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What Is the Job Description of a Payroll Specialist?

Research what it takes to become a payroll specialist. Learn about the necessary skills, required education and training, including voluntary certification, and salary information, to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a Payroll Specialist?

This career falls under the same industry as financial clerks, who work in several settings including medical offices and banks. Financial clerks usually perform billing transactions, maintain monetary records, calculate financial assets, and assist customers. More specifically, payroll specialists maintain records and oversee the compensation of employees. Their duties typically include managing payrolls, verifying employees' working hours, making sure paychecks are given to employees in a timely manner, and confirming that each paycheck is correct. Sometimes payroll specialists will modify work payments if there are any inaccuracies.

The following table presents an overview for this career:

Education Required High school diploma (minimum), certificate program recommended
Education Field of Study Business, mathematics, accounting
Key Skills Understanding of mathematics and accounting, detail-oriented, organization, trustworthy
Certification Various professional certification options
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 Job Duties Do Payroll Specialists Have?

Payroll specialists provide a number of accounting and time-keeping services. As a payroll specialist, you might confirm employee payroll information, such as time and attendance, personal leave and vacation. In some cases, you'll enter employee time and attendance into a company's time-keeping software and resolve any problems that arise. Your job duties can also involve managing compensation paperwork for new hires and issuing paychecks.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipated a 3% decline in payroll specialist positions between 2018 and 2028. Bookkeeping and other accounting support positions were expected to absorb the duties of payroll specialists due to advancements in technology and greater productivity demands on office staff. The BLS reported that bookkeepers perform similar duties to those of payroll specialists, such as accounting for payroll, managing the general ledger and monitoring invoices, petty cash accounts and bank deposits.

What Skills Do I Need?

You'll need to have a firm understanding of mathematics and a basic knowledge of accounting to become a payroll specialist. Being detail-oriented and organized will benefit you, since these traits can help you catch errors in documentation. As a payroll specialist, you must be trustworthy and ethical because you work with sensitive personal information, such as Social Security numbers and medical documentation.

What Training Will I Need?

Employers prefer payroll specialists with at least a high school diploma, according to the BLS. You might learn the specific skills for the job through on-the-job training. However, you can obtain training as a payroll specialist through certificate programs and courses offered at community colleges, universities and professional organizations.

Once you've gained enough experience, you can qualify for the American Payroll Association's Certified Payroll Professional credential. If you perform payroll duties as a bookkeeper, you could also earn the Certified Bookkeeper designation through the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers. Certification is optional, but might improve your marketability and earning potential.

What Could I Earn?

In May 2018, the BLS reported that payroll and timekeeping clerks earned an average annual wage of $46,110. Your salary can vary depending on the industry in which you work. For example, those who worked in employment services made a yearly average salary of $43,980, while individuals employed at local government offices and agencies averaged $48,810 per year.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Working as a bank teller is very similar to being a payroll specialist. With a high school diploma, you can work at a bank withdrawing and depositing money, cashing money orders or checks, accepting payments for loans, and helping customers with bank account concerns. Bill and account collectors also usually have a high school education and some on-the-job training. This job requires you to collect funds from people who are late paying bills owed to a creditor. Account collectors typically notify customers about debt via phone, help them follow a better repayment plan, and assist them throughout the collection process.