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How to Become a Bookkeeping, Accounting and Auditing Clerk

Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerk uses a calculator.

Some people are great with math – that doesn’t mean they have to become math teachers! In fact, math is one of the most valuable skills in the modern marketplace, regardless of industry. Those with minds for math and attention to detail could become bookkeepers, accountants, or auditing clerks.

These skilled professionals perform invaluable services for private businesses and government organizations alike. However, the path to becoming a bookkeeper, accountant, or auditing clerk can seem complex or tricky.

Today, let’s break down how one can become a bookkeeper or accountant step-by-step. We’ll also explore how students can maximize their chances of employment and boost their salaries.

What is a Bookkeeping, Accountant, & Auditing Clerk?

While bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing are fairly similar in their subject matter and required skills, professionals within these fields have distinct responsibilities. Let’s break down what a person does as a bookkeeper, accountant, or auditing clerk (or a mix of all three!).

Bookkeepers

Bookkeepers are trained professionals who monitor, maintain, and add to a company’s accounts or financial “books.” In a nutshell, they check reports for accuracy, add line items when appropriate, and periodically review the financial records. They do this to ensure that there aren’t any major missteps or mistakes.

In a way, bookkeeping is both a maintenance job and an active job. Depending on the exact responsibilities required for a given position, a bookkeeper may have many tasks or be very focused on the functions they perform for an organization.

Bookkeeping Clerks vs. Certified Bookkeepers

Technically, there are two different types of bookkeepers: bookkeeping clerks and certified bookkeepers. Bookkeeping clerks are the more common version of this profession. These individuals maintain books but rarely add line items to financial books or do more advanced tasks.

In contrast, certified bookkeepers have a bookkeeper certification awarded by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers. As accredited bookkeepers, these professionals are allowed to carry out all possible bookkeeping functions, including but not limited to:

  • Overseeing payroll
  • Balancing accounts
  • Working within accepted accounting procedures
  • Monitoring book access and line changes

Because certified bookkeepers require additional knowledge, they are often paid more and given more responsibility within a company. Some employers hire bookkeeping clerks without a college degree. These clerks then spend time obtaining certification to move up the professional ladder.

Accountants

Accountants are more math-focused compared to bookkeepers. Also called accounting clerks, accountants focus primarily on accounts payable or accounts receivable. In simpler terms, they ensure the accuracy of payments to other companies. They also see that their company does not owe too much money to suppliers or service providers.

Accountants keep track of a company’s finances. Armed with this information, they may perform services such as:

  • Informing executive leadership about the budget for a company
  • Alerting executives about incoming bills or debts
  • Preventing companies from spending money they don’t have
  • Ensuring that bills are paid and collected on time

In general, only larger companies will have dedicated accountants. Smaller businesses or freelance organizations may contract with a bookkeeper (often a certified bookkeeper) to handle accounting tasks.

Many accountants have more specialized mathematical or accounting knowledge, though not all. Others become consultants during tax time for businesses.

Auditing Clerks

Auditing clerks frequently work in conjunction with accountants. Specifically, they check for the proper coding of expenses in financial documents. This ensures the correct recording of line items, especially when using complex software.

Furthermore, auditing clerks may report any issues to accountants. Auditing clerks double-check a company’s books for problems and accuracy.

Do Some Professionals Handle All These Responsibilities?

Yes and no.

As seen from the above descriptions, each professional overlaps with the others in terms of skills or tasks. In some cases, a certified bookkeeper or an accountant may handle each of these responsibilities and more. In others, a bookkeeper, accountant, or auditing clerk may only perform specific duties.

It all depends on an organization, the available work, and the budget or payroll.

As noted earlier, some smaller companies may use one bookkeeper to handle all of their financial auditing needs. Generally, as an organization grows, so do its auditing and accounting needs. Therefore, larger companies usually hire multiple accounting professionals to handle the increased workload.

When a company has specialized financial needs, they often turn to a certified public accountant.

CPA (Certified Public Accountant)

While most accountants can handle most accounting tasks, accounting specialists may become CPAs or certified public accountants. Certified public accountants are more specialized and can work for many businesses, government organizations, and across industries.

In a nutshell, a certified public accountant is a high-level accountant who prioritizes one of five areas of expertise:

  • Auditing and review
  • Consulting services
  • Financial planning
  • Litigation consulting
  • Tax preparation and consulting

CPAs undergo strict certification requirements and must acquire additional education to be licensed.

As a result, CPAs earn a higher salary compared to typical accountants. They are also required to maintain strict adherence to specific moral rules and regulations. Because of this, CPAs often work as outside or third-party accountants. They may check companies’ books or accounting work to look for fraud or errors.

How to Become a Bookkeeper, Accountant, or Auditing Clerk

Whether a student wishes to become a bookkeeper, accountant, or auditing clerk, the path is relatively straightforward. Bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks earn decent salaries. They also enjoy relatively stable job industries.

Let’s break down how you can become any of these bookkeeping professionals step-by-step.

Step 1. Decide Your Focus

Firstly, you should decide on a focus. If you want to maintain company books or check for errors, bookkeeping or auditing may be your best choice. However, suppose you have a mind for math and want to become a CPA in time. In that case, the path of an accountant is the obvious pick.

Fortunately, you can swap between these focuses throughout your career. Because the skills needed to become a bookkeeper, accountant, or auditing clerk overlap, switching to another is not too difficult.
The exception to this is becoming a CPA. That said, you should still try to pick your focus early. This will minimize any wasted time and allow you to save money and resources on college classes or other certificate requirements.

Step 2. Get Educated

Bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks require college degrees regardless of specialization you choose. Technically, some organizations may hire a professional as a bookkeeper or auditing clerk without a degree. But this is rare.

Furthermore, anyone who wishes to become an accountant should get a degree in accounting at a minimum. This is doubly true if you want to become a CPA. Regardless, earning a degree is always a wise idea. A college degree makes you, as a job applicant, more competitive, qualifies you for a higher salary, and opens up more employment opportunities later in life.

What Degree Do You Need?

A student who wishes to become a bookkeeper, accountant, or auditing clerk should get a degree in accounting. A bachelor’s degree in accounting is common and valuable in each of the three professional specializations.

 

However, an accounting degree is not specifically required. Instead, any relevant degree, such as math, statistics, and so on, will be suitable. Most employers look primarily for some coursework in accounting rather than a degree in accounting overall.

Students who wish to keep their options open can use this to their benefit. For example, one could get a degree in mathematics or statistics. Then they could become an accountant or bookkeeper while also keeping the door open for other professional opportunities. For example, they can become a math teacher later in life if they desire.

Online vs. In-Person Accounting Education

When choosing a university to acquire a degree, consider online and in-person education differences. Online accounting or related degrees can be helpful because they:

  • Enable students to complete coursework on their schedules
  • Provide a more accessible and affordable education
  • Allow students to hold down a job or carry out family responsibilities while finishing their degrees

Many online accounting degrees are robust and well-designed. The subject material of accounting and related degrees also means that students don’t need to complete in-person sections or practicums. Therefore, students can expect to finish their degrees entirely remotely or online.

The critical thing to look for is accreditation. You will want to ensure that you select an accredited program. Accredited colleges have the appropriate rigor and difficulty for their courses. Degrees awarded by these colleges will also be more valuable to employers.

Do You Need Certificates or Licenses?

Not always, but they help.

Specifically, bookkeepers should acquire a Certified Bookkeeper certification. The American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers awards this. In short, the Certified Bookkeeper certification shows that holders have extra knowledge and skills for carrying out bookkeeping tasks. This certification enables bookkeepers to handle payroll and account balancing tasks in the workplace. It also marks a bookkeeper as more trustworthy and knowledgeable, minimizing the likelihood of mistakes.

To acquire a Certified Bookkeeper designation, a candidate must have two years of full-time bookkeeping experience. Equivalent part-time work is also accepted. Students must then pass a four-part exam while also agreeing to adhere to a strict code of ethics.

The National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers also provides a CPB or Certified Public Bookkeeper certification. This certification requires that students pass a four-part Uniform Bookkeeper Certification Examination. It’s another proof of skills and moral strength and can improve employment opportunities and salary.

Accountants, meanwhile, may consider becoming a CPA. To become a CPA, accountants must:

  • Complete 40 credit hours of continuing professional education each year
  • Take at least 150 hours in college-level accounting courses. In most cases, this means getting a graduate degree
  • Attaining a year of work experience under the supervision of a licensed CPA
  • Passing the difficult CPA exam, which has four sections

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Step 3. Get On-the-Job Training

After earning a degree or certification, bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks must acquire on-the-job training. This is true no matter where an accountant or bookkeeper gains employment because:

  • Almost every company or organization has unique bookkeeping or accounting needs
  • Most organizations use specific software or do their books in different ways

This on-the-job training will help new bookkeepers or accountants get up to speed with typical practices. For example, most new accountants or bookkeepers learn about double-entry bookkeeping at their first jobs. Double-entry bookkeeping requires one to enter transactions twice. This safeguard step ensures that records are accurate.

Some bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks may take formal classroom training before starting a job. Many employers will pay for this classroom training. It usually takes about six months and may involve training in specialized software. Alternatively, a company may need a bookkeeper or accountant skilled in software such as QuickBooks.

Step 4. Acquire Experience

After employment, accountants, bookkeepers, and auditing clerks should acquire more experience. The more experience professionals gain, the easier they can change professions or attain promotions.
Experience in the accounting and bookkeeping industry often involves learning tax and accounting software details or complexities. Furthermore, bookkeepers and auditing clerks will specifically learn what they should look for when checking for errors or financial accuracy.

Step 5. Continue your Education

CBs must frequently complete continuing education credits to retain certification as a Certified Bookkeeper. The same is true for registered CPAs. Continuing education credits usually require CBs or CPAs to take online classes for a few weeks every year or two.

The continuing education credits ensure that accountants or bookkeepers remain abreast of new accounting and bookkeeping techniques. They also cover software updates and developments. By staying current in the field, you will have the most useful and efficient tools to carry out your work.

What Skills Do You Need to be a Bookkeeping, Accountant, & Auditing Clerk?

Becoming a bookkeeper, accountant, or auditing clerk means spending a lot of time around numbers. You can determine whether one of these professions will be suitable for you by considering the following skills:

  • Computer skills. Although bookkeeping and accounting professionals work with handwritten ledgers in previous years, now it’s almost always handled on computers. Even smaller businesses will use bookkeeping software such as QuickBooks to keep accurate records. Therefore, future bookkeepers, accountants, or auditing clerks must be comfortable around computer devices and tax or accounting software.
  • Mathematics skills. Naturally, bookkeepers and accountants need to know how to deal with numbers. People who enjoy math will find this industry to be a phenomenal fit. However, students don’t need to know advanced math to be good bookkeepers or accountants. Students should be skilled with basic arithmetic and hold many numbers in their minds at once.
  • Detailed-oriented. The accuracy of financial records is critical in the accounting and bookkeeping industries. Those who wish to become bookkeepers, accountants, or auditing clerks must maintain accuracy at all times. An eye for detail and a firm drive for perfection will benefit future accountants and bookkeepers.
  • Integrity. In addition to hard skills, bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks must be individuals of integrity. They hold the truth and stability of organizations’ financial documents in their hands. Not only must these professionals keep records confidential, but they must not misuse an organization’s funds or lie knowingly. This is doubly true for Certified Bookkeepers and CPAs.

Bookkeeping, Accountant, & Auditing Clerk Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks typically make $42,410 per year. However, the lowest paid of these professionals earn less than $27,000 per year. The highest-paid bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks often reach up to $64,000 per year.

This may be a livable wage depending on one’s state of residence. However, many bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks can improve their salaries by earning certifications or becoming CPAs.
Bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks may earn additional money during overtime hours. Overtime hours are more common during tax season or at the end of a business’s fiscal year.

Job Progression for Bookkeepers, Accountants, & Auditing Clerks

Unfortunately for these professionals, bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks will see a decline in employment demand by about 3% until 2030. Simply put, the abundance of tax software and contractor accountants means that dedicated organizational professionals are not as needed as before.

That said, skilled accountants or bookkeepers can still find long-term employment at organizations. Again, acquiring an additional degree or a certificate can go a long way toward ensuring employability for years to come.

Furthermore, bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks may secure better chances of long-term employment by adding additional skills to their resumes. The focus on computer software and computerized accounting techniques means doubling down on computer skills could be wise.

As noted earlier, accountants or bookkeepers with the right degrees can also pivot into different industries if needed. An accountant with a degree in statistics and accounting has a lot of employment opportunities. They don’t necessarily need to maintain employment as an accountant forever. They can become teachers, statistical analysts, or even consultants. Or they could enter the tax consulting industry, which is related and has a similar salary range.

Why Become a Bookkeeper, Accountant, or Auditing Clerk?

Because the salary for a bookkeeper, accountant, auditing clerk is not especially impressive, one might wonder why they should pursue these professions. In truth, there are multiple benefits to becoming a bookkeeper or accountant:

  • Firstly, bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing are relatively accessible industries. If a student doesn’t know what sector they wish to enter but knows they are good at math, this industry is a natural choice. It leads to a reasonable salary and marketable skills. Those marketable skills can help one land employment in various industries, ranging from teaching to tax consultancy and more. Mathematics and analysis skills are necessary for almost every job.
  • Furthermore, bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing are stable industries even if employment is declining in general. Many people will have to work until their 60s before they can retire. Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing are relatively flexible jobs. It doesn’t require a lot of hard physical labor and will not tax one’s body unnecessarily. Therefore, this could be a comfortable industry to work in even in late middle age or after.
  • Lastly, bookkeeping and accounting are fun for many, especially those who like math problems. Consultants or contractor accountants often take a lot of pleasure out of unpacking or analyzing a company’s books. For many, being an accountant or auditor involves solving mysteries – for example, a company may not know why their books are unbalanced. The accountant or auditor’s job is to find out why and provide a reasonable solution.

Like many industries, bookkeeping and accounting are only suitable for some people. It’s up to individual students to decide if this industry will be a good fit for their needs and preferences.

Summary

Overall, bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing are critical professional industries in the marketplace. The barrier to entry in this industry is not that high. Those who want to enter this industry should do all they can to acquire extra credentials. They should also choose their degree focus carefully. This is the key to maximizing one’s salary and employability over several years.

Fortunately, there are many top-tier accounting and related degrees from online universities these days. GetEducated has a detailed list of quality online schools, many of which have phenomenal online accounting degrees. Check out this online school list today!

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