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Bookkeeper Career Guide

What is a bookkeeper?

A bookkeeper is a professional who maintains and records the financial transactions of a business. They keep track of all purchases, sales, receipts, and payments, ensuring that all financial transactions are accurate, up-to-date, and legally compliant. This role plays an integral part in the financial health of an organization as it provides the foundational work for accountants and financial managers.

Their necessity and value cannot be overstated. They ensure a systematic record of financial activities crucial for decision-making, planning, and regulatory compliance. By meticulously tracking income and expenditures, these professionals aid in maintaining financial transparency, which ultimately contributes to the organization’s financial stability and growth.

Duties and responsibilities

The duties of a bookkeeper revolve around managing and recording a company’s financial transactions. They are tasked with maintaining accurate financial records, including purchases, sales, accounts payable and receivable, and payroll. They often use software and databases to input and manage this financial data.

In addition to recording daily transactions, these professionals are responsible for reconciling bank statements, preparing reports, and ensuring that records comply with laws and regulations. They handle invoicing, help prepare budgets, and assist with end-of-year tax returns or audits. Their responsibilities may also extend to administrative tasks, such as maintaining financial documents and correspondence.

Work environment

Bookkeepers work in various settings, as virtually all businesses need someone to manage their financial records. They can be found in small businesses, large corporations, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and even self-employed as independent contractors. The work is typically carried out in an office setting, although remote work is increasingly common in this field.

Their work requires a high level of precision and attention to detail. It is also often solitary, requiring focus and concentration. However, they also need to interact with others, such as when dealing with vendors, clients, or other employees.

Typical work hours

Bookkeepers usually work standard business hours, from Monday to Friday, but this can vary depending on the organization’s needs. For instance, during peak financial reporting periods or the end of the fiscal year, additional hours might be necessary to ensure that all transactions are recorded and reconciled. Those who work as independent contractors or consultants may have more flexibility in setting their schedules but could also face irregular hours depending on client needs.

How to become a bookkeeper

To become a bookkeeper, you will need a combination of education, training, and experience. In this career guide section, we cover the steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goal:

Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma or GED

The first step is to obtain a high school diploma or GED. This is the minimum education requirement for most bookkeeping positions. It’s essential to have a strong mathematics foundation and good communication and organizational skills.

Step 2: Pursue postsecondary education (optional)

While only sometimes required, pursuing postsecondary education in accounting, finance, or a related field can improve your job prospects and provide a solid foundation in bookkeeping principles. Consider obtaining an associate’s degree in accounting, a bookkeeping diploma or certificate, or a bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance. Coursework typically includes financial accounting, managerial accounting, taxation, and auditing.

Step 3: Develop relevant skills

To be a successful bookkeeper, you should develop a variety of skills, including:

  • Proficiency in accounting software (such as QuickBooks, Sage, or Xero)
  • Attention to detail and accuracy
  • Analytical thinking and problem-solving abilities
  • Time management and organizational skills
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • Knowledge of basic accounting principles and practices

Step 4: Continue education

Take advantage of helpful online courses to expand your knowledge and get a refresher on key skills and information bookkeepers need to know. Here are some recommendations:

  • Bookkeeping in QuickBooks Online from Udemy will review all the critical tasks in QuickBooks. Learn to record expenses, generate Profit & Loss statements, use payroll, and reconcile bank accounts. This is perfect for anyone wanting to learn the basics of QuickBooks and gain the skills to jump right in with a company.
  • Another great course is Bookkeeping Basics Explained. This class covers all the basics for bookkeepers and accountants. Review all the relevant terms and processes in the position and cover examples from the real world. 
  • Coursera offers an Intuit Academy Bookkeeping Professional Certificate course that will help prepare you for various jobs in public accounting and private industries. Work through real-world accounting scenarios and use applied learning to help things sink in.

Step 5: Gain experience

Experience is an essential factor in landing a job as a bookkeeper. Look for internships, part-time, or temporary positions in bookkeeping or related fields to gain hands-on experience. This will help you build a strong resume and demonstrate your skills to potential employers.

Step 6: Consider certification (optional)

While its not required, obtaining a relevant certification can help you stand out among other candidates and may lead to career advancement opportunities. Some popular bookkeeper certifications include the Certified Bookkeeper (CB) designation offered by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) or the QuickBooks ProAdvisor certification for those proficient in using QuickBooks accounting software.

How much do bookkeepers make?

The compensation of bookkeepers can vary depending on several factors. For instance, experience is a significant factor, with seasoned professionals typically earning more than those new to the field.

The size and industry of the company also impact their compensation. Companies in industries that require more complex bookkeeping—like finance or manufacturing—often pay more than those in simpler industries. Larger companies may also have more complex needs and thus pay more.

Education and certifications can also play a role. While a high school diploma may be enough for some entry-level positions, having an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a field like accounting or finance can increase earning potential. Similarly, those who become certified through organizations like the AIPB may be able to command higher salaries.

Finally, geographic location also affects their salaries. Those in metropolitan areas or regions with a high cost of living typically earn more than those in rural areas.

Highest paying industries

  • Postal Service – $53,440
  • Financial Services – $53,390
  • Other Investment Pools and Funds – $51,480
  • Federal Executive Branch – $51,120
  • Software Publishers – $50,260

Highest paying states

  • District of Columbia – $56,677
  • Alaska – $56,390
  • Connecticut – $55,120
  • California – $54,890
  • Massachusetts – $54,780

Browse bookkeeper salary data by market

Types of bookkeepers

In this section of the career guide, we explore the various types and specializations associated with the role of a bookkeeper. The specific duties and focus areas can vary depending on the nature of the business, its size, and the complexity of its financial operations.

General bookkeeper

General bookkeepers handle the day-to-day financial transactions of a business, recording all financial data in a consistent and organized way. They may handle tasks such as invoicing, expense tracking, payroll processing, and reconciliation of bank statements.

Accounts payable bookkeeper

Accounts payable bookkeepers specialize in managing a business’s outgoing payments. They record invoices from suppliers, track due dates for payment, and process payments in a timely manner. They also handle any inquiries or disputes related to supplier invoices.

Accounts receivable bookkeeper

Accounts receivable bookkeepers focus on the money that is owed to the business by its customers. They issue invoices, track payments received, and follow up on overdue accounts. They also manage any issues related to customer billing.

Payroll bookkeeper

Payroll bookkeepers are responsible for managing all aspects of a company’s payroll. They calculate wages based on hours worked, process payroll payments, and ensure accurate deductions for taxes and benefits. These specialists may also handle inquiries from employees about their paychecks.

Full-charge bookkeeper

Full-charge bookkeepers handle all of a business’s bookkeeping needs, often for small businesses. This can include accounts payable and receivable, payroll, bank reconciliations, and even preparing financial statements. These bookkeepers typically have a high level of experience and may have more responsibilities than a typical bookkeeper.

Top skills for bookkeepers

Bookkeepers are the financial backbone of a company, providing valuable insights into its economic health. To excel in this role, key skills include meticulous attention to detail, proficiency in accounting software, strong mathematical abilities, effective organizational skills, and a high level of integrity.

Attention to detail is crucial as they are entrusted with accurately recording all financial transactions. From major expenses to minor receipts, every entry matters. An error, no matter how small, can cascade into significant financial discrepancies. Therefore, these professionals must be methodical and detail-oriented, ensuring every transaction is recorded correctly.

Proficiency in accounting software is another vital skill in today’s digital age. From QuickBooks to Sage, a plethora of tools exist to help streamline and automate bookkeeping tasks. Understanding how to use these tools efficiently can significantly improve accuracy and productivity, making it a key skill for modern bookkeepers.

Strong mathematical abilities are fundamental. While most of the calculations are handled by software, a good bookkeeper should be comfortable with numbers and have a solid understanding of basic arithmetic and financial concepts. This not only aids in the day-to-day work but also helps in troubleshooting errors and understanding the company’s overall financial picture.

Effective organizational skills are also essential, as these professionals are responsible for managing a multitude of financial records, invoices, receipts, and tax documents. Organizing and retrieving this information quickly and accurately is vital for efficient bookkeeping. Good organizational skills can also help maintain a clean and transparent financial trail for future audits or reviews.

Finally, a high level of integrity is expected. They have access to sensitive financial information and their work forms the basis for significant business decisions. Any attempt to manipulate or misrepresent this information harms the company and violates legal and ethical standards. Hence, maintaining honesty and confidentiality is a must for success in this role.

Bookkeeper career path

The career path of a bookkeeper often starts with an entry-level position, such as a bookkeeping clerk or accounting assistant. Here, you’re likely to handle basic data entry and support senior bookkeepers and accountants with tasks like reconciling bank statements, processing payroll, and preparing invoices.

After gaining some experience and knowledge in the field, you may advance to a full-fledged bookkeeper role. This role entails more responsibilities, like maintaining general ledgers, managing accounts payable and receivable, preparing financial reports, and ensuring accuracy and compliance in all financial records.

With several years of experience, you might progress to a senior or bookkeeping supervisor role, where you’ll manage a team of bookkeepers and oversee the financial record-keeping processes for an entire business. At this level, you’re also expected to conduct audits, prepare financial statements, and work closely with accountants and financial managers.

Further along the career path, these professionals could consider transitioning into an accounting role, such as an accountant or an accounting manager, particularly if they choose to gain additional qualifications, like a degree in accounting or a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) certification. Alternatively, you could move into a financial management role, overseeing the financial health of an entire organization.

In the world of bookkeeping, a significant trend is the increasing digitalization of financial processes. The advent of various accounting software and cloud-based platforms has revolutionized how bookkeeping is done, making the process more efficient and accurate. This shift requires bookkeepers to be adept at using these digital tools and platforms.

This role has expanded beyond merely recording financial transactions. Today’s bookkeepers are expected to have a more in-depth understanding of the business to provide valuable insights that can influence financial decisions. This could include interpreting financial data, assisting with budget preparation, and providing input on cash flow management.

There is also an increasing focus on regulatory compliance in financial reporting, which has led to a demand for those with up-to-date knowledge of relevant laws and regulations.

Employment projections for bookkeepers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for bookkeepers, listed under “Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks,” is projected to decline 5 percent through 2031. Technological change and automation are expected to reduce demand for these workers. However, they will continue to be needed to perform tasks—such as auditing and budgeting—that cannot be automated. Professionals with strong accounting and technology skills and an understanding of updated regulations will likely have the best job prospects.

Bookkeeper career tips

Embrace technology

In today’s digital world, bookkeeping has moved beyond traditional ledger books. Bookkeepers need to be comfortable with various bookkeeping software and applications that can streamline work and increase efficiency. Embrace technology, and stay updated with the latest digital tools available in your field.

Maintain accuracy

Accuracy is paramount in bookkeeping. Even the smallest error can lead to significant problems down the line. Double-check your work, pay close attention to details, and implement measures to minimize mistakes.

Stay current with regulations

Financial regulations and tax laws change frequently. It’s important to stay informed about these changes to ensure all bookkeeping practices are compliant. Regularly review updates from relevant regulatory bodies, and consider taking courses or attending seminars on regulatory compliance.

Build a professional network

Networking can provide valuable insights and help you stay updated with industry trends. Joining professional associations can give you access to resources and connections. Some relevant associations include:

  • American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB)
  • National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB)
  • National Bookkeepers Association (NBA)

Understand your business

A thorough understanding of the business you’re working for will help you perform your role more effectively. Learn about the business’s products or services, financial cycles, and strategic goals. This will enable you to provide more insightful financial reports and make more informed recommendations.

Implement continuous learning

In an industry that’s constantly evolving, continuous learning is crucial. Stay updated on new technologies, best practices, and regulations. Some areas of focus could include:

  • Advanced bookkeeping courses
  • Tax preparation
  • Accounting software certifications
  • Regulatory compliance

Maintain confidentiality

You will have access to sensitive financial information. It’s crucial to maintain the confidentiality of this information at all times. Respect privacy regulations and adhere to your organization’s confidentiality policies.

Develop strong organizational skills

Bookkeeping involves managing and organizing a large amount of data. Strong organizational skills will help you keep track of all financial transactions, meet deadlines, and ensure accuracy in your work.

Where the bookkeeper jobs are

Top companies

  • H&R Block
  • Intuit
  • Robert Half
  • PwC
  • Ernst & Young

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Illinois

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster
  • SimplyHired


What skills are essential for a bookkeeper?

A bookkeeper should have strong numerical skills, attention to detail, and organizational abilities. Proficiency in accounting software such as QuickBooks or Xero is also necessary. In addition to these technical skills, they should have good communication skills for liaising with colleagues, clients, or vendors. An understanding of fundamental business operations and financial principles is crucial, and a high level of integrity is also vital due to the sensitive nature of the financial information they handle.

What are the typical duties of a bookkeeper?

Bookkeepers handle a company’s day-to-day financial transactions. They record financial transactions, update financial statements, and check financial records for accuracy. Typical tasks include processing invoices, receipts, payments, and other financial transactions, reconciling bank statements, and preparing reports such as balance sheets and income statements. They may also handle payroll, prepare tax returns, and assist with budget preparation.

What role does a bookkeeper play in financial reporting?

A bookkeeper plays a critical role in financial reporting. They prepare initial financial statements, which are essential for the financial reporting process. These statements, including the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement, provide a snapshot of a company’s financial health. By ensuring these statements are accurate and up to date, they help business owners and managers make informed financial decisions.

What is the importance of accuracy in bookkeeping?

Accuracy in bookkeeping is paramount. Inaccurate bookkeeping can lead to incorrect financial statements, which can impact decision-making and potentially lead to financial loss. It can also result in compliance issues, as businesses are required to provide accurate financial reports for tax purposes. Therefore, they must meticulously record financial transactions and check their work for errors.

What challenges does a bookkeeper typically face?

Bookkeepers often face challenges such as managing a high volume of transactions, ensuring accuracy under time constraints, and staying updated with changes in financial regulations and tax laws. They may also need help dealing with complex financial transactions, maintaining client confidentiality, and using accounting software effectively.

How does a bookkeeper work with accountants?

Bookkeepers work closely with accountants to manage a company’s financial affairs. While they handle the day-to-day financial transactions, accountants typically take on more strategic financial tasks such as analyzing financial data, preparing tax returns, and providing financial advice. A bookkeeper’s accurate and timely work enables accountants to perform their roles effectively.

How does a bookkeeper use technology in their role?

Technology plays a significant role in a bookkeeper’s job. They use accounting software to record financial transactions, prepare financial statements, and manage invoices and payroll. They may also use spreadsheet software for data analysis and reporting and communication tools for liaising with colleagues and clients. Staying updated with the latest technological advancements in the accounting field can help improve efficiency and accuracy in bookkeeping.

What is the role of a bookkeeper in tax preparation?

A bookkeeper assists in tax preparation by maintaining accurate financial records throughout the year, which are used to calculate tax liabilities. They may also help gather necessary documents, classify expenses correctly, and prepare preliminary tax returns. While they do not typically provide tax advice, their work forms the basis for accurate and compliant tax filing.

How does a bookkeeper contribute to a company’s financial health?

By maintaining accurate financial records and preparing timely financial reports, a bookkeeper contributes significantly to a company’s financial health. They provide the information needed for budgeting, financial planning, and decision-making. They also help ensure compliance with financial regulations, thereby minimizing the risk of penalties or financial losses.

What is the importance of confidentiality in bookkeeping?

Confidentiality is of utmost importance in bookkeeping. Bookkeepers handle sensitive financial information, and they are responsible for protecting and using it appropriately. Breaches of confidentiality can lead to severe consequences, including loss of trust, legal issues, and financial loss. Therefore, they must adhere to strict ethical standards and confidentiality policies.