How to Become a Certified Payroll Processor

Find out how to become a certified payroll processor. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in payroll processing.

Do I Want to Be a Certified Payroll Processor?

Payroll processors are financial clerks who are responsible for confirming employees' work hours, computing wages and issuing paychecks. They might also verify attendance and make sure that employees receive accurate pay in a timely manner. Many of their work hours may be spent sitting at a desk.

Job Requirements

Certified professionals in this field have met professional criteria and passed an exam that demonstrates their expertise. In some cases, they have logged a minimum number of years in the profession. A high school diploma is the minimum educational requirement to work in the field. The following table contains some common requirements for certified payroll processors:

Common Requirements
Degree Level High school diploma*
Experience 1-2 years of experience**
Certification Voluntary*
Key Skills Payroll processing, auditing, employee benefits, garnishments, internal controls, accounting, financial reports**
Computer Skills Spreadsheet software, accounting software like Quickbooks or Intuit Quicken**

Sources: *O*Net Online, ** job postings (October 2012)

Step 1: Meet Certification Criteria

Certification requirements vary by organization, but completion of an exam or set of exams is usually required. This is the only requirement for the American Payroll Association's (APA) Fundamental Payroll Certification and the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB) Payroll Certification. In some cases, applicants who are members of these organizations receive discounts on exam fees.

Success Tip:

  • Prepare for the exam. Each certifying organization provides exam preparation materials, such as workbooks and web-based classes. While preparation isn't necessarily required, it's typically recommended by certifying organizations.

Step 2: Take the Exam

Tests are often administered at national testing centers, like those operated by Pearson VUE or Prometric. Topics vary by exam but often include taxes, employee benefits, payroll accounting, wages, deductions and payroll systems.

Step 3: Work as a Certified Payroll Processor

Many payroll processors only hold a high school diploma and are trained on the job. Certification is voluntary but may lead to additional career opportunities. Basic math and organizational skills are usually required for this occupation, and typical duties include compiling payroll data, calculating employee deductions and processing employee earnings statements.

Success Tip:

  • Pursue advanced certification. A few certifications require 1-3 years of experience, including the APA's Certified Payroll Professional credential, the NACPB's Certified Public Bookkeeper designation and the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers Certified Bookkeeper credential.

Step 4: Maintain Certification

Completion of continuing education coursework or a test is usually required in order to remain certified. The APA's Certified Payroll Professional credential must be renewed every five years, and the organization's Fundamental Payroll Certification is valid for three years.

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