What does a payroll accountant do?
Are you considering a career as a payroll accountant? It’s a rewarding job with a significant amount of responsibility. In this role, you can ensure that workers get paid on time and receive the correct amount. Payroll accountants:
- Calculate salaries, benefits, overtime, and deductions
- Prepare tax reports
- Update the payroll system to include new hires and remove workers who leave the company
- Input changes in salaries, benefits, or deductions
- Ensure adherence to federal, state, and local tax laws
- Provide records for audits
- Collaborate with other departments
- Reconcile payroll accounts and deduction reports
- Communicate with the U.S. Treasury about 401k and pension funding
Higher-level payroll accountants may perform some tasks that typically belong to an internal auditor.
Where do payroll accountants work?
Payroll accountants can work for any entity that processes wages. These may include:
- Businesses of varying sizes
- Healthcare services
- Educational institutions
- Government offices at the federal, state, or local level
- Payroll administration companies that serve multiple organizations
Payroll accountants should possess strong analytical and problem-solving skills. Attention to detail is critical, too. They must be highly organized to successfully work with financial documents and data. The position also requires math and computer proficiency. Payroll accountants have to meet deadlines to ensure that workers receive payments on time.
A professional in this field must understand payroll processes. Knowledge of tax law and retirement planning is crucial. It’s also essential to have proficiency in payroll systems. Here are some of the most-used platforms that you may work with:
How to become a payroll accountant
Payroll accountants typically need to have a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Some entry-level positions may be available to candidates with just an associate degree. Similar positions of lesser responsibility may only require a high school education with some college coursework or payroll experience.
Earning an associate’s degree
When you apply to an associate’s program in accounting, you’ll need to show that you completed high school or have a GED. A minimum GPA of 2.0 is typically necessary. Candidates may also have to submit ACT or SAT scores. Some schools require proficiency in specific high school math skills, such as algebra.
Full-time students typically complete an associate’s degree in 2 years. You may be able to find 1-year accelerated programs. If you need more flexibility due to work or family responsibilities, you can study part-time or online.
An associate’s of accounting program typically teaches:
- The generally accepted accounting practices (GAAP) necessary for processing, reporting, and making decisions about financial data
- How to prepare financial statements and manage records
- Detail and precision in account management and tax filing
- Introduction to business law
- Ethics in accounting
If you want to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), an associate degree alone will not qualify you. However, it is one essential step toward achieving this status.
Positions that require an associate’s degree or less
Education requirements vary from one employer to another. At some organizations, you can qualify for the following positions with a high school diploma and related experience. Others require some college coursework or completion of an associate’s degree.
Earning a bachelor’s degree
For admission to an undergraduate accounting program, you’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent. Most universities require a transcript, a 2.5 or higher GPA, and ACT or SAT scores. Some colleges may also request a personal statement or academic references.
A bachelor’s degree in accounting typically takes 4 years to complete if you study full time. The program usually consists of about 120 credit hours of coursework. You’ll explore topics like:
- Financial and managerial accounting
- Federal taxation
- Profit planning and control
- Accounting for healthcare institutions and nonprofits
- Analysis of financial statements
Positions that require a bachelor’s degree
Professionals with a bachelor’s degree hold positions of greater responsibility. For example, the following careers are available: ults. In this strategic process, people collect, compile, and use various information essential to plan, control, and analyze their company’s future financial decisions.
Earning a master’s degree
A master’s degree is not a prerequisite for most payroll accounting positions. However, it can help you qualify for management positions, giving you an edge over the competition.
To get into a master’s program in accounting, you typically need:
- A bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field
- Undergraduate transcripts showing a minimum GPA of 2.75
- A resume
- A personal statement
- Work experience
Some schools also require GMAT or GRE scores. The admissions process may also include an interview or essay.
Full-time students typically complete a master’s degree in accounting within 2 years. Coursework may cover topics like:
- Auditing theory
- Advanced financial accounting
- Taxation of business entities
- Accounting ethics
Organizations often favor candidates with a master’s degree when hiring for positions like the following:
Earning a doctoral degree
Students who wish to earn a doctorate in accounting typically need to submit GRE or GMAT scores at the time of application. Some universities require an academic background in accounting or a related field. Others may allow students to complete these prerequisites as a part of the degree program. Candidates should have strong writing skills.
A doctoral degree typically involves 70-120 credit hours. These may come from classes, research, internships, and other hands-on learning. Coursework usually includes the following topics:
- Business and accounting – reporting, forensic accounting, theory, and practice
- Statistics and economics – probability, global economics, theory, and applications
- Research methods – behavioral, financial, qualitative, and quantitative
Students may choose from concentrations in the following areas:
- Public accounting – tax preparation and government positions
- Forensic accounting – law and methods for discovering fraud
- Accounting information systems – in-depth study of theories and tools for accounting
- Audit accounting – detailed evaluation of financial documents
- Managerial accounting – decision-making, strategies, and reporting to prepare for leadership positions
Accountants with a doctoral degree qualify for the following positions:
Educational programs and institutions go through an accreditation process to certify their quality. The following agencies are responsible for accrediting U.S. colleges and programs in accounting and business:
- Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
- Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
- International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)
Before enrolling in any degree program, make sure it holds accreditation from one of the above agencies. In this way, you can be confident that the degree will be recognized nationally and qualify you for professional certification.
You can find many accounting programs in an online format. Some courses are exclusively internet-based. Others are hybrid, meaning that they combine online and in-person elements. Both options allow students greater flexibility than on-campus learning. They’re excellent for scholars who have to juggle family and work responsibilities while studying. Online programs may be cheaper, too. Special care is necessary to verify accreditation before enrolling.
Costs and financial aid
The yearly cost of an associate or bachelor’s degree can vary significantly from one program to another. The Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid report documents average annual undergraduate tuition and fees. The numbers range from $10,560 at in-state public schools to $37,650 at private nonprofit institutions. Annual graduate tuition and fees also vary significantly, with the following averages, according to the same source:
- Master’s coursework at a public university: $8,950
- Master’s degree at a private institution: $29,670
- Doctoral program at a public college: $11,440
- Doctoral coursework at a private university: $44,910
During the application process, check with your college’s financial aid office regarding opportunities for grants, scholarships, and loans. By filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you can discover whether you qualify for government assistance. Two examples are the Pell Grant and the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program. Graduate financial aid may also include fellowships.
Professional certifications for payroll accountants
There are a few certification possibilities for payroll professionals. They include:
Payroll professionals can obtain this credential to demonstrate a baseline of competency in the field. This involves passing an exam administered by the American Payroll Association (APA).
To obtain this certification, a candidate must show work experience in the payroll field. They also need to take courses offered by the APA and pass a test. To begin this process, the professional must first earn the FPC credential.
This designation, awarded by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), is the most important for a public accountant. To obtain this credential, a candidate typically needs to hold a bachelor’s degree in accounting plus a total of 150 credit hours of coursework. A professional must also pass an exam to become a CPA.