Certified Payroll Professional Education Requirements and Career Info

Sep 09, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a certified payroll professional. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

Certified payroll professionals deal with multiple areas of the payment process for business staffs and payroll bureaus. The minimum required education is a high school diploma or equivalent for entry-level positions. Some employers prefer payroll professionals with an associate's or bachelor's degree.

Essential Information

A certified payroll professional can be any bookkeeper or accountant who has worked in payroll for several years and passed the American Payroll Association's (APA) certification exam. Large, complex organizations and payroll bureaus that handle payroll processing for multiple companies benefit most from their expertise, but they are employed by companies of all sizes. Higher education programs for bookkeeping and accounting vary.

Required Education High school diploma or GED for entry-level positions; associate's or bachelor's degree in bookkeeping or accounting may be preferred
Other Requirements APA Certification
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* -4% for bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks
Median Salary (2018)* $40,240 per year for bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements for Certified Payroll Professionals

The lowest-level payroll clerks need only a high school diploma and some experience using personal computers. However, most employers prefer employees who have some postsecondary education in accounting and bookkeeping. Hundreds of certificate and associate's degree programs can be found in bookkeeping, along with a small number of bachelor's degree and master's degree programs. Courses are likely to cover such accounting concepts as double entry bookkeeping, income statements and balance sheets, amortization and depreciation, inventory management, tax law and payroll systems. Programs may also include general business courses in business ethics, business software applications, finance, document processing and management principles.


The American Payroll Association has three different eligibility standards for their Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) exam. Under criteria one, a candidate has to have worked on payroll production, reporting, administration or education for three of the past five years preceding the exam date. Under criteria two, a candidate must have two years' payroll experience and completed APA courses in payroll practice essentials, intermediate payroll concepts, advanced payroll concepts and strategic payroll practices over that same timeframe. Under criteria three, a candidate has to have worked in payroll for 18 months, passed the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) and completed APA courses in intermediate payroll concepts, advanced payroll concepts and strategic payroll practices.

Career Information

In May 2018, the median salary for payroll and time-keeping clerks was $40,240. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 4% decrease in jobs for these professionals during 2018-2028. Payroll workers who earn certification will have an employment advantage.

Payroll professionals must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, if not a professional degree in bookkeeping or accounting. Certification can help candidates stand out to employers. APA certification can be gained by meeting all prerequisites for work experience and by completing any required APA courses.

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