
  3. Vermont – 109
  4. South Dakota – 118
  5. Alaska – 137
  1. West Virginia – 172
  2. Maine – 190
  3. Montana – 219
  4. New Hampshire – 225
  5. Hawaii – 238

Happiness

This is another important, and often overlooked, consideration when choosing where to live. You want to feel comfortable and fulfilled in your life outside of work. What this means varies from person to person, so you need to consider what you personally need to feel satisfied, be it lots of outdoor spaces, the local weather conditions, community involvement or lack thereof, city versus town, a night life and so on, you need to be realistic and honest with what you need. An idea of the overall happiness of a state’s population could be a good place to start, before you begin looking at the best city for you.

According to the CNBC, these were America’s happiest states in 2020

  1. Hawaii
  2. Utah
  3. Minnesota 
  4. New Jersey
  5. Maryland
  1. California
  2. North Dakota
  3. Iowa
  4. Idaho 
  5. Connecticut

Conclusions

Interestingly, if we were to compare the happiness list with the top ten states of job availability, only California and New Jersey make the cut. Hawaii and North Dakota would then be the least plausible on this list. Additionally, of these ten Hawaii, North Dakota, California and New Jersey are also among the most expensive states in the US and none of the ten made it on to the list of most affordable states, so it seems that you would be getting what you pay for in those cases at least. On the other hand, of the CNBC’s least happy states, only Mississippi features among the most affordable states.