How to Become a Certified Payroll Processor

Feb 27, 2019

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. View article »

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Certified Payroll Processor

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

Career Requirements

Education Level High school diploma or equivalent
Experience 1-3 years of experience
Certification Voluntary
Key Skills Knowledge of payroll processing, auditing, employee benefits, garnishments, internal controls, accounting, financial reports, spreadsheet software, and accounting software like Quickbooks or Intuit Quicken
Salary $41,000 (2015 median salary for all payroll clerks)

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

Certified payroll professionals have met professional criteria and passed an exam demonstrating 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 key skills are:

  • Payroll processing
  • Auditing
  • Employee benefits
  • Garnishments
  • Internal controls
  • Accounting
  • Financial reports
  • Spreadsheet software
  • Accounting software, like Quickbooks or Intuit Quicken

In 2015, payroll clerks earned a median annual salary of $41,000, stated the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Steps

Now let's check out the career steps for certified payroll processors.

Step 1: Meet Certification Criteria

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

It's important to 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 recommended by certifying organizations.

Step 2: Take the Exam

Tests are administered at national testing centers, like those operated by Pearson VUE or Prometric. Topics vary by exam, but 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 required for this occupation, and duties include compiling payroll data, calculating employee deductions, and processing employee earnings statements.

Think about pursing 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 for Career Advancement

Completion of continuing education coursework or a test is required to remain certified. The APA's Certified Payroll Professional credential must be renewed every 5 years, and the organization's Fundamental Payroll Certification is valid for three years.

To recap, with the minimum experience and passing an exam, a certified payroll processor can earn about $41,000 a year to confirm employees' work hours, compute wages, and issue paychecks.

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