Online Payroll Accounting Degree and Certification Programs

Apr 19, 2021

Essential Information

Individuals seeking careers in payroll accounting may pursue online associate's or bachelor's degree programs in general accounting. These programs may include courses in payroll accounting and are commonly offered fully online from community colleges and universities. There are some payroll accounting programs that cover less material than the general accounting programs and typically result in a certificate or diploma, not a degree.

Associate's degree programs in accounting are offered fully online, and they take two years to complete with a full-time course load. However, it is important to note that they do not prepare students for professional certification.

Accounting Associate's Degree

Many schools offer an online associate's degree program in accounting. These programs provide students with a general understanding of accounting principles and include specialized courses in payroll accounting. This field is typically considered a science and programs typically award an Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Science.

Program and Training Information

An associate's degree in accounting takes about two years to earn. Students access a virtual classroom to receive assignments, read lectures, analyze accounting case studies and participate in discussions. Class work is completed entirely online through journals, worksheets, accounting ledgers and school-specific interfaces. Internet chat rooms, discussion boards and e-mail may also be utilized.

Students need a computer and basic computer competency skills to participate in online courses. Access to high-speed Internet is generally required to upload courses and to submit assignments.

Course Topics

Program coursework covers basic accounting principles, payroll protocol and business fundamentals. Students gain an understanding of wage calculation, payroll laws, financial statements, accounting ethics and economics.

General Accounting

Students receive training in general accounting theory. Topics include payments, worksheet preparation, annual financial statement, sales, payroll and bookkeeping.

Managerial Accounting

This course provides students with foundational knowledge in accounting as it relates to the business environment. Core elements include cost allocation, financial assets, financial liabilities, capital and financial statement analysis.

Payroll Accounting

The laws governing payroll accounting are central to this course. Students learn about the laws affecting federal income tax withholdings, employer practices, payroll and Social Security.

Accounting Bachelor's Degree

Accountants specializing in payroll management generally possess at least a bachelor's degree. At this level, accounting programs may be offered as a concentration or complement to a degree in business since these two fields are closely related. In addition to courses in financial accounting, degree programs typically require students to take some business courses such as management theory, organizational ethics and business communication. These programs develop a student's technological, financial and critical thinking skills.

Program and Training Information

This 4-year program is offered entirely online. Students complete general education requirements, core accounting courses and electives through a learning platform on the Web. Assignments, quizzes and exams are posted online. Students log in to attend class and submit assignments by uploading them to a designated area.

Most schools require applicants to have ongoing access to high-speed Internet. A home or office computer and personal e-mail address are usually mandatory. Candidates are expected to be proficient with this equipment and related skills (such as typing and browsing the Web).

Course Topics

Program curriculum exposes students to general business techniques and core accounting principles. Topics of study include business information systems, payroll systems, accounting ethics and economics. Classes span levels and facets of financial accounting.

Financial Accounting

This class familiarizes students with various accounting reporting processes and transactions. They study payroll accounting, cash flows, assets, liabilities and investments.


Internal controls, financial reports and accounting systems are analyzed in this course. Students learn how to plan and conduct an internal audit, collect evidence and provide documentation.

Cost Accounting

Students develop an understanding of cost systems. Areas covered include budgeting, inventory control, capital assets and relevant costing.

Career Information

Individuals with an associate's degree in accounting may be qualified for positions such as accounting clerk, payroll specialist, bookkeeping assistant and payroll technician. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, payroll and timekeeping clerks earned a median annual wage of $47,020 as of May 2020. As payroll services become more reliant on advanced technology, career opportunities may increase for those with knowledge of payroll software.

Those holding bachelor's degrees in accounting may find employment as bookkeepers, auditors, accountants and payroll accountants. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment opportunities for accountants and auditors are expected to increase by 4% from 2019-2029. The BLS also reported that accountants and auditors earned a median annual wage of $73,560 as of May 2020 (

Continuing Education Information

Individuals may pursue a bachelor's degree in accounting. Related fields of study include finance, business management and economics.

Graduate-level accounting programs are available online. Individuals may also pursue certification through agencies such as American Payroll Association. This organization offers payroll accounting certifications, such as the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) and the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC). Those seeking career advancement may be interested in becoming Certified Public Accountants; CPA candidacy varies by state but typically requires a bachelor's degree and post-baccalaureate coursework in accounting.

To summarize, payroll accounting is typically offered as a topic of study within online associate's and bachelor's degree programs in general accounting. Over the course of these programs, students get a general education and complete basic business coursework so that they can get entry-level jobs in the financial industry or continue along the educational track to becoming a certified public accountant.

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