Payroll clerks play a vital role in the smooth financial functioning of organizations of all sizes. They may perform an array of financial and bookkeeping tasks, including tracking and tabulating employee wages, collecting and reviewing employee time cards, and compiling payroll spreadsheets.
Training for a payroll clerk position is often obtained on the job, and many clerks only hold a high school diploma. Under direct supervision of a payroll or human resources manager, trainees learn how to perform the skills and operate the software needed to carry out their duties. However, some community colleges and vocational schools offer payroll clerk certificate programs. These programs have few, if any, prerequisites for admission. They are also often available online and take less than one year to complete.
Payroll Clerk Professional Certificate Program
While many small to mid-sized companies hire payroll clerks with no previous formal training, other companies prefer to hire individuals who have completed a payroll clerk certificate program. Most of these programs consist of 2 to 5 courses and are designed so that upon completion, certificate candidates are ready to take one of the two professional payroll certification exams offered by the American Payroll Association (APA). Courses covered in the program include:
- General ledger accounting
- Payroll journal entry
- Compensations and benefits
- Involuntary deductions
- Regulatory compliance
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of total available payroll and timekeeping clerk jobs will decrease by 3% between 2014 and 2024. This decline is attributed in large measure to the increased use of automation and payroll software. The median annual salary for payroll and timekeeping clerks was $41,000 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov).
Continuing Education Information
The APA offers two separate levels of payroll certification. The Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) is a certification exam open to all applicants and is designed for individuals with no previous payroll experience. The second certification exam is the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP). The CPP is designed for payroll professionals who have at least 18 months of experience, working in a direct payroll capacity. The CPP certification is valid for five years, while the FPC is valid for three years (www.americanpayroll.org). While the CPP exam is a more in-depth test requiring greater payroll expertise and knowledge, both exams cover many of the same basic payroll concepts.
Exam prerequisites vary depending on the certification sought. There are no prerequisites to take the FPC exam. Anyone is eligible to take this exam, regardless of age, education level or previous work experience. As mentioned above, there are eligibility requirements for the CPP exam. Individuals who have been employed in a professional payroll capacity for at least three out of the last five years automatically qualify to take the CPP exam. Individuals with less than three years of work experience must show that they have at least 18 months of work experience and must also successfully complete a limited number of payroll courses offered by the APA.
To summarize, payroll clerk certificate programs equip students with the administrative skills needed to ensure that employees are punctually compensated and payroll data are accurate. After finishing the program, students can obtain certification from the APA and become payroll professionals.