For those interested in a career in bookkeeping, there are a few options available. Bookkeepers, accounting clerks and accountants are all similar in their focus but work with different aspects of accounting and a business's financial accountability.
Bookkeeping programs are usually available at the certificate or diploma level, though associate's programs in accounting may cover similar topics. An accounting associate's program includes classes in the practical and theoretical aspects of accounting, such as financial accounting, cost accounting, managerial accounting, introduction to business and federal taxation. Some associate's degree programs may offer students the option of completing an occupational accounting program or a transfer accounting program.
|Career Titles||Bookkeeper||Accounting Clerk||Accountant|
|Education Requirements||High school diploma or equivalent|| High school diploma or equivalent;
Some postsecondary training recommended
|Bachelor's degree or higher|
|Licensure/Certification||Voluntary certification||Voluntary certification||Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensure required for some positions|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||-8%||-8%||+11%|
|Average Salary (2015)||$38,990||$38,990||$75,280|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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An associate's degree in accounting provides good preparation for pursuing a career as a bookkeeper. Trustworthiness, attention to detail, and strong communication skills are important attributes of a successful bookkeeper. Although earning an associate's degree in occupational accounting will help students secure employment as bookkeepers or accounting clerks, accountants often require further education and certification.
Most organizations use bookkeepers to monitor financial transactions. Bookkeepers use ledgers and spreadsheets to verify what bills have been paid and which customers still owe money. Most professionals collect the financial data to create reports for an organization. Bookkeepers may also be in charge of administering payroll, purchasing new inventory, or sending out company invoices.
Technically, many employers only require bookkeeper applicants to hold the minimum of a high school diploma, because a lot of duties are taught on-site. Some employers may prefer to hire individuals who already hold associate degrees and who have received training with different bookkeeping software programs, but this varies significantly.
For the most part, certification remains voluntary for this profession, although credentialed workers may have more job opportunities. The American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) awards the Certified Bookkeeper (CB) designation to candidates who meet their requirements, which include at least two years of bookkeeping experience. The CB credential is awarded after an applicant successfully completes a 4-part examination. The certification is valid for a period of three years. Recertification involves the completion of continuing education hours.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that open positions for bookkeeping clerks would decrease by 8% between 2014 and 2024. Salary statistics collected by the BLS in 2015 showed that the average annual salary earned by these workers was $38,990.
Although bookkeepers and accounting clerks have similar duties, the main difference is the size of the organizations that employ these professionals. For the most part, bigger businesses use accounting clerks. Some accounting clerks have very specialized duties, such as accounts receivable clerks who focus their efforts on monitoring and acquiring an organization's income.
Since accounting clerks work at large organizations, most employers prefer candidates to have some postsecondary training, such as associate's degrees or higher. Previous job experience as a bookkeeper may also prove useful, although many accounting clerks go through several months of on-the-job training, so previous experience isn't always required. Certification remains voluntary, although accounting clerks who specialize in any particular area, such as accounts receivable clerks, may wish to pursue credentials that show off their particular area of expertise.
The BLS reported that job growth for accounting clerks during the 2014-2024 decade would decrease by 8%. Accounting clerks earned an average annual salary of $38,990 in 2015, per the BLS.
The main goal of most accountants is to verify that an organization has followed all financial regulations in regards to tax preparation and reporting. To do so, accountants dig through financial records and analyze all the data. If there are discrepancies, accountants make reports and recommendations on what organizations can do to rectify these errors. There are several different types of accountants, including government accountants, public accountants, private accountants, and forensic accountants. Each specialization has slightly different goals in mind as they review financial information.
To become an accountant, individuals will require the minimum of bachelor's degrees. However, accountants who submit paperwork to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must be certified public accountants (CPAs), and to become a CPA requires 150 units of coursework, which is 30 units more than a traditional bachelor's degree. There are specialized accounting degree programs that combine a bachelor's degree program with a master's degree program in order to meet the 150 unit credits requirement for becoming a CPA, and these programs take at least five years or more to complete. Upon meeting education requirements, CPA applicants must pass a four-part exam. Once certified, CPAs have to maintain their certification through taking continuing education courses.
Job predictions for accountants indicate that open positions are expected to increase by 11% from 2014 to 2024, per the BLS. There will also be more job opportunities for CPAs compared to those without this credential. As of 2015, the average annual salary earned by accountants was $75,280.
An associate's degree is a good start to pursue a career in bookkeeping and accounting, although accountants will require a bachelor's degree plus more schooling to become certified accountants. Bookkeeping careers can be found in businesses of all sizes with varying responsibilities, from monitoring financial transactions and overseeing accounts to ensuring a company is compliant with government and tax regulations.