Becoming a Bookkeeper Careers & Salary Outlook

What is a Bookkeeper?


If you enjoy working with numbers and are looking for a career that doesn’t require extensive training, you might consider taking a serious look at bookkeeping to see if it’s a field you might thrive in. Bookkeepers oversee the financial aspects of a business, giving business owners more time to dedicate to the day-to-day operations of their company without worrying about balancing their accounts and ensuring compliance with federal rules and regulations regarding a business’ financial operations. Here’s an in depth look at how to become a bookkeeper, and what you can do once you earn the title.

A bookkeeper is charged with balancing the daily, weekly, and/or monthly financials within a business. Depending on the size and type of business, they may have a varied list of duties but, in short, they are responsible for tracking all incoming and outgoing monies associated with each account held by the business. Depending on the size of the business, the bookkeeper may be in charge of a single account or all financial aspects of the transactions.

Steps to Becoming a Bookkeeper


  • Step 1: Earn your high school diploma or General Education Development (GED)

  • Step 2: Learn the necessary skills

  • Step 3: Apply for entry level positions

  • Step 4: Gain experience and on the job skills

  • Step 5: Consider earning certification is specialty areas of the field

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Step 1: Earn your high school diploma or General Education Development (GED)

If you’re still in high school, you can get a jump on this career by taking courses that will give you many of the necessary skills to enter the field of bookkeeping. Math courses are a must, and many schools offer accounting-specific classes as well. Basic computer skills are necessary, so look beyond learning how to type and take business communications, Microsoft Office, and similar courses geared toward the business world. If you keep your grade point average up, you may complete a semester or more of college before graduation, so look for advanced accounting, Quicken, and similar courses. Many schools have a tech center where you might earn a certificate program in bookkeeping as well.

If you don’t have a diploma, you can find GED study guides at your local library or online, and the library will also give you access to GED testing information.

Step 2: Learn the necessary skills

Whether you choose a self-taught method or prefer standard classes, you’ll need to learn the basic skills to enter the field of bookkeeping. Accounting courses, Quicken, MS Office, basic business law, and business communications will give you a solid foundation on which to build your career. By checking the major national online job boards, you can quickly learn if there are any new skills employers in your area are looking for and add one or more to your skillset to get a bit of advantage over your competitors.

Step 3: Apply for entry level positions

Once you’re confidant that you have a solid base of bookkeeping skills, you’ll be ready to create a resume and find your first paying position. If you need help with your resume, you can call or visit the nearest state unemployment office, where they will help you create a professional resume that reflects your skills and talents. Before you apply for each job, take a good look at what skills they’re looking for and modify your resume to emphasize your expertise in those areas, basically customizing your resume to each position you’re applying for.

Step 4: Gain experience and on the job skills

While your first position won’t be in the highest salary range, it will be much more valuable because you’ll be gaining on the job experience. You can use this exposure to learn the ins and outs of a bookkeeper’s responsibilities and learn new programs and methods you may not have explored during your formal or informal education. Many employers offer paid tuition for courses related to employee positions, so make sure you take advantage of all learning opportunities to broaden your scope of expertise.

Step 5: Consider earning certification is specialty areas of the field

Many employers hiring or promoting advanced bookkeepers prefer those who have national certifications in one or more areas, so it’s a good idea to pass the exam for specialized expertise. This shows prospective employers you are not only an expert in your area but also are willing to go the extra mile to be a proficient bookkeeper. You can also use national certifications to promote yourself as a freelance bookkeeper and start your own business or company offering accounting services.

What Does a Bookkeeper Do?


A bookkeeper can have a wide range of responsibilities depending on the company or companies they work for. In a larger business they might work standard business hours in an office on-site; in a smaller company they might work a few days a week. If a small to mid-sized business is fully computerized a freelance bookkeeper might work from a home office and might work via contract for several businesses, creating an entire business out of their home by building a client list over a few years. Their specific duties will vary depending on the size of the employer or client, as bookkeepers in a major corporation may only be in charge of one or two accounts and those in a small business will cover a much wider range of tasks.

Here’s a look at some of the responsibilities a bookkeeper might be responsible for:

  • Oversee, facilitate, and record outgoing and incoming payments for each account
  • Ensure account compliancy with federal and state regulations
  • Create and file financial reports
  • Write and edit budgets
  • Monitor accounts payable and receivable
  • Review and update financial records
  • Handle employee payroll and deductions
  • Alert the employer to any questionable financial issues
  • Present reports to employer, either in person or via written report

Bookkeeper Skills to Acquire


As mentioned above, while bookkeeping doesn’t require a college degree, it does entail a specific set of skills in order to meet the basic requirements for employment.

Here’s a look at the skill sets you’ll need:

  • Math skills:
    Although you won’t be using algorithms and other algebraic functions, you must have a solid affinity for basic math. Bookkeeping, by definition, is all about the numbers and you must be adept at addition, subtraction, and other basic math practices to succeed.
  • Computer skills:
    In addition to accounting and spreadsheet software, bookkeepers also need to be literate in business communications so that they can write emails and reports in a standard recognized by all.
  • Detail oriented:
    the old saying “everybody makes mistakes” doesn’t apply to bookkeeping. You must have an eye for detail to both avoid making mistakes as well as pinpointing errors before the work is submitted in order to keep the company financial records above reproach.
  • Integrity:
    bookkeepers have access to the most private areas of a company as they control the financial aspects of the company for their employer. They must be transparent and honest and keep all aspects of their work confidential.
  • Work independently:
    as a rule, bookkeepers work with little supervision, so you must have the ability to stay on track and complete your work in a timely manner. This is especially true if your long-term goal is to become a freelance bookkeeper and run your own business.

Alternative Paths


Although you can learn bookkeeping on your own, you can usually find relatively short certificate programs which will teach you all the basics. Look for these programs at community colleges or technical schools and expect to spend six to 12 months learning the skills you’ll need if you choose to take one. While this may take longer, a certificate program will often include resume building and employment opportunities for those who successfully complete the course.

Although they are uncommon, there are opportunities to learn on the job in an apprentice-type situation, or start in a similar office position and slowly learn the ropes while you take night classes or study independently.

If you’re enrolled in college in an accounting or business field, you may gain employment as a bookkeeper under an internship connected to your coursework or as summer employment. This is especially valuable, as internships often lead to full-time job offers.

You may also opt to earn a traditional two- or four-year degree in accounting, which will broaden your bookkeeping skill set. Accounting majors also learn auditing, cost accounting, and public accounting as well as other business-related skills.

Bookkeeper Career & Salary


Where Might You Work?


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Bookkeepers work in offices in as wide a range of situations as there are types of businesses. If you work for more than one company, you might travel to each firm’s business location on a rotating schedule, or you may have one employer and work a standard nine-to-five job. Note that, because bookkeepers focus on the finances of their employer, most will be required to work overtime during the busy season, such as the end of the fiscal year and tax deadline time.

The majority of bookkeepers are employed by an accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services company, in effect working as a temp for individual business as required. Others work for real estate companies, investment corporations, and businesses which provide office administrative services. Virtually every business needs a bookkeeper, so the range of possible employers is vast. For example, freight transportation arrangement companies and land subdivision companies each employ over 3% of all bookkeepers nationwide.

A full 13% of bookkeepers work in the professional, scientific, and technical services field, and the fields of retail, wholesale, and healthcare each boast 8% employment of all bookkeepers. As mentioned above, every business, company, and corporation that has money coming in and going out requires a bookkeeper to keep the number straight, so the available positions are as varied as the types of companies in existence.

Career Outlook


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that bookkeeping careers as a whole are set to decline by 6% over the next decade, primarily due to advances in software innovations. This basically means that computers can now do many of the traditional bookkeeping tasks, so fewer workers are required. The way to work around this is to stay on top of the latest trends in cloud computing and similar advances in the field, such as specialized software that may be difficult for traditional bookkeepers to grasp.

Despite the lower job opening projections, there will still be growth in the bookkeeping field. The field may become more of an analytical position rather than data entry and reconciliation, and workers may be tasked with analyzing a company’s books and highlighting areas of concern or potential gains. In addition, many positions will be opening up as older workers retire or become unable to keep up with the advances in technology.

The median annual wage for bookkeepers in 2019 was around $41,200. The lowest 10%, typically reflecting those with less education and experience, earned $25,900. The highest 10%, usually reflecting those with the most experience, earned $62,400.

Jobs


Not all bookkeeping jobs are advertised as such, so it’s a good idea to learn what positions have similar skill set requirements before you begin your job hunt. By understanding other jobs in the field of bookkeeping, you may be able to find a position which allows you to earn while you learn and advance quickly to higher positions within the company. Here’s a look at jobs in the field that are directly related to bookkeeping, any of which may give you an advantage as you pursue your bookkeeping knowledge base.

  • Accounts Receivable Clerk:
    An accounts receivable clerk is responsible for verifying and posting all company receipts, pinpointing and resolving discrepancies, customer billing, and similar tasks related to all monies entering the company.
  • Payroll and Timekeeping Clerks:
    A payroll and timekeeping clerk maintains a company’s employee and payroll list, tracking hours worked, rate of regular and overtime pay, tax withholding, and deductions, as well as the personal information of every employee.
  • Accounts Payable Clerk:
    An accounts payable clerk is the opposite position of the accounts receivable clerk, as they track all money disbursed by the company. They may process disbursement checks, vouchers, and similar payments as required by the accounting department.
  • Accounting Clerk or Staff Accountant:
    An accounting clerk typically works directly beneath the company accountant, performing audits and similar financial functions. They may also be tasked with producing financial reports for the accountant in an accurate and timely manner.

Find Bookkeeper Jobs Near You


Advancing from Here


The great thing about becoming a bookkeeper is the room for advancement. Not only can you choose to freelance or open your own business, but you can also advance exponentially within a company or corporation. Here’s a look at positions you might strive for if you choose to add to your knowledge and experience base.

  • Full Charge Bookkeeper:
    A full charge bookkeeper works as the head of an entire bookkeeping department, usually within a larger corporation. They might oversee a team of bookkeepers, each of which is charged with a single or several accounts.
  • Accounting Assistant:
    An accounting assistant works directly beneath one or more accountants and is tasked with monitoring budgets, auditing, and both incoming and outgoing transactions. They are typically expected to verify data entry and review payroll reports and provide answers to any payroll issues that may arise.
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO):
    A CFO is one of the top executives of a corporation and is a critical leader of the organization. They decide how the financial and accounting operations run in order to ensure an appropriate balance between financial controls and the growth concerns of the overall business.

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