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Why Become a Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB)?

Bookkeepers who already have the required hours of bookkeeping experience and want to distinguish themselves from the rest the bookkeeping profession by proving they have knowledge and skills in this field can achieve a license as a certified public bookkeeper. They simply must complete the Uniform Certified Public Bookkeeper exam. The CPB license that you receive once you pass the exam indicates that, not only does the holder have a strong academic background and bookkeeping or accounting experience, but it is recognized that they have also gone above and beyond to both pass rigorous tests and maintain their credentials with hours of continuing professional education (CPE) and ethical work. In fact, experienced bookkeepers who don't have a bachelor's degree in accounting can still attain a license and attain proof that they are both skilled and have experience with accounting principles and bookkeeping service, even if they only worked part-time.

While a vital credential for those seeking a job with a bookkeeping or accounting firm, the CPB license is even more indispensable for bookkeepers who work with a small business on an independent basis rather than through a firm. That is, the CPB license itself verifies one's ability to settle the books for an individual or a small business. Furthermore, almost half of all independent bookkeepers who attain the certified public bookkeeper (CPB) license are known to boost their earnings, partially because it allows them to raise their rates.

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What is a Bookkeeper?

A bookkeeper is a professional who is skilled at recording financial transactions in a ledger, often using QuickBooks or other software for accounting. Bookkeepers need to record transactions in their proper place so that accountants can later assess the figures and write financial reports. For smaller businesses they may offer services for all areas, while in a larger company, bookkeepers may specialize in areas such as inventory, accounts receivable or payable, or payroll. The position is nationally recognized and you can find current job opportunities in the bookkeeping profession throughout the country, with or without bookkeeping or accounting experience or a bachelor's degree in accounting.

What Does a Bookkeeper Do?

On a day-to-day basis, a certified public bookkeeper (CPB), or someone working in that capacity without a CPB license, is charged with keeping accurate records of financial transactions in an accounting software system. While some specialize in one specific aspect of a business, such as payroll, others take a more comprehensive role, especially in smaller organizations. Bookkeepers must be adept with data entry as they often need to record a large number of transactions using a 10-key pad. Once the data has been accurately recorded, bookkeepers must ensure that it is ready for the trial balance stage, in which the debits and credits are equal. They must have a firm grasp of accounting principles and know what steps to take to perform these actions correctly.

Bookkeepers are charged with recording transactions and performing simple financial calculations. They must be exceptionally accurate, so their data entry abilities must be as close to flawless as possible. Once their work is complete, it is often sent to higher-level accountants who apply financial models to it and otherwise interpret the data. Some bookkeepers may be tasked with generating financial reports to present to their managers. The reports might reflect incoming revenue over time, outgoing payments, or some comparison of the two. Bookkeepers might also participate in various stages of a corporate audit, though they must do so under the supervision of licensed accountants.

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Bookkeepers typically work in an office environment and, these days, all perform their primary duties using a computer. While many bookkeepers work in large organizations and may specialize in a specific department, such as inventory, it is possible to work independently for one or multiple clients on a contract basis.

Education Requirements to Become a Certified Public Bookkeeper

  • Degree Necessary

    For those who wish to gain a certified public bookkeeper (CPB) license, the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB) requires that applicants have a base of knowledge in preparation for the certification exam, called the Uniform Certified Public Bookkeeper Exam. Those with an associate or bachelor's degree in accounting should have completed the education requirements while in school, and applicants should submit their college transcripts for review to ensure that they've completed the necessary coursework to be prepared for their bookkeeping certification. If their college work was not adequate, or if you haven’t earned a degree but have some experience as a bookkeeper, the association provides overview courses and programs that are tailored specifically for the certification exam in order to help you pass the exam the first time you take it. Candidates should also be aware that the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers requires one year of experience prior to sitting for the four-part exam.

    It is not necessary to have a degree to become employed as a bookkeeper. However, the job market continues to require more and more training. Thus, it is recommended that bookkeepers achieve at least an associate-level degree in finance, accounting, or business. Those who complete a bachelor's degree are likely to have even better job prospects with a potential employer when they meet their education requirements and become a certified public bookkeeper (CPB).

  • Subject Focus
    • Accounting Fundamentals:
      The Uniform Certified Public Bookkeepers Exam covers accounting fundamentals such as payroll considerations, taxes, deposits, and payments. The many other topics covered by the exam include general ledger and journal entries, cash, how to analyze business transactions, T accounts, and more.
    • Accounting Principles:
      As with most accounting certification exams, this one covers the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). These ten concepts include the principles of consistency, regularity, sincerity, prudence, periodicity, materiality, and utmost good faith.
    • Payroll:
      This is a special expense that includes employee salaries, expenses, and benefits packages. The test will have multiple choice questions covering a wide range of issues including payroll taxes, employee expense reimbursements, bonus structures, and severance packages, among others which you must be able to answer if you want to be a professional bookkeeper.
    • QuickBooks:
      This is a software package created by Intuit that is a standard for bookkeepers. Quickbooks helps bookkeepers sort transactions and run reports that track debits and credits for a business. Test takers with strong work and academic experience will likely be familiar with this software.
  • Exams

    Once candidates are approved to sit for the open-book, two-hour exam, they are invited to schedule and pay for each individual part of the examination; this is a four-part exam. Each part costs $100 for the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers members, or $150 for non-members, and they may be taken at any time via the Accounting Training Unlimited's Online Test Center. Once candidates schedule their desired day and time via the online portal, they will receive an access code on the last business day prior to the scheduled testing session.

    The certified public bookkeeper (CPB) exam consists of four individual tests with 50 multiple choice questions and/or simulations each, or 200 total questions. Each test can be scheduled and taken separately and must be passed with a score of 75%, or 37 correct answers per test. In the event that you do not pass one of the tests, you may re-take that test, given they are willing to pay another test fee. Members pay a re-test fee of $50 and non-members pay $75. This is part of why it's so important to make sure you take a practice exam or two so you know you can pass the real thing and earn your Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB) License.

How is the Certified Public Bookkeeper Exam Scored?

The certification exam that will earn you your Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB) license is a series of four open-book tests with multiple choice questions that are conducted online from the test taker's home or setting of choice. The exam is thus scored by computer. To pass, each of the four parts must be passed with a score of 75%, which works out to 37 correct answers out of 50.

Candidates have up to a year to take and pass all four parts of the exam. Students can focus on each of the four parts independently. Some take one part every 3 months so that they can focus on that part independent of the rest, meaning it can take up to a year to become a certified public bookkeeper (CPB) after you start taking the certification exam.

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Study Resources and Preparation for the Bookkeeper Exam

Prior to taking the bookkeeping certification exam, candidates must qualify to sit for the test. The qualifications include academic training and experience. The National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers offers a program for bookkeepers who have not completed a college degree or whose transcript does not reflect the proper coursework. Those courses are aimed at helping students pass the exam. Additionally, the association offers a practice exam, an online dictionary, videos, and other resources on their website. Check their website to find ample exam resources ( Resources are also available through the National Bookkeepers Association (

Since the examination is open-book, test takers are free to bookmark or otherwise save any resources they feel may help during the test. Others may choose to make a comprehensive cheat sheet. One method for such a learning tool is to create a document full of hyperlinked terms that direct the test-taker to a website or a definition within the document.

Believe it or not, creating a cheat sheet is a terrific way to study and integrate the material. Candidates should avoid blindly copying and pasting material, however, and should seek to fully comprehend every term and concept that is on the sheet. The sheet will thus function as a handy resource and a memory trigger more than a crutch that inhibits learning.

Bookkeepers may also seek out peers who may wish to study in groups. This may work well for individuals who work in a larger bookkeeping department or firm. Bookkeepers who are completing a degree can keep in touch with their classmates and then, once everyone has met the exam's experience requirement, they can reunite and form a study group.

  • Difficulty

    The bookkeeping certification exam should be considered very difficult. While it’s certainly not as difficult as the certified public accountant (CPA) exam, candidates should be sure to prepare as much as possible. However, if every aspiring certified public bookkeeper (CPB) studies hard and utilizes the review material available on the NACPB website, as well as the materials available through the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) (, they should have no problem acing the certification exam.

    Since the examination is administered as an open book test, students can create a test-taking strategy that includes well-formatted materials. When candidates create a comprehensive study sheet to access during the test, they are sure to breeze through.

  • Cost

    The cost to become a Certified Bookkeeper can be as little as $400 for the examinations ($320 for NACPB members), plus a $100 application fee. That estimate assumes a CPB application for licensure that includes a satisfactory college transcript, such as a degree in accounting. However, bookkeepers who do not have the appropriate college coursework under their belt will need to take courses through the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers. The course and examination bundle costs $1,276 for association members, but non-members will be charged $1,596.

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