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Payroll Clerk Training and Certification Program Information

Learn about education and training options for would-be payroll clerks. Explore certification examination requirements as well as common program coursework. Browse the employment outlook and salary statistics for payroll clerks.

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Essential Information

Payroll clerks play a vital role in the smooth financial functioning of organizations of all sizes. Training for such a position is often obtained on the job, and many clerks only hold a high school diploma. Under direct supervision, trainees learn to process employee payroll spreadsheets and time cards, and they become familiar with related software.

However, a few community colleges and vocational schools offer payroll clerk certificate programs. Some certificate programs specifically prepare individuals for certification through the American Payroll Association.

Career Training Information for Payroll Clerks

Payroll clerks perform an array of financial and bookkeeping tasks, including tracking and tabulating employee wages, collecting and reviewing employee timecards and compiling payroll spreadsheets. The exact responsibilities for a payroll clerk vary widely depending on the size and nature of the organization. Many entry-level payroll clerks receive on-the-job training, working under a payroll or human resources manager while they become familiar with the entire payroll cycle. This may include becoming proficient with the financial software used to track employee hours and wages.

Education Prerequisites

While many small to mid-sized companies hire payroll clerks with nothing more than a high school diploma, other companies prefer to hire individuals who have completed a payroll clerk certificate program. Payroll clerk certificate programs usually consist of 2-5 courses and are offered by vocational or technical schools. Most of these programs 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).

Payroll Clerk Certification Programs

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 experience, working in a direct payroll capacity. The CPP certification is valid for five years, while the FPC is valid for three years (

Program Coursework

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. Below are listed some of the core concepts covered in both exams.

  • General ledger accounting
  • Payroll journal entry
  • Compensations and benefits
  • Involuntary deductions
  • Regulatory compliance

Exam Prerequisites

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 work experience and must also successfully complete a limited number of payroll courses offered by the APA.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of total available payroll clerk jobs will increase about as fast as average between 2010 and 2020. This limited growth is attributed in large measure to the increased use of automation and payroll software. The median salary for payroll clerks was $37,690 as of May 2012 (

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