Bookkeeping is a necessary accounting function. Bookkeepers produce and manage financial records for small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and accounting firms. Though licensure is not required to work as a bookkeeper, some professionals pursue certification to demonstrate their skills to employers and stand out in the job search.
Two organizations offer bookkeeping certification: the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB) and the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB). NACPB provides the certified bookkeeping professional (CPB) license, while AIPB offers the certified bookkeeper (CB) designation.
Both the AIPB and the NACPB support the bookkeeping profession, offer membership benefits, and provide professional development opportunities. Both CPB and CB credentials are widely recognized and respected in the U.S.
Read on to learn about eligibility, examination, and continuing education requirements for CPB or CB certification.
Why Become a Certified Bookkeeper?
- Valuable Credential
- Whether entry-level, experienced, or freelance, all bookkeepers can benefit from bookkeeping certification. CB candidates need at least 3,000 hours of work experience, while CPB candidates need 2,000 hours of work experience.
- Establishes National Credibility
- Both CPB and CB certification are valid in every U.S. state. These certifications display mastery of key bookkeeping concepts and skills to employers nationwide. According to a Lewis & Clark 2019 survey, a majority of CBs say that certification has improved their self-confidence.
- Improves Job Security
- Regardless of the field, professional certification elevates a job candidate’s resume. CPB and CB certification assures potential clients and employers that you are capable of completing required tasks. The demonstrated proficiency these credentials carry increases the likelihood that an employer or client hires you over a non-certified candidate.
- Increases Salary Potential
- Greater skills and experience generally correlate with higher earning potential. Nearly 60% of surveyed employed CBs received a raise after becoming certified. Around 75% of those bookkeepers noted certification was a key reason for the raise. Passing a certified bookkeeper exam gives you the power to negotiate your rates.
- Cost-Effective Career Development
- Obtaining CPB or CB certification is a cost-effective way to enhance your skills and boost your career. Study materials and examination fees only cost a few hundred dollars. In comparison, earning an advanced degree — another popular option for accounting professionals seeking career growth — costs thousands of dollars.
- Opportunity to Join a Community
- While joining NACPB or AIPB is not required to pursue bookkeeping certification, membership comes with many benefits of its own. NACPB and AIPB members receive discounted rates on courses, workbooks, and certification exam fees. Members also enjoy access to continuing education, networking opportunities, and industry news.
How Do You Qualify for CPB or CB Certification?
Candidates must meet similar eligibility requirements for the CPB license and the CB credential. To earn either certification, bookkeepers must successfully pass a four-part multiple-choice exam, verify their bookkeeping education and experience, and agree to follow a professional code of conduct.
These requirements are the same for all U.S. professionals, regardless of state residency. However, employers in other countries may not recognize AIPB or NACPB credentials. Bookkeepers working internationally should research other globally recognized credentialing options.
To qualify for CPB certification, candidates must possess an associate or bachelor’s degree in accounting. Those without a college degree can also be eligible by completing the following NACPB courses:
- Accounting Fundamentals
- Accounting Principles
- Payroll Fundamentals
- QuickBooks Fundamentals (Desktop) or QuickBooks Online Fundamentals
Each self-paced course costs $399 for NACPB members or $499 for non-members. Candidates may bundle some courses for a lower combined rate.
Securing CB certification from AIPB requires no minimum education. But candidates can benefit from pursuing an accounting certificate program or associate degree.
Candidates for CPB licensure need to demonstrate a minimum of one year or 2,000 hours of bookkeeping or accounting experience. Employers or clients must fill out a form attesting to the candidate’s work.
Candidates for CB certification must submit evidence of at least two years of full-time bookkeeping experience or 3,000 hours of part-time or freelance experience. Bookkeepers can complete this experience before taking the bookkeeping certification exam or up to three years after passing the exam.
What Does the Certified Bookkeeper Exam Cover?
The NACPB and AIPB bookkeeper certification exams use similar formatting: four sections with multiple-choice questions. Test-takers complete each part separately, covering different bookkeeping topics.
All four parts of NACPB’s CPB exam take place online. Test-takers must complete the first two parts of AIPB’s CB exam in person at a Prometric testing center. Candidates can then finish the final two parts at home in a workbook.
Bookkeepers can take exam sections in any order, though AIPB recommends sitting for part one of the CB exam before scheduling part two.
Review each exam’s formatting, time, and required fees in the tables below.
NACPB CPB Exam Structure
|Part One: Accounting Fundamentals||Multiple choice, open book, taken online||2 hours||$100 for members, $150 for non-members|
|Part Two: Accounting Principles||Multiple choice, open book, taken online||2 hours||$100 for members, $150 for non-members|
|Part Three: Payroll Fundamentals||Multiple choice, open book, taken online||2 hours||$100 for members, $150 for non-members|
|Part Four: QuickBooks Fundamentals (Desktop) or QuickBooks Online Fundamentals||Multiple choice, open book, taken online||2 hours||$100 for members, $150 for non-members|
AIPB CB Exam Structure
|Part One: Adjustments and Error Correction Test One: Accruals, Deferrals, and the Adjusted Trial Balance Test Two: Correction of Accounting Errors and the Bank Reconciliation||Multiple choice, taken in person at a testing center||2 hours||$100|
|Part Two: Payroll and Depreciation Test One: Payroll Test Two: Depreciation||Multiple choice, taken in person at a testing center||2 hours||$100|
|Part Three: Inventory||Multiple choice, open book, found in the “Mastering Inventory” workbook||No limit||No fee|
|Part Four: Internal Controls and Fraud Prevention||Multiple choice, open book, found in the “Mastering Internal Controls and Fraud Prevention” workbook||No limit||No fee|
Scoring the Exam
Each question on the exam counts equally toward the final score for that section. NACPB and AIPB passing scores range from 70%-75%, depending on the exam and section being taken.
NACPB’s online exams calculate scores automatically, with grades displayed immediately after exam completion. In each section, test-takers must answer 37 out of 50 questions correctly to receive a passing grade.
NACPB and AIPB passing scores range from 70%-75%, depending on the exam and section being taken.
The first two parts of AIPB’s exams require in-person scheduling at Prometric testing centers. Test-takers complete their exam on a computer and receive a printout of their final score before leaving the center.
Review the grading system for each exam and section in the tables below.
NACPB CPB Exam Scoring
|Part One: Accounting Fundamentals||75%|
|Two: Accounting Principles||75%|
|Part Three: Payroll Fundamentals||75%|
|Part Four: QuickBooks Fundamentals (Desktop) or QuickBooks Online Fundamentals||75%|
AIPB CB Exam Scoring
|Part One: Adjustments and Error Correction||75%|
|Part Two: Payroll and Depreciation||75%|
|Part Three: Inventory||70%|
|Part Four: Internal Controls and Fraud Prevention||70%|
How Do You Register for the Bookkeeper Certification Exam?
NACPB does not require formal registration for the CPB licensure exam. Candidates can purchase access to each exam section directly from the NACPB website. Bookkeepers must schedule and complete each section online within one year of the original purchase date.
To register for AIPB’s CB exam, candidates must fill out and mail an application, allowing four weeks for processing. The application asks for contact information, date of birth, and work experience details. AIPB members pay a $25 registration fee, while non-members pay $60.
Qualified applicants receive an “authorization to test” letter and any study materials they purchase in the mail. Using the eligibility ID included in the letter, bookkeepers can schedule the first and second parts of their exam with Prometric.
Bookkeepers can retake CPB and CB certification exam sections as needed. Separate retake fees apply for each exam part. Test-takers redoing the first or second part of the AIPB exam must wait 30 days between attempts.
Paying for the Exam
Access to each part of the CPB licensure exam costs $150. NACPB members pay a reduced price of $100 per section.
Parts one and two of the CB certification exam each cost $100. Candidates must pay an additional $98 to purchase the two workbooks, which contain the exams for parts three and four. AIPB members pay a reduced price of $78.
Online exam retakes with NACPB cost $50 per part for members and $75 for non-members. In-person exam retakes with AIPB cost $60 per section. There is no fee to retake back-of-workbook exams.
How Can You Prepare for the CPB Exam?
The best way to prepare for the certified bookkeeper exam is by studying early and thoroughly. Take advantage of practice exams, study workbooks, and other online resources to brush up on your bookkeeping skills and knowledge.
Follow these five best practice tips to improve your bookkeeper certification exam performance.
- Follow a study schedule
- Avoid cramming for the certified public bookkeeper exam. At least eight weeks before your test date, set aside time each day to prepare.
- Take two practice exams
- Take a timed practice exam before starting your study schedule and one a few days before the actual exam. This way, you can judge your growth and determine your likely score.
- Talk to people who passed the exam
- Find online communities where people discuss their exam experiences. By joining, you can ask successful test-takers questions. These websites might also offer additional exam preparation resources.
- Join a professional organization
- Certified public bookkeeper organizations provide resources to members preparing for their certification exams. Typical membership benefits include discounts on test prep materials, tutoring services, and job boards.
- Eat breakfast on the morning of the exam
- Although you may think eating on a stressful day could cause an upset stomach, your body needs energy so you can do your best. On exam day, eat foods low in refined sugar and fat.
Practice Exams and Study Resources
- CB Prep Course Workbooks When you register for the CB exam, consider adding a few of AIPB's official workbooks to your order form. The six official CB workbooks range from $29 to $49 each for members ($39-$59 for non-members), containing sections on every exam topic. Quizzes included throughout the workbooks help ensure information mastery.
- CPB Courses and Practice Tests NACPB provides free and paid resources to help bookkeepers prepare for their certification exams. Free options include training videos, webinars, a training guidebook, and certification practice tests. Paid options include six self-paced bookkeeper training courses that learners can purchase individually or in a discounted bundle.
- edX Introduction to Bookkeeping Course Professionals looking to brush up on bookkeeping fundamentals can enroll in this introductory course from edX. Free, self-paced, and designed for part-time completion in six weeks, edX's course covers topics including banking processes, payroll, ledger accounts, and reconciliations. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants developed this course.
What Is Needed to Maintain the Bookkeeping Certification?
A majority of professional certifications expire periodically and require renewal.
CPB licenses expire each year on December 31st. Professionals must complete 24 hours of approved continuing professional education each year.
Bookkeepers must acquire at least 60 credits of continuing professional education every three years to retain CB certification. Registering continuing education with AIPB costs $3 per credit.
Should You Get Multiple Certifications?
Bookkeeping professionals may want to consider membership in the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB). ICB is the world’s largest bookkeeping institute. Members can complete proctored exams to obtain certification as member bookkeepers, associate bookkeepers, and master bookkeepers.
Bookkeepers can also obtain additional certification showing their mastery of Intuit QuickBooks, the most popular accounting software for small businesses. Consider taking the QuickBooks certified user exam or pursuing the Intuit certified bookkeeping professional credential. Exams are available at Certiport authorized testing centers across the U.S.
Common Questions About How to Get Bookkeeping Certification
How hard is the certified bookkeeper exam?Certified bookkeeper exams are appropriately rigorous and thorough. The exams use multiple-choice questions to test knowledge of key topics, including adjustments and error correction, payroll, inventory, and fraud prevention. Exam preparation is encouraged.
Where can I take the bookkeeper certification exam?Bookkeepers seeking the CPB license must complete all portions of the exam online. Those seeking the CB credential must schedule in-person appointments at a Prometric testing center.
When is the certified bookkeeper exam administered?Both NACPB and AIPB offer certified bookkeeper exams year round. CPB candidates receive one year from the date of purchase to pass each exam section. CB candidates must pass all exam sections within three years of registration.
How many times can I take the bookkeeper certification exam?Certification candidates can retake exams as many times as needed. Re-examination fees apply for both the CB and CPB exams. Professionals retaking the CB exam must complete a 30-day waiting period.
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