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Accounts Payable Clerk How to become, career path, income potential

What is an accounts payable clerk?

Do you enjoy working with numbers and reviewing data? Do you like the thought of working with vendors and suppliers? If so, you may be well suited for an accounts payable clerk role.

AP clerks are essential for any organization that consistently uses many vendors and suppliers. They ensure that invoices for goods and services are paid for promptly, paying close attention to company budgets, processes, and vendor agreements. Accounts payable clerks also handle bank deposits and bills and must be highly accurate and focused on deadlines and payment schedules.

Other standard functions for AP clerks include maintaining petty cash, monitoring vendor contracts and supplier agreements to maximize savings and minimize additional costs, and identifying discrepancies in billing and invoices. Reporting is standard, especially for invoices and outgoing payments. 

It’s an excellent role for detail-oriented professionals who are well-organized and disciplined and enjoy communicating daily with various internal and external contacts.

Qualifications and eligibility

To become an accounts payable clerk, at least an associate’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field is advised. It’s essential to have excellent attention to detail and strong organizational skills. Proficiency in Microsoft and accounting software programs and good communication skills will also be extremely beneficial. 

The role works with numbers all day, every day, so having solid mathematical skills is critical. Any skills involving bookkeeping, managing financial records, and other accounts payable work will help you when applying for openings.

Work environment

Accounts payable clerks typically work in office settings and spend more of their day in front of a computer. You should be comfortable spending most of your day in a chair (or at a standing desk) and doing a lot of data entry work. A good ergonomic desk setup will help prevent discomfort or injuries. 

Typical work hours

The typical work hours for an accounts payable clerk are during regular business hours, usually 9 AM to 5 PM. Some clerks can work remotely with flexible schedules depending on the company’s needs.

Income

Salaries for accounts payable clerks vary by industry and location. It also depends on an individual’s experience and education. The BLS shows data for the annual mean wages for this role. The top-paying industries for accounts payable clerks are:

  • Postal Service – $70,350
  • Metal Ore Mining – $64,410
  • Support Activities for Water Transportation – $61,050
  • Monetary Authorities-Central Bank – $59,630
  • Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution – $57,720

When looking at geography, the top-paying locations for average salaries include:

  • District of Columbia -$60,130
  • Massachusetts – $53,340
  • Washington – $51,460
  • California – $51,080
  • Connecticut – $51,050

Steps to become an accounts payable clerk

1. Complete your education

Accounts payable clerks require a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent. Most positions also ask for at least an associate’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field. Having a two-year degree will give you a better knowledge base for the role and allow you to easily continue to a bachelor’s degree in the future.

2. Learn specifics about accounts payable

Some incredible online courses can provide in-depth information about accounting functions specific to accounts payable. Here are a few great options:

  • The Principles of Accounts Payable and Receivable Management course from Coursera covers bookkeeping basics. Upon completion, you’ll be able to classify inventory, manage purchase and sales orders, and create and maintain budgets.
  • Udemy offers an Accounts Payable Processing Course, which reviews the importance of a strong accounts payable process. It will help businesses manage cash flows and put strong processes and guidelines in place. 
  • For a program-specific course, check out the QuickBooks Vendors and Accounts Payable course from Udemy. QuickBooks is a popular software program for businesses, so learning how to enter bills, pay bills, and record credits and refunds are all important features that anyone in accounts payable should be familiar with.
  • Bookkeeping Basics on Coursera is another fantastic option to understand the role’s basics and feel confident in your abilities. It covers a bookkeeper’s ethical and social responsibilities and teaches the concepts of accounting management. 
  • Take it to the next level with the Accounting 201: Advanced Accounts Payable Concepts and Tools course from Udemy. This course covers more advanced topics, like reducing expenditure, preventing fraud, managing cash, and being more efficient with your time. 

3. Obtain a certification

You can obtain a few professional certifications to show that you have mastered the basics of accounts payable. These will look great on your resume and show that you already have some critical training and education to take on the job. You may work towards these once you are in a position to boost your chances at a promotion. Here are two of the best options for AP clerk positions:

  • Certified Accounts Payable Professional (CAPP). The CAPP sets you apart from your peers by demonstrating that you have demonstrated the knowledge and skills required to succeed as an accounts payable professional. This self-paced program contains 13 modules covering AP best practices and procedures. Two or more years of work experience are required to obtain certification, which must be renewed every two years.
  • Accredited Payables Specialist (APS). The APS shows your strong understanding of accounts payables fundamentals, best practices, and your commitment to accuracy and compliance. The self-study online program covers invoices, payments, internal controls, taxes, and more. Three years of experience is recommended without a degree, and one year of experience with a degree. To maintain certification, you must complete 15 continuing education units per year.

4. Apply for openings

Once you have the necessary training and understanding of the accounts payable process, you can apply for open jobs. Check the online job search engines and job boards. You can also use specific companies’ websites to check for openings if you know where you want to work. 

Types of accounts payable clerks

The accounts payable department serves the same purpose from company to company, regardless of the industry. Because of that, most accounts payable clerk roles are similar. If there is a large team, some tasks might be split off into specialties, so you’ll become familiar with the specific job duty of the AP clerk.

In situations with multiple AP clerks on the same team, you might have some people dedicated to vendor invoices and managing those relationships and others responsible for data entry and processing the payments. Even in those situations, everyone will likely be cross-trained and understand the other roles in case anyone is absent.

Tips for becoming an accounts payable clerk

Accounts payable clerks positions have a few basic requirements to apply, but there are also a few extra steps you can take to be prepared and appealing to a potential employer. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Boost your skills in Microsoft Office. Learn some tricks and hacks for pivot tables, spreadsheets, and other helpful tools.
  • Speed up your typing skills so you can complete data entry quicker and more efficiently. There are some great typing classes available online to help boost your speed.
  • Familiarize yourself with financial records and processes in the accounting department. The more you know, the easier it will be to acclimate to a company’s specific processes.
  • Keep up your math practices with brain games. Being strong with numbers is important in accounting because that’s what you’re always working with.

Position trends

The accounts payable field is continually evolving. Rather than being viewed as a back-office function, accounts payable departments are beginning to be seen in a more strategically important way. Not only is this department dependent on its traditional function, but companies will be looking to accounts payable departments to supply essential data.

In the near future, job growth may not be as high due to technological advancements. There may be fewer clerk positions and more reliance on managers. 

Career path

Accounting is a valuable department in every business. The larger the company, the larger the accounting team will need to be. Accounts payable clerks are a great entry-level position, and once you’ve worked in that role for a few years, you can move up to management jobs.

If you want more experience and knowledge within the accounting team, consider lateral moves to the accounts receivable departments to learn the other side of the finances. 

1. Do you have any experience with accounting software?

Explain any courses you’ve taken or previous job experience working with accounting software. If you have used multiple programs, you should highlight all of them. Before your interview, see if you can find out what programs the company uses so you can sign up for online courses and get some background to prepare.

2. What would you do if you found a discrepancy on an invoice?

Humans prepare invoices, and sometimes there are errors. Whether someone missed an agreed-upon price or the quantities are off, AP clerks must verify accuracy. Talk about what you would do if you found an error. Do you feel comfortable contacting vendors directly? Escalating these issues and learning from your manager is excellent if you are just starting out.

3. How do you prioritize and manage your workload?

Accounts payable departments manage hundreds of transactions weekly, so you must be able to prioritize the work you have to get through. Do you have a process to sort things by deadlines or importance? Make sure to be clear that you are open to new ideas or processes if the company already has guidelines in place.

4. What are the important skills to be an accounts payable clerk?

This question allows you to share your skills with your potential employer. Accounts payable clerks need to be very detail-oriented, able to work under deadlines, and feel comfortable with spreadsheets, data entry, and financial transactions. Talk yourself up and show that you understand the job description for the position.

5. Explain the difference between accounts payable and accounts receivable.

Understanding accounting basics is important to start your career in this department. Knowing the difference between AP and AR shows that you understand accounting fundamentals well.

6. How would you handle a situation where numbers seem off on reports?

Mistakes and incorrect invoices happen, so the accounts payable clerks must handle those appropriately. Explain how you would check for accuracy, and if something still seems off, you would escalate to the appropriate person. It’s better to have someone else look at it if it seems wrong than just ignore the situation.

Accounts payable clerk FAQs