How Do I Become a Payroll Specialist?

Research what it takes to become a payroll specialist. Learn about the educational requirements, certification and job outlook 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 Payroll Specialist?

Payroll specialists, sometimes called payroll or timekeeping clerks, are financial clerks who handle employee paychecks. For each pay period, they collect each employee's hourly wage or salary information, and they make any necessary adjustments for absences or overtime. Once paychecks are printed, they check that they are accurate and make sure they get sent to employees on time.

More information can be found in the table below:

Education Required High school diploma; payroll certificate program (recommended)
Training Required On-the-job training related to internal policies and procedures
Key Responsibilities Input new employee information, verify scheduling information, administer proper compensation
Licensure/Certification Certified Payroll Professional (CPP), Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC)
Job Growth (2014-24) -3%* (payroll and timekeeping clerks)
Median Salary (2015) $41,000* (payroll and timekeeping clerks)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Should I Pursue to Become a Payroll Specialist?

Employers typically seek candidates who have a high school diploma; however, completing some post-secondary education can increase your advancement opportunities. Most employers will provide you with on-the-job training related to internal policies and procedures.

Community colleges offer short-term payroll certificate programs that cover courses such as computers, accounting, financial accounting and taxation. Another option is an associate's degree program in accounting or accounting technology. These programs provide training in payroll management, accounting principles and computer accounting systems.

The American Payroll Association (APA) offers online payroll courses, conferences, webinars and seminars. The APA also operates payroll-learning centers in San Antonio and Las Vegas. APA courses are typically short-term courses, many of them only two days in duration. The courses provide a foundation in accounting, compliance, legal issues and paycheck calculations.

How Can I Get Certified?

The APA offers the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) and the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) credentials. You'll need a minimum of 18 months of payroll work experience to qualify for CPP certification (www.americanpayroll.org). You can also qualify for the CPP credential if you hold the FPC credential, which is open to all applicants, regardless of education or experience. Although not required, it is recommended that you take some APA payroll courses before taking the FPC examination.

What Will I Do as a Payroll Specialist?

Payroll specialists perform a number of human resources tasks. You can expect to enter information for new employees into the company's payroll system. Once entered, you will verify the number of hours worked and the vacation and holiday time at the end of the payroll period. You will also monitor sick and personal leave. You can also expect to complete the process of calculating wages, deductions and taxes, and distributing paychecks.

How Do I Get Payroll Experience?

Many employers want payroll specialists with general office and customer service experience. If you attend a certificate program, you can contact your school's career placement office for job placement assistance. A career counselor may be able to place you in an internship or entry-level position. You can also contact temporary placement agencies to locate bookkeeping opportunities.

What Is the Career Outlook?

For the 2014-2024 decade, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that payroll and timekeeping clerk positions will decline by 3%. This is mainly because advancements in technology have made payroll tasks automated processes.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Rather than specializing in payroll, you could become a financial clerk with a focus on a different financial concern. For instance, as a brokerage clerk, your job would be to assist securities agents with the handling of a company's investments, such as stocks, bonds and commodities. The minimum educational requirement is a high school diploma. Alternatively, you could get a job as a claims and processing clerk at an insurance company. This position involves interviewing applicants, processing their claims, changing them when necessary and canceling them when requested. Like other financial clerks, claims and processing clerks need at least a high school diploma.

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