Bookkeeping Description, Career Outlook, and Salary

Bookkeepers are a vital part of businesses around the world. Regardless of the size of business, the bookkeeper serves to keep the finances under control and to keep the business running smoothly. Depending upon the size of the company, a bookkeeper may be responsible for paying bills, handling income, tracking expenses and accounts receivable, and working with the CPA on tax matters. Bookkeepers also often handle employee commissions, benefits, and payroll, and may be responsible for supervising clerks and other employers in the financial department. In order to be successful in this career, one must have above average computer and math skills and truly enjoy dealing with numbers. The job requires an intense attention to detail and excellent moral character. Finally, bookkeepers must work closely with a wide variety of people, so impeccable written and verbal communications are a must. 

Job Duties of a Bookkeeper

Generally speaking, a bookkeeper handles financial transactions and creates reports of the information. This involves making posts to accounting books or using accounting software to organize information from cash receipts, customer invoices, and supplier records. The bookkeeper must also reconcile all accounts to ensure that everything is recorded accurately. The individual tasks and responsibilities of a bookkeeper are wide and varied and may include purchasing equipment and supplies, keeping track of office inventory, monitoring fixed assets, paying due invoices, tracking supplier discounts, monitoring debt levels, and issuing customer invoices. The bookkeeper may also handle sales tax payments, collect accounts receivable, make bank deposits, reconcile bank accounts, and maintain petty cash accounts. Finally, most bookkeepers are responsible for issuing financial statements, providing financial information to the CPA, preparing for external audits, file records, keeping a chart of accounts, maintaining the business budget, and perform any other financial and administrative support that is required by the management of the business.

Bookkeeper Salary and Career Outlook

The career of a bookkeeper is a financially rewarding one. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, bookkeepers earn an average of around $35,000 a year, or about $16.34 an hour. This salary is often accompanied by employment benefits valued at thousands of dollars a year, including health, life, vision, and dental insurance, sick and vacation leave, retirement packages, and more.

Aside from this excellent salary, bookkeepers also enjoy a thriving career field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be more than 2.1 million bookkeepers employed by the year 2020. While the career field is expecting average growth, new bookkeepers can expect to have ample employment opportunities because the field is so varied. In addition, those with experience or who are nationally certified will be in extremely high demand, and will enjoy the highest salaries.

Education and Training

There are several paths you may take to enter a bookkeeping career. The path you choose depends upon your preferences, but it is important to realize that having a higher level of education creates more job opportunities and higher earning potential.

On-the-Job Training

At minimum, entry-level bookkeepers need a high school diploma and should have completed classes in computer spreadsheets, basic math, and bookkeeping programs. With this level of education, some graduates are able to land positions at companies that offer on-the-job training that includes double-entry bookkeeping. A bookkeeper in this position may be responsible for limited tasks including posting credits and debits, calculating interest, and monitoring payments and accounts. Although this is the fastest way to enter the field, these opportunities are limited and offer a lower salary than those available for applicants with a formal education.

Bookkeeping Certificate

In order to enhance skills and improve job prospects, some students choose to earn a certificate in bookkeeping. These programs generally take a year to complete and include basic bookkeeper training that includes such topics as tax accounting, 10-key calculator techniques, business math, and computerized bookkeeping. Having this certificate better prepares candidates for the work of a bookkeeper and may increase the number of possible jobs he or she may qualify for. 

Bookkeeping Degree

Many employers only hire bookkeepers that have at least an associate degree, usually in accounting or business. Earning an associate degree typically takes two years of full-time study and includes training in federal tax law, cost accounting, managerial accounting, spreadsheets, and more. Students may also choose to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Although this level of training is rarely required for entry-level positions, having this higher degree can qualify you for future promotions and even higher salaries. Bookkeepers at this level are often responsible for reconciling billing vouchers and checking account accuracy.


While certification is not required, having a national certification shows that you have the professional skills and knowledge to meet all of employer’s bookkeeping needs and may help you land your dream job. The Certified Bookkeeper credential is available through the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers to individuals who have at least two years of experience, who follow the code of ethics, and who successfully pass the four-part examination. The Certified Bookkeeper Exam consists of two open-book portions as well as two parts that must be taken at Prometric Test Centers. In addition, the National Bookkeepers Association offers a certification for bookkeepers who join the organization and pass an online examination.

Pros and Cons

The field of bookkeeping is an excellent career choice for the right candidate. However, as with all careers, there are pros and cons to this field. Before you make the decision to become a bookkeeper, it is important to consider these aspects of the job and to make sure that you are making a decision that is right for you.

Pros of a Bookkeeping Career

  • Opportunity. The field of bookkeeping is expected to see a 14% growth by the year 2020, providing many new openings and excellent employment potential for both new bookkeepers and those with experience.
  • Ease of Entry. Because it is possible to enter this career with no more than a high school diploma or associate’s degree, it is much easier to start as a bookkeeper than as many other related careers. This makes bookkeeping a good choice for students with limited resources, or those who need to start earning a salary quickly.
  • Variety. Bookkeepers are needed in a wide variety of businesses, so opportunities are available in everything from retail and healthcare to technical services and nonprofit agencies. This means that bookkeepers can find employment in an industry that fits their interests.
  • Advancement. With the proper experience and education, bookkeepers can advance to accountants and earn a higher salary. As such, this is a great career to use as a starting point for a variety of other financial and business careers.

Cons of a Bookkeeping Career

  • Schedule. Bookkeepers often are required to work very long hours during peak seasons. This includes tax season and holidays. These long hours require a high level of professional dedication and a certain amount of personal sacrifice.
  • Stress. This position often comes with a high level of stress, as bookkeepers must meet fiscal deadlines and make sure that all financial transactions are kept accurately and completely.
  • Competition. Full-time positions may be highly competitive for bookkeepers with little to no formal education. Around ¼ of entry-level bookkeepers work part-time in the beginning of their careers.
  • Fatigue. Long hours spent looking at a computer screen may lead to eye and muscle strain.

Bookkeeping is an excellent career choice for anyone wishing to get started in the accounting field quickly. Depending upon the level of education and training you have, as well as certifications, this career can provide a wealth of opportunities and excellent earning potential. If you have a passion for working with numbers, are a hard worker, and have an eye for detail, this career is made for you.