If you love plugging numbers into spreadsheets and tallying the figures, then a career as a bookkeeper might be right for you. What is bookkeeping? It's a profession that involves the following tasks:
- Receiving and recording payments made to an organization.
- Entering financial transactions into computer software programs or spreadsheets.
- Assigning income and expenses to the appropriate category.
- Reconciling account data to ensure accuracy.
- Creating financial reports such as balance sheets and income statements.
What is the difference between bookkeeping and accounting? Bookkeepers record and maintain financial records while accountants may analyze and interpret the numbers. Businesses rely on bookkeepers to ensure data is correct and complete so that accountants can make recommendations based off that information.
Bookkeepers can provide general or specialized services. When it comes to what does a bookkeeper do, the answer may depend on their title.
- Bookkeeping clerks are also known simply as bookkeepers. They keep track of an organization's general ledger which is a record of financial accounts. They may also collect payments, make deposits and pay bills.
- Accounting clerks often work for larger firms and perform specialized duties. For instance, an accounts receivable clerk may only handle incoming payments while another clerk is specifically assigned to oversee expenses.
- Auditing clerks ensure financial information is accurate. They may correct math errors or flag larger issues for review by an accountant or auditor.
How to Become a Bookkeeper
Unlike accountants, who may have to spend years in school, bookkeepers can be ready to work after short-term training. A common career path for this profession may include the following steps:
- Earn a high school diploma or GED.
- Complete a training program. Some bookkeepers learn on the job while others go to a bookkeeping school or take a bookkeeping course online.
- Become certified. Although not required, certification shows a bookkeeper has achieved a certain level of expertise in the field.
- Advance your career. Some bookkeepers decide to go back to school to become accountants or auditors.
Whether you get on-the-job training or attend a bookkeeping school, you'll need to be knowledgeable about the following topics to do the job well:
Bookkeeper certificate and degree programs
While some employers will train new bookkeepers, others may prefer those who already know how to do the job. There are two levels of formal training that can teach the skills bookkeepers need:
- Certificate: Most bookkeeping certificate programs can be completed in six months or less. They cover topics such as financial accounting, payroll accounting and software like QuickBooks. You can complete many bookkeeper school requirements online, meaning you may be able to earn a certificate without ever setting foot on campus.
- Associate Degree: You won't find an associate degree in bookkeeping at many schools, but you could earn an associate degree in accounting. These two-year programs provide greater instruction in both bookkeeping and accounting skills. Graduates may start in entry-level bookkeeping positions and then move on to become accountants.
Community colleges, trade schools and career colleges are most likely to offer bookkeeping certificate programs. Many put their bookkeeping course online to make it easy for busy adults to prepare for a job in this field.
Professional certification isn't required for bookkeepers, but it's a good way to show employers you're serious about your job. There are two widely recognized certifications available:
- Certified Bookkeeper (CB): Offered by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers, this designation is only available to those with the equivalent of two years of full-time work experience. Applicants must pass a four-part examination and adhere to a code of ethics as well.
- Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB): You'll need at least an associate degree to obtain this certification from the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers. If you don't, you could become eligible for certification by passing four courses offered by the NACPB. Other requirements include having one-year of work experience, passing a four-part exam, abiding by a code of professional conduct and taking 24 hours of continuing education each year.
If the idea of taking a four-part test sounds daunting, look for bookkeeping certification schools which offer courses specifically designed to prepare students to pass these exams.
Career advancement for bookeepers
With experience, bookkeepers may take on additional responsibilities or move into the specialized roles of accounting or auditing clerks. Some may eventually go on to work as accountants or auditors.
Skills and Qualities for Bookkeepers
What skills do you need to be a bookkeeper? Successful workers in the field often excel in the following areas:
- Mathematics: Bookkeepers work with numbers all day long so it's not surprising they need to be good at math.
- Critical thinking: In addition to doing the math, bookkeepers must categorize and record numbers in their proper place. This requires critical thinking skills.
- Active listening: The ability to listen is crucial for bookkeepers to understand instructions and information provided by supervisors or clients.
- Near vision: Bookkeepers may do most of their work on a computer, and good vision will make it easier for them to do their job.
- Selective attention: Being able to focus on their work without distraction is a key ability for bookkeepers.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Bookkeepers
By now, you may be wondering what is a bookkeeper salary like. The numbers below provide a general overview of how much do bookkeepers make. However, individual salaries depend on factors such as a person's education, experience and certification.
Job opportunities for bookkeepers can also depend on factors such as such as where someone lives and their experience. The chart below provide nationwide averages for expected career growth.
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks||1,530,430||$42,110||-1.4%|
Professional Resources for Bookkeepers
To learn more about bookkeeping and stay on top of the latest industry news, check out these three organizations.
- American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers - Founded in 1987, the AIPB offers bookkeeping tips, certification and a jobs site.
- National Bookkeepers Association - The NBA offers bookkeeping resources to members and non-members alike. These include practice tests, training, certification and licensing.
- ICBUSA - ICBUSA is part of a global organization that promotes the bookkeeping profession.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks, Accessed April 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/bookkeeping-accounting-and-auditing-clerks.htm
- Top 8 Differences Between Bookkeeping and Accounting, Flat World Solutions, Accessed April 2019, https://www.flatworldsolutions.com/financial-services/differences-between-bookkeeping-accounting.php
- Bookkeeping Certificate, Owen Community College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.owens.edu/academics/program/bookkeeping-certificate.html
- Certified Public Bookkeeper Overview, National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers, Accessed April 2019, https://certifiedpublicbookkeeper.org/license/certified-public-bookkeeper/overview.cfm
- Certified Bookkeeper Program, American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers, Accessed April 2019, https://www.aipb.org/certification_program_individual.htm
- Why CPAs earn more, AICPA, Accessed December 2018, https://www.thiswaytocpa.com/why-cpa/articles/salary-information/licensed-to-earn/
- Bookkeeping, Accounting and Auditing Clerks, O*Net Online, Accessed April 2019, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/43-3031.00