Compiled and Written By Accounting.com Staff
Last Updated: July 2020
Bookkeepers record financial transactions, maintain accurate financial reports, and manage general ledgers for clients. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bookkeepers earn over $40,000 a year on average. Prospective bookkeepers can enter the profession without a degree, making it one of the higher-paid positions for professionals without a college diploma. This page explores the skills and education necessary to become a bookkeeper, including tips for career development.
What Skills Do You Need to Become a Bookkeeper?
Bookkeepers manage account records for clients; produce financial reports; and monitor revenue, spending, and invoices. They analyze financial documents to identify errors, complete payroll each pay period, and track financial transactions. The profession requires skills in the following areas.
Bookkeepers use math skills on a daily basis. They enter financial transactions, track credits and debits, and manage numerical information to create financial reports.
Bookkeepers must resolve discrepancies in financial reports, reconciling income with expenses and identifying sources of errors. These abilities require strong problem-solving skills.
Attention to Detail
Bookkeepers must be detail oriented to effectively oversee multiple financial documents. They must enter financial transactions down to the cent, ensuring accuracy. They also monitor financial reports to uncover and correct errors.
Many bookkeepers work for multiple clients at once. Some bookkeepers oversee payroll services, managing wage and deduction calculations for multiple employees. They may also manage expenditure reports, accounts receivable and deliverable, and loss reports. The ability to organize financial information is central to the position.
Bookkeepers manage financial information, including confidential financial reports. They must bring integrity and transparency to the job, ensuring that financial reports follow laws and regulations. Bookkeepers help clients identify potential fraud and prevent the misuse of funds, which also requires integrity.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Bookkeeper?
Becoming a bookkeeper can take as little as one year, depending on the educational path the prospective bookkeeper takes. However, earning an accounting degree or pursuing certifications can add several years to the time required to join the profession. While these pursuits add time, they also help bookkeepers advance professionally. We outline required and suggested steps for becoming a professional bookkeeper below.
Enroll in Bookkeeping Courses
Some bookkeepers pursue job opportunities without a degree. However, many of these bookkeepers still complete postsecondary coursework, which provides valuable job training. These courses may teach students how to manage payroll, track income and expenses, and produce financial reports. Bookkeeping courses also train students to use common bookkeeping software programs.
Earn an Associate Degree
Many bookkeepers pursue a degree in the field. Prospective bookkeepers can earn an associate degree in accounting or bookkeeping. Both disciplines provide training in the core tasks required of bookkeepers, including recording financial transactions, managing the general ledger, and preparing invoices. Some employers prefer to hire bookkeepers with at least an associate degree.
Consider a Bachelor's Degree:
Earning a bachelor's degree in accounting helps bookkeepers advance their career and compete for advanced positions. Only 12% of bookkeepers hold a bachelor's degree, according to O*NET OnLine. Therefore, bookkeepers with a four-year degree stand out in the job market. Earning a bachelor's degree typically takes four years, though incoming students with an associate degree can often finish their bachelor's in two years. A bachelor's in accounting also prepares bookkeepers for additional roles, including accountant and auditor.
Consider Bookkeeper Certifications
Bookkeepers can demonstrate their qualifications by pursuing national certifications. Offered by professional organizations, these certifications often set educational and work experience requirements. Candidates must often pass an examination and maintain their credential by meeting continuing education requirements. Bookkeeping certifications include certified bookkeeper and certified public bookkeeper.
Look for Bookkeeping Jobs
After gaining bookkeeping training through courses, certifications, and/or degrees, bookkeepers can pursue entry-level opportunities. Bookkeepers with a bachelor's degree or certification can apply for more competitive positions than bookkeepers without these credentials.
What Education Do You Need to Become a Bookkeeper?
Bookkeeper responsibilities include recording financial transactions, overseeing an organization's general ledger, and creating financial reports. Although some bookkeepers do not earn a degree, most employers prefer candidates who complete college coursework in accounting or a related field.
Prospective bookkeepers can train for their profession in several ways, such as through an associate degree in bookkeeping or accounting, which usually takes two years to complete. During an associate program, students gain math and accounting skills. Graduates work as bookkeeping or accounting clerks. An associate degree in bookkeeping also prepares graduates to transfer into a bachelor's program.
Although some bookkeepers do not earn a degree, most employers prefer candidates who complete college coursework in accounting or a related field.
Bookkeepers may earn a bachelor's degree in accounting. Accounting majors build skills beyond bookkeeping, including auditing, public accounting, and cost accounting skills. Transfer students with an associate degree can often complete the four-year degree in two years. The degree prepares graduates for entry-level positions as accountants.
Many two-year and four-year colleges offer undergraduate certificates in bookkeeping, which typically take one year to complete and give students the foundational skills necessary to work as a bookkeeper. Earning an undergraduate certificate in accounting also meets the qualifications for many bookkeeping positions.
Bookkeeper Career Development and Credentials
Bookkeepers can advance their career by pursuing certifications and licenses. These voluntary credentials let bookkeepers showcase their skills and demonstrate their strengths to potential employers. A certification can also help bookkeepers increase their earning potential.
Certifications and Continuing Education
Pursuing certification helps bookkeepers demonstrate their skills and stand out in the job market. Some certifications require a degree, while others do not. Bookkeepers can pursue certifications such as the certified bookkeeper credential offered by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers. The credential recognizes candidates with at least two years of bookkeeping experience and passing scores on a four-part examination.
The National Association of Certified Bookkeepers also offers the certified public bookkeeper credential, which includes a four-part exam. Bookkeepers who specialize in payroll can earn the certified payroll specialist credential. Candidates must demonstrate one year of payroll experience and pass an examination.
Credentials and Licensing
Bookkeepers do not need to hold a state-issued license to practice, but bookkeepers can voluntarily pursue certificates and licenses to enhance their earning potential. Candidates for the certified public bookkeeper (CBP) license must hold an associate or bachelor's degree in accounting or complete education alternative courses. The license requires at least one year of bookkeeping experience and passing scores on a four-part examination. CBPs maintain their license by completing 24 continuing education hours annually.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a bookkeeper do?
Bookkeepers keep track of financial records for their company. They enter the requisite data for all transactions related to their assigned area. They also prepare reports and bank deposits, and may handle areas like payroll or purchasing.
What is the difference between accounting and bookkeeping?
While related, bookkeepers handle day-to-day data entry and record keeping, while accountants use those records to manage tax filings and higher-level financial operations.
How can I learn bookkeeping at home?
While not all positions require a degree, aspiring bookkeepers benefit from an online associate or bachelor's degree in bookkeeping, accounting, or a related field. Bookkeepers can also obtain certified public bookkeeper credentials.
American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers
A professional organization for bookkeepers, AIPB offers a newsletter and an answerline to keep bookkeepers up to date in the field. The institute also offers certifications for professional bookkeepers.
Institute of Certified Bookkeepers
ICB offers certifications for bookkeepers who pass a comprehensive examination. The global organization also offers podcasts, articles, and webinars to keep bookkeepers current in the field.
National Bookkeepers Association
An association offering certifications and licenses to accounting professionals, NBA also provides training videos, practice tests, and continuing education resources. Bookkeepers can become certified bookkeepers through the association.
American Institute of CPAs
AICPA represents certified public accountants and offers resources for accounting professionals considering additional training in the field. The institute provides career planning information, professional development tools, and scholarships for accounting students.