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 organization, keeping up with facts and figures, and calculating balances, perhaps a career as a bookkeeper is right for you.

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 for businesses so that their accounts are correctly reconciled. This is a critical job that must be performed for a company to stay solvent and avoid spending more than they can afford to spend. While a bookkeeper is not a financial advisor to a business owner, they can give them perspective by telling them what they are spending and keeping them posted on the expense accounts so that they do not go over their budget.

In addition to these tasks, they are often responsible for payroll, invoices, and even disputing charges that the business is billed in error. This is an essential job for the company and bookkeepers who do their job well can be compensated well. Let's take a look at the average salaries you can expect to make as a bookkeeper.

Salaries and Compensation of the Average Bookkeeper


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (, 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. If you develop your reputation as a seasoned bookkeeper and one who rarely makes mistakes, you may be able to command 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 he needs you to work in his business. This is a steady income 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 education and training requirements completed, based on your need to have regular income versus your desire to demand your terms and have the freedom of working in a home-based business.

Typical Functions of this Career


The typical bookkeeper's job functions include keeping up with daily expenditures, filing and acting on invoices for the company or organization, disputing incorrect charges, and alerting business managers or CEOs to possible problems involving the financial workings of the business. Business owners do not have the time do this themselves, so they pay a bookkeeper to keep up with the books for them.

Bookkeepers may also work in conjunction with the staff accountant or auditing clerks to ensure that everything is running smoothly and that the business does not fall into receivership or a negative balance. Keeping a business or organization "in the red" and paying all debts on time is the primary concern of the bookkeeper.

What a bookkeeper does not do is the heavy lifting work of an accountant, which is often confused with the job of a bookkeeper. The bookkeeper tends to do simpler work that mostly involves keeping a ledger and handling invoices where the staff accountant analyzes expenses, suggests changes to the business manager or owner, and takes a more aggressive role in increasing the business's revenue and cutting expenses.

Ideally, the bookkeeper will serve as the "first point of contact" within the company or organization’s daily workings, and the Accountant 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.

Possible Job Titles, Duties and Day in the Life

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



Public and private schools, universities and technical colleges, and any other type of school 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 authorities.


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.



Most churches and congregations have someone appointed as a bookkeeper to keep track of the expenses and income of a church. Even though most churches depend on independent contributions of members, the money must still be accounted for, and expenses 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.


Non-profit organizations

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


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.


Large or Small Businesses

No matter what the size of a business, they must keep track of their income and outgo of 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 or business. The first step to reaching this goal is to find out what it takes to become a bookkeeper.

Education and Degree Options


The education and degree options, as with any profession, will vary depending on what you choose to do with your education, 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 fulfill the requirements to begin your career as a bookkeeper.


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

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


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.


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.


Learn "double-entry" bookkeeping techniques.

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


Do some research and find out what specific firms or businesses 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.


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


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 you can get a leg up on your competition. By getting certified as a Certified Bookkeeper (CB), you may be able to demand 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 beyond the average requirements. It also shows a potential employer or client that you have earned the educational and practical 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.


Certification Requirements

To achieve certification, 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. 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:


Enroll in an accounting program with an accredited college or trade school now as you are getting your requirements for the bookkeeper career.


Start with just the basics of bookkeeper requirements, then work a couple of years and enroll in a CPA program to advance your career.

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 choose to just focus on the bookkeeping career at first. Getting 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 requirements. Either way, you'll make a good living as a bookkeeper if you are determined to learn the trade and become an expert in your craft.

Start Your Career as a Bookkeeper

Thousands of business owners, CEOs, churches, schools, 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, and you have a desire to help a company "stay afloat" without the extra school requirements of becoming an accountant, perhaps life as a certified bookkeeper is the right career choice for you.

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