Payroll Accounting

Accounting is a career that is experiencing constant growth and importance. It is rare that you will find an accountant that had an easy ride to certification, but rarer still is a certified accountant that is looking for work. Your education and certification will not be easy, but the steps will lead to a rewarding career in accounting. Specialization is important in any career path to set yourself apart from your peers and becoming certified as a payroll accountant will ensure that you are on the cutting edge of one of the most important aspects of a business. All businesses need to pay their employees and a large part of the expenses and taxes rely on accurate and detailed information regarding their outgoing payments. As a payroll accountant you will be charged with staying abreast of any current changes to payroll accounting laws and ensure that your employer is meeting the requirements set at a state and federal level. To start, you need to become an accountant. From there, you will need to request the CPP Candidate Handbook from the APA. A PDF version of the handbook can be found here.

Advantages of Payroll Accountants

Before getting into the step by step guide to becoming a payroll accountant, you should first understand the advantages that come from earning this certification. Like many careers, your specialization will give you an advantage when it comes to looking for employment. You will find plenty of employers looking for accountants, and plenty of competition will be focused on those particular careers. As a payroll accountant you may see less job opening by comparison, but you will compete with a much smaller group of individuals. This leads to easier job searches and more in demand knowledge. Some accountants pursue a CPA license, others follow more specialized certifications, so following the payroll certification path will put you in a position to show to employers that you are an expert in your particular field.

Outside of study based courses in preparation for the CPP exam, you will see very little difference in your studies to earn your position. You may find schools that are starting to offer specific elective courses to help you prepare early, so speak with advisors about those opportunities. You should also look for any type of internship as early as possible to start learning on the job skills and any additional offered courses through your school will give you an edge as you move forward.

On average, an accountant working in tax preparation, bookkeeping or payroll services earns an average annual wage of $75,790 a year according to While there are plenty of locations that offer a higher salary (generally adjusted to meet the living expenses of the state) the two lowest paying locations are Tallahassee, FL which offers $52,380 a year and Montgomery, AL which offers $61,470 a year. New York, White Plains, Wayne, NY-NJ Metropolitan division locations offer an average of over $90,000 a year. Your results will vary based on location, experience, employer and a number of other factors. Just know that you will be able to find a high paying job with nothing more than a certification and bachelor’s degree.

Becoming a Payroll Accountant

Upon completion of your bachelor’s degree you will start to work towards the CPP (Certified Payroll Professional) examination. The handbook, liked above, will help you prepare and explain the requirements to qualify for this exam. Working as a payroll accountant for at least three years of the last five years (generally in entry level positions), completing courses as listed in the CPP handbook within the last 24 months or have a Fundamental payroll Certification designation and completed all courses listed in the CPP handbook within the last 18 months are the three different criteria you can meet. You will only need to meet one of those criteria to qualify. Upon completion of the application, you will then be able to register for the exam.

You can register for the exam up to 10 weeks before the initial day of testing which allows you to make reservations based on a first-come, first-serve basis. A fee is required to take the exam and it will range from around $360 to $415 based on the location you plan to test. The CPP handbook is your best ally in preparing for the exam but it should not be your only study aid. A three month course is offered based on the information provided by the book and can make a huge difference in the results you will earn from the exam. You can find additional study resources through the APA that can help you prepare for your exam. Just like any accounting examination, expect a long and difficult test that may require multiple retakes, but with careful preparation and some confidence you should be able to pass in your first try. You will need to recertify every five years in most cases.