Most businesses need someone who can update and manage their business accounts, entering debits and credits and making it all balance out in the end. So, they turn to bookkeepers. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that about 1.6 million bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks crunched numbers in businesses across the United States as of May 2013. That number is expected to swell by 11 percent during the decade leading up to 2022, signaling strong opportunity for trained bookkeepers.
A bookkeeper's responsibilities vary based on the size and type of business. Small-business bookkeepers may have full control over the general ledger and financial reporting functions. At a large corporation, bookkeepers are likely to specialize in a specific area, such as payroll or accounts receivable. Some businesses may require additional bookkeeping services, such as the monitoring of loans and interest payments or compliance with regulatory requirements.
"With today's technology, millennials are do-it-yourselfers," Paul Thompson of Premier Accounting & Tax, Inc. in Alexandria, Virginia, said. "But they need help. They don't always understand debits and credits, how to reconcile a bank account and how financial reports need to be prepared. They also need to learn how to read financial reports. Good bookkeepers can help them in all these areas."
Most people can follow these steps to become a bookkeeper:
Get a high school diploma.
Until recently, those who wanted to know how to become a bookkeeper just needed a good head for numbers and someone willing to teach them bookkeeping skills on the job. But expectations are changing as the role of bookkeepers changes. In high school, emphasize courses in math, business, computers and office training.
Get an internship.
While still in high school or college, try to find a part-time job helping out around a bookkeeper's or accountant's office. Chances are they'll be thrilled to show you how they work, and introduce you to the computer programs they use. Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks can use on-the-job training to learn such things as double-entry bookkeeping and other methods of accurately recording transactions.
Practice with the software.
The best way to learn how to become a bookkeeper is to study accounting software and spreadsheets, so consider taking some online tutorials and learning the basics of how those programs work.
Get an associate degree or complete vocational training.
Many candidates for bookkeeper jobs will have at least a associate degree, so getting that level of education under your belt will improve your chances greatly.
After you've been on the job as a bookkeeper for the equivalent of two years, you can earn your Certified Bookkeeper designation from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers by passing a four-part exam and adhering to a code of ethics. The CB designation tells customers and employers that you are qualified to carry out a wide range of bookkeeping and accounting duties.
In addition to the CB designation, you can also become a licensed Certified Public Bookkeeper through the National Association of Certified Public Bookeeepers.This license requires that you take 24 hours of continuing professional education annually.
Earn a bachelor's or master's degree to become an accountant.
Bookkeepers can return to school for additional classes on their way to becoming a higher-paid supervisor, accountant, financial analyst or financial manager. The U.S. is expected to add more than 200,000 bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerk jobs between 2012 and 2022. In May 2012, the media pay in this field was $35,170, although the top 10 percent earned more than $54,310. The highest median salary was paid in the professional, scientific and technical services field. Accountants, meanwhile, earned a median annual salary of $63,550.
To learn more about the field, including how bookkeepers can take their careers to the next level, we sat down with Paul Thompson, EA, ABA, ATA, ARA, from Premier Accounting & Tax, Inc., a firm located in Alexandria, Virginia.
Q. How would someone know if they will enjoy being a bookkeeper?
If you like numbers, are good at math, enjoy keeping good records and enjoy talking to business owners and staff, you'll enjoy being a bookkeeper.
Q. What are the biggest challenges facing bookkeepers just starting out in the profession?
Learning software programs like QuickBooks and understanding the reports, how they are supposed to look and what reports work for each type of business.
Q. What is the job market like for bookkeepers?
The job market is good for bookkeepers who are looking to work for a business. For the last several years accounting/bookkeeping firms have seen a trend of businesses that want to do their own bookkeeping. With today's technology, millennials are do-it-yourselfers. But they need help. They don't always understand debits and credits, how to reconcile a bank account, and how financial reports need to be prepared. They also need to learn how to read financial reports. Good bookkeepers can help them in all these areas.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
- American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers
Program outcomes vary according to each institution's specific curriculum, and employment opportunities are not guaranteed.