Payroll Accountant Salary Guide

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Updated January 17, 2023

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Payroll accountants manage the complex payroll needs of organizations at every level. In many cases, they work for the accounting firms that businesses hire on contract to oversee their payroll. These firms include the "Big Four" of Deloitte, EY, PwC, and KPMG. Together, these companies alone employ more than 1.1 million people.

This guide explores factors influencing payroll accountant salary trends in the United States. This data-rich resource can help established and emerging payroll accountants optimize their earning power.

How Much Do Payroll Accountants Make?

Payroll Accountants


Average Annual Salary, September 2022

$57,110

Source: Payscale

Payscale's payroll accounting salary data reports an average for all roles, employers, locations, and experience levels. Along with an annual average salary of $57,110 per year, the site reports payroll accountants in the 90th percentile earn base salaries of about $74,000. Professionals in the 10th percentile make approximately $41,000 per year in base pay.

Notably, these figures do not account for bonuses and other forms of compensation. According to Payscale, these additional income sources can add about $2,500-$12,000 per year to a payroll accountant's earnings.

Payroll Accounting Salary by Education

Payroll accountants often prepare for their careers by earning bachelor's degrees in accounting. Some choose to pursue master's degrees. However, many prefer to enter the workforce with four-year degrees and gain on-the-job experience.

Certified public accountant (CPA) licensure is not required to work as a payroll accountant. However, some employers prefer or require the CPA designation. Earning an endorsement from the American Payroll Association as a certified payroll professional is another option.

The following table summarizes the impact of education on salaries. Note that the data represents the average earnings of all professionals who hold each degree or certification. It is not specific to payroll accountants.

Accounting Payroll Salary by Experience

Entry-level payroll accounting jobs often focus on support functions, which their lower pay reflects. Payroll accountant salary levels rise as a professional gains experience. Notable jumps occur as an accountant moves from entry-level roles into more advanced positions.

The data below reflects only base salaries and does not account for the performance bonuses and other extra income. According to Payscale, bonus earnings also tend to rise with experience.

For instance, entry-level payroll accountants can add about $1,000-$3,000 to their annual earnings through bonuses and other compensation. By midcareer, those figures rise to the $3,000-$13,000 range.

Salary by Location

Accounting payroll salary levels often vary by location. Employers based in areas with higher living costs typically offer higher pay to attract qualified people to fill vacancies.

Demand can also have a significant effect on payroll accounting specialist salary levels. Rising demand for particular skills in a local labor market usually translates into higher salaries.

The following table summarizes the top-paying states and cities per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It covers data for all accountants, not just payroll accountants. The BLS includes payroll accountants in its general "accountants and auditors" category.

Top-Paying States for Accountants and Auditors, 2021
State Number of Accountants and Auditors Employed Average Annual Salary

District of Columbia

9,200

$110,240

New York

111,660

$105,790

New Jersey

42,230

$97,950

California

151,320

$92,840

Massachusetts

38,140

$92,310

Source: BLS

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Accountants and Auditors, 2021
Metropolitan Area Number of Accountants and Auditors Employed Average Annual Salary

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

13,850

$112,830

New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA

117,800

$109,330

San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA

23,970

$107,540

Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-VA-MD-WV

41,850

$99,640

Midland, TX

1,090

$95,380

Source: BLS

Where Should I Work as a Payroll Accountant?

BLS job growth projections include payroll accountants in the agency's broader "accountants and auditors" category.

Accountants and Auditors


Change in Projected Employment from 2021-2031

+6%

Source: BLS

A deeper dive into BLS data reveals multiple trends of potential interest to payroll accountants. First, the BLS notes that ongoing globalization and a changing compliance landscape bode well for specialist accountants.

Also, the BLS emphasizes the changing nature of many accounting roles due to the impact of technology. Given the advanced nature of modern accounting software, many accounting professionals now focus more on analysis and advisory tasks. The payroll accounting role could follow suit, encouraging payroll specialists to find ways to cut costs and improve efficiency.

Best Areas

The BLS also groups payroll accountants with all accountants and auditors for location-specific data. States with large overall numbers of accounting and auditing jobs share multiple notable traits. First, they are major population centers with multiple metropolitan areas. Additionally, they have diverse economies and a strong corporate presence.

The following table summarizes the top-employing states for accountants and auditors, along with the average salaries these professionals earn locally:

Top-Employing States for Accountants and Auditors, 2021
State Number of Accountants and Auditors Employed Average Annual Salary

California

151,320

$92,840

New York

111,660

$105,790

Texas

104,490

$85,860

Florida

79,380

$76,320

Pennsylvania

54,530

$79,200

Source: BLS

Many states received 2020-2030 job growth projections that exceed the national level of 6% for 2021-2031. Note that the Projections Central data covers 2020-2030, not the 2021-2031 period analyzed by the BLS.

States With the Greatest Projected Increase in Employment for Accountants and Auditors, 2020-30
State Percent Projected Change, 2020-30 Average Annual Openings

Greatest Projected Percentage Increase

Utah

33.4%

1,800

Colorado

22.8%

4,580

Florida

22.7%

9,560

Arizona

21.6%

2,990

Massachusetts

21.6%

4,690

Most Projected Average Annual Openings

California

12.9%

16,960

New York

16.5%

13,510

Texas

20.2%

12,990

Florida

22.7%

9,560

Illinois

10.7%

5,470

Source: Projections Central

Finally, consider the cities that host the largest numbers of accounting jobs. Unsurprisingly, these metro areas rank among the biggest in the country. They also feature average annual salaries that outpace the BLS nationwide median of $77,250 by at least 6%.

Top-Employing Metropolitan Areas for Accountants and Auditors, 2021
Metropolitan Area Number of Accountants and Auditors Employed Average Annual Salary

New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA

117,800

$109,330

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA

59,470

$89,700

Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-VA-MD-WV

41,850

$99,640

Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI

38,800

$81,250

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX

34,070

$87,720

Source: BLS

Best Industries

As with its salary-focused and location-based reporting, the BLS groups payroll accountants with all "accountants and auditors" when profiling industries.

When exploring industry-based pay rates for accountants, consider that several of the top-paying sectors have low employment numbers. A more practical analysis considers industries that pay well and hire accountants in larger numbers.

Top-Paying Industries for Accountants and Auditors, 2021
Industry Number of Accountants and Auditors Employed Average Annual Salary

Crude Oil Pipeline Transportation

40

$123,230

Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing

2,770

$123,210

Information Services

4,770

$112,900

Securities, Commodity Contracts, Financial Investments, and Related Activities

30,990

$107,610

Federal Executive Branch (OEWS Designation)

22,260

$107,170

Source: BLS

Many payroll accountants do not hold permanent positions with end companies. Instead, they often work for accounting firms that provide payroll support to clients on a contract basis.

The BLS data reflects that: Accounting, bookkeeping, and payroll services account for nearly one-quarter of all U.S. accounting and auditing jobs.

Top-Employing Industries for Accountants and Auditors, 2021
Industry Number of Accountants and Auditors Employed Average Annual Salary

Accounting, Bookkeeping, Payroll, and Tax Prep Services

326,570

$86,650

Enterprise Management

104,760

$84,820

Local Government (OEWS Designation, excluding schools and hospitals)

45,290

$73,860

State Government (OEWS Designation, excluding schools and hospitals)

42,240

$70,830

Real Estate

38,290

$82,090

Source: BLS

Questions About Payroll Accounting Specialist Salary


What are the highest-paying payroll accountant jobs?

Payscale data from September 2022 indicates that the top 10% of payroll accountants earn an average annual salary of $74,000. Top-performing payroll accountants can also add up to $12,000 in bonuses and other compensation.

Where is the best state to work as a payroll accountant?

According to the BLS, the top-employing states for accountants are California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, average accountant salaries are highest in D.C., New York, New Jersey, California, and Massachusetts.

What is the best industry to work in as a payroll accountant?

BLS data from 2021 indicates that 24% of accountants and auditors work for accounting, payroll, and bookkeeping firms. However, accountants earn the highest average salaries in the oil pipeline, computer manufacturing, information services, and financial services industries.

Is payroll accountant a good job?

Business experts widely consider accounting a practical field of employment, particularly for specialists with concentrated skills. Payroll accountant salary levels increase significantly with experience, making the career path potentially rewarding.

Reviewed by:

Lizzette Matos is a certified public accountant in New York state. She earned a bachelor of science in finance and accounting from New York University. Matos began her career at Ernst & Young, where she audited a diverse set of companies, primarily in consumer products and media and entertainment.

She has worked in the private industry as an accountant for law firms and ITOCHU Corporation, an international conglomerate that manages over 20 subsidiaries and affiliates. Matos stays up to date on changes in the accounting industry through educational courses.

Lizzette Matos is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Page last reviewed Oct. 3, 2022

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