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Detail-oriented individuals who enjoy problem-solving, math, and computers may want to become bookkeepers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks will decline by 5% from 2021 to 2031. However, the profession will still add 197,600 openings annually to fill roles held by retirees or job changers.
Most bookkeepers hold high school diplomas and have completed postsecondary courses in relevant subjects, like accounting. Some also pursue bachelor's degrees in fields like business and complete certifications from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) or the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB).
Read on to learn how to become a bookkeeper.
Steps to a Bookkeeper Career
Bookkeepers are not required to hold college degrees. However, many employers prefer hiring professionals who have completed at least some college. So, some bookkeepers complete associate or bachelor's degrees in accounting or business.
Other bookkeepers finish their high school diplomas and then seek on-the-job training. To prove they possess certain skills, they may also complete one or both professional bookkeeping certificates available.
This subsection below describes both pathways:
First Career Path to Become a Bookkeeper: Earn a Degree
Complete Your High School Diploma or GED Certificate
You need a high school diploma or GED certificate to be admitted into associate or bachelor's degree programs.
Earn an Associate or Bachelor's Degree in a Related Field
Seek On-the-Job Training
Most new bookkeepers complete on-the-job training to learn computer software and other skills. This training typically takes about six months.
Second Career Path: Get Experience
Complete Your High School Diploma or GED Certificate
Gain One or Two Years of Experience
Before earning a certified bookkeeper certification, you need to acquire work experience. The AIPB requires two years of on-the-job experience before certification, while the NACPB expects one year.
Pursue Bookkeeping Certification
Both AIPB and NACPB certification requires that bookkeepers pass a four-part exam and follow a code of ethics.
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Required Education for a Bookkeeper
Bookkeepers do not have any specific education requirements beyond a high school diploma. However, professionals in this field must have several competencies they may not have learned in high school.
For instance, they must understand how to produce balance sheets and income statements, as well as record organizational debits and credits. To learn these skills and others, new bookkeepers often receive around six months of on-the-job training to learn how to use bookkeeping software, databases, and spreadsheets.
Though bookkeepers don't need to hold college degrees, some may see their salaries increase after completing an undergraduate degree.
Payscale suggests individuals with bachelor's degrees in accounting earn more than those with associate degrees. Those with bachelor's degrees in accounting earned an average of $82,000 per year as of May 2023, whereas associate degree-holders earned an average annual salary of $57,000.
Employers also prefer to hire bookkeepers who have taken some postsecondary courses. So, some professionals may pursue certificate programs in bookkeeping as a degree alternative.
Optional Certifications and Degrees
Some bookkeepers pursue certified bookkeeper certifications offered by two national bookkeeping associations. The NACPB offers a certified bookkeeping professional (CPB) designation, and AIPB confers a certified bookkeeper (CB) license.
Both certifications have similar requirements. Candidates must take a four-part multiple-choice test and agree to follow a code of conduct.
However, bookkeepers need more work experience for CB certification than they do for CPB licensing. The AIPB requires candidates to have two years (or 3,000 hours) of work experience before they seek certification. The NACPB requires only one year (2,000 hours).
These certifications are not required to secure bookkeeping jobs. Still, completing one or both of the licensing processes demonstrates that job applicants possess skills and competencies employers need. So, bookkeepers who can add "CPB" or "CB" after their names may be more competitive than other candidates.
Required Experience for a Bookkeeper
Aspiring bookkeepers don't need work experience to apply for entry-level roles.
Most employers prefer hiring new bookkeepers who will learn from more senior professionals. Recently hired bookkeepers should expect to receive around six months of guidance and even classroom training when they start their new roles.
Some aspiring professionals may pursue internships or practicums while pursuing postsecondary degrees or certificate programs. This experience will help individuals reach hourly certification minimums efficiently.
Should I Become a Bookkeeper?
As an alternative to accounting, bookkeeping is an appealing field for professionals who want to work with financial statements and computers. This profession has fewer entry-level requirements than accounting, meaning that individuals may be able to become bookkeepers more quickly than they would accountants.
Professionals who are not interested in leadership may also prefer bookkeeping jobs over accounting roles. Bookkeepers focus on day-to-day transactions and operations, whereas accountants are called on to provide financial advice and strategy recommendations.
However, bookkeeping is not a growing profession. As mentioned, the BLS predicts that the number of bookkeeping jobs in the United States will decrease by 5% from 2021-2031. This is in contrast to the number of accounting jobs, which is predicted to increase by 6% over this same timeframe.
At the same time, the number of predicted bookkeeping job openings per year over that period is 197,600. Compare this to the expected 136,400 annual openings for accountants and auditors (BLS, September 2022).
The Job Hunt
If you pursued a postsecondary degree or certificate, you will likely have career center resources to help you find a bookkeeping job. These offices may have particular insights about companies and roles in their area.
The AIPB and NACPB also provide resources about how to become a bookkeeper, as well as suggestions that might make you more competitive in your search. For instance, you may decide to pursue additional licenses or certifications.
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Some bookkeepers, especially those with bachelor's degrees in accounting, may decide to become certified public accountants (CPAs). CPAs have similar job responsibilities to bookkeepers, but must also analyze data, suggest best practices, and make predictions.
They also have higher average annual salaries than bookkeepers, earning a median annual salary of $77,250 as of 2021, according to the BLS. The number of accountant and auditor jobs is also increasing. The BLS forecasts the number of jobs available will increase by 6% from 2021-2031, which is about as fast as average.
Accountants and auditors are typically required to hold at least a bachelor's degree (BLS, September 2022). After working in the field for at least a year, CPAs also need to take an exam. To meet the requirements for the CPA exam, some professionals enroll in master's in accounting programs.
Questions About How to Become a Bookkeeper
Can you be a bookkeeper without a degree?
Candidates looking at how to be a bookkeeper without a degree can follow several paths. Enrolling in a certificate or degree program offers an education-based option. You can also pursue on-the-job training, building job skills through an internship or junior bookkeeping role.
How long does it take to start a bookkeeper career?
It depends on your educational path. An undergraduate degree will take 2-4 years and can pursue higher-paying positions in the field than those without a credential. Professionals who learn through on-the-job training can grasp essentials after about six months in entry-level roles.
What are the certifications among bookkeeping requirements?
Bookkeeping qualifications do not include formal certifications or licenses. However, certified professionals may enjoy advantages in the job market. Bookkeepers can earn certifications through AIPBand NACPB.
What are bookkeeper duties?
Bookkeepers must keep thorough, up-to-date records of organizational financial transactions. Bookkeeping requirements also cover reconciliation, the process of comparing internal records with bank records to ensure there are no discrepancies.
What is the difference between accounting and bookkeeping?
While these careers are 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.
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