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General Introduction

Those who have an understanding of math and a head for figures, along with an eye for detail and accuracy might find employment as a bookkeeper a perfect fit for your skillset and personality.  Bookkeepers are important cogs in any work environment. They keep close track of all of a company’s accounts, record its daily financial transactions, and that includes using software like QuickBooks or Account Edge Pro to track entries, edits, and credits.

Technology is taking its toll on the profession, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a negative 8 percent growth in a 10 year period from 2014 to 2024. That can be disconcerting to prospective bookkeepers, but it shouldn’t be.  According to Select One LLC.com, accounts payable and receivable clerks, a.k.a. bookkeepers, are still in high demand, and big businesses need them to make sure their invoices and outlays are paid on time. Another plus: Someone with bookkeeping skills can seamlessly transition into higher paying accounting positions, where the work is more focused on different departments, or silos, within a company structure. That transition, however, may require additional education and at least an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Salary information

It should be noted that the BLS lumps bookkeepers and accounting clerks together, but the jobs are not the same. There are clear differences between the two; most noticeably, bookkeepers record transactions company-wide, while accounting clerks generally are focused on specific departments. According to the latest (May 2016) statistics on bookkeeper compensation, as provided by the BLS, the median salary is $38,390, with a salary range of $23,880-$59,630. Salary.com reports slightly different, but more recent numbers. As of April 2017, a median annual bookkeeper salary is $39,914, with a range of $35,223-$44,620. Of course, the range always depends on several factors, including trends in the overall U.S. economy, a specific company salary structure, and often where the organization is located. Example: high concentrations of jobs of better paying jobs may be found in large metropolitan areas that are financial centers, such as New York City, Washington D.C. or San Francisco.

Skillsets

The image of the lone individual huddled at a desk, late at night underneath a lamp with pencil in hand notating in a large ledger book every financial transaction made by his company is largely a thing of the past with big organizations. Knowledge of computer accounting programs used to track and record the financial transactions and records of a company is a skillset that can find you a job. Having MS-Excel skills are sometimes also required by employers.

In summary, software skills and data entry skills are a must.  After all, bookkeepers must quickly and accurately enter financial data and other information from receipts and bills into databases, spreadsheets, and accounting software. And while software programs handle calculations, bookkeepers will sometimes have to use their own mathematical ability to understand transactions. Familiarity with double-entry bookkeeping procedure is also a skillset that can help bookkeepers work more accurately and, therefore, more efficiently. But most important, having good communication skills (you might have to explain financial matters to clients, meet with executives), being honest, and reliable are keys to success.

Job description

What exactly does a bookkeeper do? Chief responsibilities are recording and balancing financial transactions. After that, specific tasks will vary. Small employers, for example, might give their bookkeepers a larger number of responsibilities, such as processing payroll if they don’t maintain their own payroll department.

Meanwhile, a job description might include some, or all, of these tasks:

  • Data entering: documenting business expenses and income received into accounting and office software (or physical ledgers)
  • Recording: notating the receipt of cash, checks, and vouchers for clients
  • Invoicing: preparing and distributing invoices to collect money owed to your organization.
  • Banking: send cash, checks, and payment in other forms to employer or clients’ financial institutions
  • Receiving: incoming invoices are recorded, while at the same time you verify the delivery of products and services
  • Reconciling: Compare invoices to contracts and purchase orders. Reconcile discrepancies in financial records.
  • Handling payroll: calculate payroll to make sure all business clients’ salaried, hourly, and contracted employees receive prompt, accurate wages. Where appropriate, reimburse employees for business expenses.
  • Processing: filing of payroll taxes. Process W-9 and 1099 tax forms. Prepare and file annual municipal, state, and federal tax returns.
  • Reporting: producing monthly, quarterly, and annual financial reports, including balance sheets, income statements, totals by account, outstanding payables reports, and outstanding receivables reports.
  • Communicating: work with business clients or employers, communicating their budget needs and budget constraints

Necessary education and experience

Most bookkeepers need to have at least a high school diploma, however, companies are increasingly looking for bookkeepers with degrees in relevant fields, including finance, accounting, and business studies. There are some excellent programs that can help you get a leg up on the competition for a job.

At the very least, you will need some understanding of basic accounting practices, computers and spreadsheets, although you may learn some of this on the job.  Even though a high school diploma is all you need to become a bookkeeper, some companies prefer to hire bookkeepers with further, formal education. College coursework in accounting, bookkeeping or a related business field can help you stand out among applicants. Remember: as a bookkeeper you’ll have to follow well-established business practices, but there may be an opportunity to be more efficient. That ability will add value to your position and get you noticed by executives in the C-suite.  

Helpful resources

For an overall perspective of the accounting field, and your educational path to success in the occupation, check out our Accounting FAQ.

Certification can help bookkeepers gain an advantage in the job market without seeking a higher educational degree. A bookkeeper can gain certification through a professional organization, so check out:

Find out more about your occupation by reading blogs by insiders and experts. The best blogs about accounting and related fields can be found here.

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