Meet the Expert
Joanne Gore

What is a bookkeeper and why are they needed? Have you ever considered becoming a bookkeeper yourself? If you are great at organizing documents, keeping up with facts and figures, and calculating balances, perhaps a career as a bookkeeper is right for you. This path is especially great for a contractor or freelancers and those who are interested in starting their own bookkeeping start-up in a niche market.

What is Bookkeeping and What Do They Do?

Bookkeepers perform a wide variety of functions on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis and they may also be involved in resolving balances at the end of the year so that their accounts are correctly reconciled. They usually do this with pertinent technology and software, either on site or through virtual, cloud based programs such as Quickbooks, which they can access through their home computer. These are a critical processes that must be performed for a company to remain profitable and avoid spending more than they can afford to. While a bookkeeper is not a financial advisor for owners, they can give them perspective by telling them what they are spending and keeping them posted on transactions and account information so that they can make adjustments or avoid a big purchase so they don't go over their budget and continue performing well in the market.

In addition to these tasks, they are often responsible for payroll, invoices, records collection on debits and credits, and even disputing charges that they may receive in error. They may also go after money that is owed to the company but has not yet been paid by making phone calls and sending email: credit collection. This is an essential position for the company and bookkeepers who do it well can be compensated well. Let's take a look at the average salaries you can expect to earn as a bookkeeper.

Salaries and Compensation of the Average Bookkeeper

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), bookkeepers are in the category of Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks. Their median salary falls around the $39,420 range but some can make more if they work as independent contractors.

Independent contractors, as opposed to staff bookkeeping agents, can make more than the average because they can charge whatever the market will bear for their services. While they don't usually work in managerial accounting, they can retain multiple clients to increase their hours, improve their income without adding to their overhead, and get the word out for their small business. If you develop your reputation as a seasoned bookkeeper and one who rarely makes mistakes, you'll be able to gain more for your work. As you rack up multiple clients, your time will become more valuable, and the demand for your services will justify raising your rates.

If you work for an employer, you will have to accept the salary you agree upon when you take the job. However, the advantage of working for an employer is that you will have a paycheck you will be able to depend on for as long as they needs you. This is a steady paycheck that many depend on. But it is also a great feeling to go into business for yourself. This is a decision you should make once you get your certification or degree, training, and bookkeeping or software certification completed. You can weigh employment offers based on your need to have regular paycheck versus your desire to demand your terms and have the freedom of working from home or for many clients.

Typical Functions of this Career

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The typical bookkeeper's functions include keeping track of daily expenditures, filing and acting on invoices for the bank or organization, disputing incorrect charges, and alerting managers or CEOs to possible problems with the financials. Owners do not have the time do this themselves, so they pay a bookkeeper for efficiency and to keep an eye on transactions for them. They need someone with a basic knowledge of the principles and real math skills, but they don't need a full CPA just to run reports and monitor transactions.

Bookkeepers may also work in conjunction with the staff accountant or clerks to ensure that everything is running smoothly and that the company does not fall into receivership or a negative balance. Keeping an organization "in the red" and paying all debts on time is the primary concern of the bookkeeper. This will help show anyone considering investment in the company that they manage their financial process well.

What a bookkeeper does not do is the heavy lifting work of an accountant, which is often confused with the work of a bookkeeper. The bookkeeper tends to do simpler work that mostly involves taking the time to keep a ledger and deal with transactions where the staff accountant spends time analyzing data, suggests changes to the manager or owner, and takes a more aggressive role in increasing revenue and cutting costs. CPAs must also take time off in order to attend continuing education classes.

Ideally, the bookkeeper will serve as the "first point of contact" within the organization’s daily workings, and the accountants and CFO (chief financial officer) or other staff will handle the more complex tasks. Taxes are not usually the job of the bookkeeper as that task is usually passed to the accountant or CPA to handle. The bookkeeper holds an important, but entry level position.

Possible Titles, Duties and Day in the Life

Bookkeepers are needed by a wide variety of organizations and individuals including:

1

Schools

Public and private schools, universities, technical colleges, and other institutions require the help of a bookkeeper. It is critical that they keep their finances in order and make sure they are following the standards required by federal, state, and local laws.

2

Government agencies

Government agencies need bookkeepers including governor's offices, Congress, state offices, and even the President's office to account for expenditures and help keep track of planned budgets.

3

Churches

Most churches and congregations have someone appointed as a bookkeeper to keep track of the costs and incoming donations of a church. Even though most churches depend on independent contributions of members, the money must still be accounted for and kept track of. This also helps church leaders to know how they are spending their money so they can plan for future projects and put their money where their priorities are.

4

Non-profit organizations

Even non-profit organizations must keep up with their bookkeeping and pay bills.

5

Civic clubs

There are all sorts of civic clubs and organizations that need bookkeeping to keep track of their spending and income. Charity drives, Scout organizations, and even cookie drives or bake sales must be recorded so that they will know how the organization is doing from a fiduciary standpoint an they may have internal rules that prevent a member of the club from being the only one keeping an eye on these funds.

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Large or Small Businesses

No matter what the size of a business, they must keep track of their income and outgoing cash and expenditures. This is necessary for tax reasons as well as for planning future expenditures and prioritizing expenses and budgets.

As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities for an aspiring bookkeeper to create a career for themselves in the world of finance. The first step to reaching this goal is to find out what the process is like to become a bookkeeper.

Education and Degree Options: Certificate, Diploma or Degree

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Your options in this, as with any profession, will vary depending on what you choose to do when you're done learning, what role you wish to play in a company's financial organization, and whether you want to work for a company or go into business for yourself.

The necessary requirements for a bookkeeper are listed below. Follow these steps as one of the routes to begin your career as a bookkeeper.

1

Attend college for an associate’s degree in business, accounting, or finance.

Any reputable college is excellent as long as they offer accounting and other math-related courses that will help you with your career.

2

Learn the skills necessary to do a job as a bookkeeper such as basic computer skills, spreadsheets, accounting and bookkeeping software, and high math skills.

Some of these skills can be learned later, on the job.

3

Look into training such as online courses and webinars that address the concerns of working as a bookkeeper.

Look for courses that teach on-the-job skills like organizational skills and how to check your calculations for accuracy.

4

Learn "double-entry" bookkeeping techniques.

This is one of the methods that are most often used today for ledgers

5

Do some research and find out what specific firms or companies are looking for in a bookkeeper before proceeding with your education.

This can help you make a sound decision that will later help you get better jobs than if you never looked into this ahead of time.

6

Complete on-the-job training that most businesses will offer you when you begin your position.

This process usually takes around six months to complete.

Certification, Credentials and Licensure

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As a bookkeeper, once you complete the required training, you are not required to get a certification like an accountant is. However, it might be to your advantage to do so. The smart, career-oriented professional is always looking ahead as to how they can get a leg up on the competition. By getting certified as a Certified Bookkeeper (CB), you may be able to command more pay for your services and open the door to further opportunities than if you go in as an uncertified bookkeeper.

Remember, just because something is not required does not mean that you shouldn't do it. The Certified Bookkeeper designation is awarded by the AIPB (American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers) and indicates that you have gone above and beyond was was required of you. It also shows a potential employer or client that you have earned the skills necessary to carry out all bookkeeping tasks. Business owners may assign you more roles within their company, such as overseeing payroll and other tasks, if they have more confidence in your ability, thereby increasing your potential pay.

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Certification Requirements

To achieve certification, you needn't spend much time as an actual student; you must complete at least two years of full-time bookkeeping experience, pass a four-part accounting and bookkeeping exam, and show that you adhere to a specific code of ethics. Ethics courses can also be found through your place of employment or by searching for online ethics training for bookkeepers. Look for courses that are approved or endorsed by the AIPB or other accredited organizations.

Advancing Your Career

The smart career professional always looks to the horizon for the next opportunity. There are numerous ways that you can increase your potential for better career opportunities. One way that a bookkeeper can continue their education and advance their career is to set their sights on becoming an accountant. Accountants must get a four-year degree from an accredited institution in the area of accounting, which takes more time. But it may be worth it as this can result in a significant pay raise and more opportunities for the seasoned bookkeeper.

There are two ways that you can do this:

1

Enroll in an accounting program with an accredited college or trade school now as you are getting your certification or degree for the bookkeeper career.You may aso get certified on specific platforms or with certain software.

2

Start with just the basics to become a bookkeeper, then work a couple of years and enroll in a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in accounting, a Master of Accountancy, or a CPA program to advance your career. A graduate degree will definitely take you far.

Either path is appropriate, depending on your needs as a career professional. For the person who needs immediate money, you may be better off to just focus on the bookkeeping career at first. Getting an MBA or the CPA license requires a longer commitment of time and money to achieve, and you must also pass more difficult exams.

Also, some people want to start slowly and grow into their chosen career to see if it is something they will enjoy. Then, they can move into higher positions by completing further learning. Either way, you'll make a good living as a bookkeeper if you are determined to learn the trade, practice, and become an expert in your craft.

Start Your Career as a Bookkeeper

Thousands of business owners, CEOs, churches, and organizations need the skills of bookkeepers to keep track of every single stream of revenue, every purchase, and every transaction that comes through their business or organization. This is critical to the smooth running of a business, and it is necessary to stay in compliance with state, federal, and local regulations.

As a staff bookkeeper or accounting clerk, you may also be asked to sit in on an audit so that you can give your input or help keep up with any notations that are made on the financial statements or ledgers.

If you have strong organizational skills, excellent basic math skills, multitasking abilities, and you have a desire to help a company stay afloat without the extra training to become an accountant, perhaps life as a certified bookkeeper is the right career choice for you.

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