Payroll clerks process payroll expenses by reviewing employee work hours and monitoring accounting practices. Payroll clerks should be comfortable using computer programs like Excel and Quickbooks and various accounting and bookkeeping methods, as well as communicating with members of human resources. They should have the ability to perform basic and advanced mathematical computations and pay close attention to details. Payroll clerks are expected to adhere to strict bookkeeping and ethical standards set by employers.
Some employers provide on-the-job training programs for payroll clerks, while others prefer to hire experienced payroll professionals. An accounting degree is preferable, but employers might also hire payroll clerks with an associate's degree in business or finance. Technical and community colleges that offer accounting or finance degree programs may sponsor workshops and seminars for students pursuing payroll and human resources careers. These workshops may be based on financial or mathematical aspects of payroll management or business-based aspects, which teach students to communicate with members of management, accounting and human resources departments. A high school diploma or GED is required for entrance to these associate degree programs.
Associate of Science in Accounting
An associate's degree program in accounting takes 2 years to complete and is intended for aspiring payroll clerks, administrators and specialists. It teaches various accounting methods, financial operations and federal tax rules and regulations. Students learn to provide accounting services for different types of businesses. Typical courses include:
- Cost and managerial accounting
- Financial management concepts
- Strategic financial analysis
- Organizational behavior
- Ethical practices in financial accounting
Most employers prefer to hire payroll clerks with 1-5 years of payroll or human resources experience. However, employers often provide on-the-job training programs for payroll clerks with little or no professional experience. These training programs typically last several weeks and may involve travel to a different location.
Payroll clerks are not required to be licensed or certified. However, voluntary certification from the APA can result in better career prospects and higher salaries. The APA grants certified payroll professional (CPP) credentials to qualified payroll specialists. To obtain certification, payroll clerks must meet one of three qualifying criteria, which require professionals to have several years of relevant payroll or tax preparation experience. A comprehensive payroll processing exam must be completed to receive certification.
Payroll clerks can find professional development information from the APA's career center and job board, where they can search for jobs by location and specialization. Payroll professionals can even submit their resumes to be reviewed by potential employers. The APA publishes a number of industry-leading books, including The Payroll Source and Federal Payroll Non-Tax Laws & Regulations. Membership to the organization includes even more continuing education and career resources. The APA also offers online and in-person seminars and training courses, which cover everything from tax compliance and paycheck calculation to financial garnishments and advanced payroll practices.
There are many paths that can help a person pursue a payroll career. These include on-the-job training course provided by specific organizations, as well as associate's degrees in such areas as accounting, business or finance.