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Certified Payroll Clerk: Certification Requirements and Career Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a certified payroll clerk. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and certification requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

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In order to become a certified payroll clerk, you must an exam administered by the American Payroll Association. These professionals help ensure that employees are being paid correctly.

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Essential Information

Payroll clerks verify that employees are paid correctly and on time. Depending on the level of automation involved in a company's payroll setup, a payroll clerk's duties may include other clerical duties, such as calculating employee hours. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), payroll clerks may only need the equivalent of a high school diploma to find employment, since most of their training occurs while on-the-job. Certification can be earned in this profession by passing exams through the American Payroll Association. Individuals who enjoy making data comparisons, checking figures, and running financial reports may be drawn to this career path.

Required Education High school diploma or GED
Other Requirements On-the-job training
Certification Voluntary; tends to require 1.5-3 years' work experience in payroll, completion of some postsecondary courses and passing certification exams**
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% decrease for payroll and timekeeping clerks*
Average Salary (2015) $42,130 for payroll and timekeeping clerks*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **American Payroll Association.

Career Info

In addition to paying employees correctly and on time, payroll clerks calculate total pay for each employee based on hours an employee worked, state and federal taxes, overtime, insurance deductions, retirement plans and more. The amount of calculation varies depending on the amount of automation involved in a company's payroll system. Even though some employee hours are collected automatically, payroll clerks must check the data for discrepancies and correct paychecks as necessary. Payroll clerks also have to keep current on tax and labor laws to ensure their company is correctly computing payroll data.

Certification Options and Requirements

The American Payroll Association (APA) offers two types of professional certification for payroll clerks. Exams for these designations are administered at hundreds of locations across the country.

Fundamental Payroll Certification

Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) is open to anyone involved in the payroll profession, including entry-level workers. To pass the FPC exam, one must have knowledge of a number of payroll profession basics including compliance with government regulations, paycheck calculation and accounting knowledge. Passing the exam grants the Fundamental Payroll Certification designation, and recertification is required every three years.

Certified Payroll Professional

To achieve the status of a Certified Payroll Professional (CPP), individuals need to have experience in the payroll profession. There are three ways in which one may qualify to take the CPP exam:

  • Worked in the payroll profession for three of the past five years
  • Worked in the payroll profession for the past two years and have completed a block of courses administered by the APA
  • Worked in the payroll profession for the past 18 months, completed a block of courses administered by the APA, and achieved FPC status

While the CPP exam covers the same topics as the FPC exam, the questions are more detailed and thorough. The CPP exam also adds a section on payroll management and administration. CPP recertification is required every 5 years.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Jobs for payroll and timekeeping clerks are expected to decline by 3% from 2014-2024, according to the BLS. In 2015, the BLS reported an annual average salary of $42,130 for these professionals. That same data showed that payroll and timekeeping clerks who earned the highest average annual salaries worked in the following states: District of Columbia ($57,780); Alaska ($48,340); Massachusetts ($47,880); New Jersey ($46,850); and California ($46,710).

By passing American Payroll Association exams, you can earn Fundamental Payroll Certification or become a Certified Payroll Professional. This profession, which is facing a decline in job opportunities between 2014 and 2024, is for people with strong organization, mathematics and financial skills.

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