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Payroll Specialist Certification

by Fred Decker, studioD

Managing payroll is a specialized niche within the bookkeeping profession. It's a position that carries high responsibility, because few things can damage a company's morale faster than irregular or inaccurate pay. Most bookkeepers learn their payroll skills on the job, and it can often be difficult for outsiders to assess their understanding of the subject. Earning professional certification as a payroll specialist is one way to demonstrate competence and professionalism.

Certified Payroll Specialist

The National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers administers the Certified Payroll Specialist credential. Candidates for certification must have at least 2,000 hours of payroll experience, or approximately one year of full-time employment. The exam consists of 68 multiple-choice questions, and it's delivered online. Candidates can request access any weekday during business hours and will be provided with a personalized link to the exam. The exam must be taken within 24 hours. Membership in the NACPB is not required, but members receive a discount on fees.

Fundamental Payroll Certification

The American Payroll Association also offers certifications. The first is a basic certification for bookkeepers who are new to payroll duties, and it's called the Fundamental Payroll Certification, or FPC. It's designed to test the candidate's grasp of payroll fundamentals, including basic accounting and payroll concepts, paycheck calculation, payroll systems and compliance. The APA offers training and self-study materials, including a detailed handbook. Candidates must take and pass a multiple-choice exam before they can be certified. APA membership is optional.

Certified Payroll Professional

The APA's advanced credential, the Certified Payroll Professional designation, is reserved for experienced professionals. Candidates must have at least three years' experience in specified forms of payroll administration, or a combination of two years' experience and formal training. APA membership isn't necessary for certification, although members receive a discounted price on the exam. All candidates must take and pass the certification exam, which is similar to the FPC exam but more detailed and with a greater emphasis on management.

Certification and Professionalism

The exam prep materials for certifications can serve as useful self-assessment tools. If you know the material completely, you're a well-trained professional who should have little difficulty passing the examination. If you struggle with part of the material, that indicates an area of concern where you should focus your training efforts. Once you've passed the certification exam and earned your credentials, you'll need to maintain your certification through continuing education. This is important to potential employers, because it means you'll stay up to date on changes in payroll legislation.

About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

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