Just like its employees, payroll is a critical element to any business or organization. Simply put, employees need to get paid – and someone needs to make that happen. That’s where a payroll specialist comes in. Payroll specialists prepare and process employee’s time and payroll. They compute wages and commission, deductions and taxes, as well as prepare paychecks on a regular basis. And they are needed in just about every industry, from retail, to finance, to healthcare, and all that falls in between.
There are many titles for payroll specialists, including payroll clerk, payroll technician, payroll administrator, and timekeeper, among others. No matter the title, though, the requirements needed to land a job in payroll are generally the same. At minimum, a payroll professional needs to have a high school diploma or equivalent. However, more employers are looking to hire candidates with a college education – And in order to advance, many employers require it. Fortunately, colleges are now offering career-focused programs within the payroll path.
On top of a good education, it is recommended that payroll specialists today pursue professional certification. However, this is not required. Professional payroll certification is a voluntary option for payroll specialists – those seasoned and those just starting out – looking to show proficiency in their field. It is a great addition to a resume, demonstrating your expertise in payroll, as well as your aptitude and appetite for advancing in this field.
According to the American Payroll Association, professional payroll certification can lead to an improved quality of work, reduced errors in payroll, and a boost in productivity. And today, there are several different types of payroll certification you can pursue. Below, Goodwin College dives into the various, voluntary certifications that payroll pros can pursue at the national level, as well as the eligibility requirements for each.
Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC)
The Fundamental Payroll Certification is offered by the American Payroll Association (APA). It is a great option for those just starting out in the field. It is designed specifically for entry-level payroll practitioners, sales professionals, consultants, and others who work (or aspire to work) in the payroll industry. Because it is a fundamental certification, the APA explains that the FPC “is awarded to individuals based on payroll knowledge, not experience; thus, there are no eligibility requirements for the FPC Examination.”
The FCP exam is open to all who wish to establish competency in the payroll field. To pursue the Fundamental Payroll Certification, you simply need to pass the FPC exam and subscribe to the APA’s Code of Ethics. The certification exam covers core payroll topics such as operations, paycheck concepts, tax reporting and accounting, and professional payroll skills and responsibilities. The FPC is granted for three years; after that, an individual can apply for recertification.
Certified Payroll Professional (CPP)
Certified Payroll Professional is a title given to specialists that successfully complete the CPP exam, also offered by the American Payroll Association. Unlike the FCP, the CPP exam is designed for experienced payroll professionals, managers, and supervisors. It focuses on higher-level skills, such as management and payroll systems, and is therefore a great option for those looking to advance their career. If you have been working in payroll for several years and want to enhance your skillset or role, the Certified Payroll Professional exam is a great next step.
Given this is an advanced certification, there are eligibility requirements that you must fulfill. The APA outlines three different prerequisite pathways that you can achieve:
- Option 1: You have practiced payroll for at least 3 out of the last 5 years. This practice may be in payroll production, payroll reporting, payroll accounting, payroll systems, payroll taxation, payroll administration, or payroll consulting.
- Option 2: You have been employed in payroll (any of the above roles listed) for at least the last 24 months, and completed a set curriculum of courses offered by the APA (see here for details).
- Option 3: You have been employed in the practice of payroll for at least the last 18 months, and have completed additional courses provided by the APA – see above link for details.
Once earned, the CPP certification is valid for five full years, at which a person can then become re-certified.
Certified Payroll Specialist (CPS)
The Certified Payroll Specialist license is accredited by the National Association of Certified Payroll Specialists (NACPS). It is specifically designed for payroll professionals working in small businesses and non-profit organizations. The CPS title demonstrates an individuals knowledge, skill, experience, and ethics in payroll.
According to the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB), the CPS certification is nationally recognized and can help a payroll specialist build credibility, verify payroll experience, and distinguish themselves amongst others in this industry. It also validates a person’s knowledge of accounting, payroll, and Quickbooks.
In order to earn the CPS certification, you must:
- Pass the three-part Uniform Certified Payroll Specialist Examination,
- Possess a bachelor’s or associate degree in accounting (or related),
- Have one-year (2,000 hours) of bookkeeping, accounting, or payroll experience,
- Agree to the Code of Professional Conduct,
- Obtain and maintain 16 hours of CPE credit each year, and
- Complete and submit the application for this license
For those who have completed payroll or accounting courses at the college-level, and who only have a little experience in the field, the Certified Payroll Specialist (CPS) title can really make a difference in your career.
If you are considering becoming a Certified Payroll Specialist, or getting certified through any of the above pathways, going back to school is a key prerequisite if you want to stand out in the payroll profession. The best part is, it doesn’t need to require years of college. A flexible accounting school will offer courses that work with your schedule, and that will get you into a career in a relatively short amount of time. For example, Goodwin College offers accelerated accounting courses that will lead to your associate degree in half the typical time.
To learn more about the requirements needed to become a successful payroll professional, or to learn about the accounting program at Goodwin College, please do not hesitate to call 800-889-3282 today.
Goodwin College is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin College was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.