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Payroll Accountant: Job Duties, Education Requirements and Career Info

A payroll accountant requires some formal education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Though the specific duties of a payroll accountant may vary depending on the sector and type of employer, the most common task involves processing payments. A payroll accountant with more experience may find work that involves conducting internal audits. Work for payroll accountants can be found in the public and private sectors.

Essential Information

A payroll accountant processes payments to employees in a timely manner. There are multiple levels of payroll accountants, and, consequently, varying levels of education and experience are required. At minimum, a quality understanding of math and basic accounting principles is expected; however, while an associate's degree may be sufficient for entry-level positions, most payroll accountants hold bachelor's degrees in accounting. Professional certifications are available as well and may boost a payroll accountant's career.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in accounting is the standard, but an associate's degree is sufficient for some positions.
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 11% for all accountants and auditors*
Median Salary (2016) $50,738 for payroll accountants**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **PayScale.com

Job Duties of a Payroll Accountant

The primary function of a payroll department is to process payment to employees. Thus, depending on the size of the company or organization, a payroll accountant's duties can range from basic office responsibilities to accurately maintaining multiple payroll accounts. But the preparation of ledger entries with earnings and deductions is the basis of this position, as the American Payroll Association (APA) explains (www.americanpayroll.org). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) and the APA, some of the duties expected to be performed by a payroll accountant include:

  • Ensure paychecks are correct and delivered on time
  • Calculate salary and overtime
  • Prepare tax reports
  • Update new hires and terminations in payroll system

At higher levels, payroll accountants may need to perform internal audits as well as prepare information for external audits. Another major component of this position is the adherence to federal, state and local tax laws.

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Education Requirements

This position typically requires a bachelor's degree in accounting. Most major universities offer such a degree program. Additionally, a Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) or Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) may be desired by an employer. At entry-level positions, such as a payroll assistant or payroll practitioner, experience within the field can suffice in place of a degree. In these positions, an associate's degree may also be adequate for employment.

Career Info

This position can be held within any entity that is paying employees and has some form of payroll department. Thus, payroll accountants can expect to find work in the private and public sectors, as well as in nonprofits, educational institutions and businesses of varying sizes.

Salary Information

In May 2015, the median salary for all accountants and auditors was $67,190, according the BLS (www.bls.gov). Salary is highly dependent on the accountant's position, title and responsibilities. According to PayScale.com, the salary range for a payroll accountant was between $35,374 and $67,791 in January 2016.

Job Outlook

The BLS predicted faster than average job growth for accountants and auditors in general between 2014-2024, with an expected 11% increase in job opportunities. Over 142,000 job openings were expected to arise in the accounting field over that decade.

Payroll accountants work within payroll departments processing and managing employee paychecks and payments. A bachelor's degree is the usual education choice for this position, but there are associate's degrees that can suffice for employment. Payroll accountants should have some experience in accounting when looking for a payroll accountant position, but certification and degrees can lead to positions with higher responsibility and better pay.

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