Certified Payroll Specialist Career and Certification

Research what it takes to become a certified payroll specialist. Learn about typical job duties, required education and training along with salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Accounting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Certified Payroll Specialist?

Payroll specialists are financial clerks who specialize in employee compensation. Those who are certified have earned one of two possible professional designations from the American Payroll Association (APA). Payroll specialists collect employee time data and make adjustments in order to prepare paychecks for each pay period. They are responsible for making sure that all paychecks are accurate and that they are issued to employees on time.

The following table provides information for this career:

Education Required High school diploma and office experience (minimum); associate's degree or bachelor's degree (recommended)
Education Field of Study Business, accounting
Key Responsibilities Collect & verify timesheets, ensure compliance with federal and state compliance rules, prepare the payroll
Certification Multiple professional certification options available
Job Growth (2018-28) -3%* (payroll and timekeeping clerks)
Median Salary (2018) $45,050* (payroll and timekeeping clerks)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as a Certified Payroll Specialist?

As a payroll specialist, you oversee all of the activities that involve the payment of your company's employees. Your tasks could include collecting and verifying timesheets, ensuring that federal and state compliance rules are met and preparing the payroll each work period.

What Education Do I Need?

Although there are no formal education requirements to become a payroll specialist, employers typically accept applicants with a high school diploma and some office experience. An associate's or bachelor's degree program in business or accounting may provide you with knowledge specific to a payroll position. At any level in your education, you may want to enroll in computer courses, because much of the payroll data is compiled using specific software. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that many payroll and timekeeping employees learn on-the-job (www.bls.gov), but a degree could help you obtain an entry-level position where you could begin learning the specifics of the payroll field.

How Do I Become Certified?

There are multiple certifications offered by various third-party organizations. The National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB) offers the Certified Payroll Specialist (CPS) designation after you have completed one year of payroll work experience, commit to 16 hours of continuing professional education credit each year, comply with the NACPB conduct agreement and take the CPS examination with a passing score (www.nacpb.org).

Additionally, the American Payroll Association (APA) has a Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) and a Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) (www.americanpayroll.org). The FPC is for entry-level payroll workers and is awarded after you pass the exam, whereas you can take the CPP exam after meeting one of three education and experience criteria.

What Salary Could I Earn?

The BLS reports that payroll and timekeeping clerks made an average yearly wage of $46,110 in May 2018, with the 10th-90th percentile making a range of $29,170-$64,420. PayScale.com states that, in November 2019, entry-level payroll specialists in the 10th-90th percentile made $30,000-$51,000, while those with 5-10 years experience made $38,000-$67,000. PayScale.com also reports that as of November 2019, payroll specialists with the CPP designation made an average yearly wage of $68,000, those with the FPC title made $56,000.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As a financial clerk, instead of specializing in payroll, you could choose to focus your career in another area of the field. For instance, as a brokerage clerk, you would handle issues related to a company's securities and investments, such as stocks and bonds. Brokerage clerks only need a high school diploma, but they can advance to an officer position if they earn a bachelor's degree and a license. Another option is to become a billing clerk. In this job, you would calculate customers' bills and send them out in the mail. Depending on the company where you work, bill calculation could involve the evaluations of purchase orders or hospital records. The minimum educational requirement is a high school diploma.

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