How to Become a Payroll Clerk in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a payroll clerk. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

Career Information At a Glance

Check out five steps toward becoming a payroll clerk, who makes sure that employees are compensated for their work accurately and efficiently. In addition to keeping accurate records of current employees' job activities and pay, you may also have to add all relevant data for new employees and remove data for former employees. The chart below can give you an overview of some aspects of the job.

Education RequiredHigh school diploma or equivalent
Training RequiredOn-the-job training
Key SkillsMath, communications, computer business applications, organizational
CertificationCertification is voluntary
Job Growth (2012-2022)11% (for all financial clerks)*
Average Salary (2014)$40,910 (for all payroll and timekeeping clerks)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Payroll Clerk?

A payroll clerk is a specialist who compiles, processes and records compensation information for an organization's employees. Your specific duties could include reviewing time sheets, time cards, work charts or other record-keeping media; verifying the accuracy of time data; calculating employee compensation for a given pay period; imposing deductions and adjustments for taxes, leave time or past payroll errors; and distributing paychecks. You could also enter new employees into your employer's payroll system, update any changes to their information or status and remove those who have retired or left the organization.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

In many instances a high school diploma is sufficient for employment, according to O*Net OnLine (www.onetonline.org). Figures from O*Net OnLine show about 47% of clerks have no more than a high school diploma or GED (General Educational Development) diploma. High school courses in math, computers and business could help you develop the knowledge and skills you'll need to adapt to the position.

Step 2: Consider Earning a Certificate

Although clerks often learn on the job, community colleges and vocational training schools offer payroll accounting clerk certificate programs that could teach you how to process payrolls and maintain a payroll system. The use of standard business productivity applications such as spreadsheets, word processors and databases is also covered. The American Payroll Association (APA) offers a certification program that could help to boost your chances of finding a job (www.americanpayroll.org).

Step 3: Obtain a Job

Accounting and bookkeeping firms, tax preparation firms, payroll services firms, local government agencies, employment agencies and elementary and secondary schools are the primary employers of payroll clerks, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). About 166,400 people worked as payroll and timekeeping clerks in 2014. From 2012-2022 employment for financial clerks was projected to increase by 11%. The average salary for payroll and timekeeping clerks in May 2014 was $40,910.

Step 4: Consider Certification

Certification is available from the APA at two levels: the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) and the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP). Both credentials require passing scores on an examination.

The FPC is the APA's entry-level credential. Eligibility is open to anyone who wants to take the FPC exam. It will test your knowledge of worker classifications, labor standards and employment tax regulations. To earn the CPP credential you'll need either three years of work experience or two years of work experience and proof that you completed APA-approved courses. Another route to CPP certification would be to obtain FPC certification, clock 18 months of work experience and complete CPP courses. The CPP exam will test your knowledge in six relevant areas, including core payroll concepts, legal compliance, paycheck calculation and processing systems.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

You have at least two options for career advancement, especially if you earned a certificate. For a more diverse set of duties and responsibilities, you could consider transitioning to a position as an administrative assistant. If you enjoy working with numbers, you could consider earning a bachelor's degree in accounting and becoming an accountant. Colleges and universities might allow you to transfer some or all of the credits you earned in a certificate program to an accredited bachelor's degree program.

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