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How to Become a Payroll Specialist

If you are good with numbers, you have excellent people skills, and you have a high level of accuracy, a career as a payroll specialist might be the opportunity you are looking for.

A payroll specialist is responsible for the payroll in an organization. They typically maintain employee records, handle timesheets, distribute paychecks,  and maintain bank and direct deposit information. Payroll specialists must be accurate, have excellent computer skills, and be proficient in using relevant payroll programs. They need to stay current on tax laws, insurance benefits, and more. They address and resolve issues with pay, respond to questions, and process checks in a timely manner. 

To be successful as a payroll specialist, you need to comply with all applicable rules and regulations, have excellent math skills, and should be able to meet strict deadlines. Payroll specialists also may prepare financial reports for auditing purposes and must have strong attention to detail and excellent communications skills. A solid background in accounting principles and payroll practices is essential. As a payroll specialist, you’ll need to be effective at multitasking and have good time management skills. 

Sample job description

New payroll specialist needed to work at [Your Company Name] in a full-time position. The payroll specialist will be responsible for managing and maintaining payroll for employees, as well as maintaining employee and salary databases. The ideal candidate may be required to take on a managerial position in the future, as well as manage certain aspects of the overall company budget. A degree is not required, but knowledge of accounting is extremely beneficial. If you are data-driven and scientific-minded, this position could be for you. It is required that you have a comprehensive understanding of tax laws and wage policies for local businesses. If you are interested in this position, please consider applying! Thank you for your interest.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Prepare and submit paper payroll checks for employees
  • Collect banking information for direct deposit setup and initiate deposits on paydays
  • Have a knowledge of and keep current with the taxation of salaries, benefits, and other factors
  • Process and monitor garnishment orders and other issues that impact payroll specifications
  • Maintain and document all payroll records
  • Reconcile the general ledger regarding payroll transactions
  • Detect and process issues with uncollected payroll
  • Respond to employee inquiries regarding payroll issues or concerns

Education and experience

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Several years of experience in payroll
  • Strong organizational and mathematical skills
  • Ability to maintain confidentiality regarding financial matters
  • Excellent knowledge of word processing tools and spreadsheets
  • Great attention to detail
  • Excellent mathematical skills

Preferred qualifications

  • Experience managing payroll for a company with 20+ employees
  • Bachelor’s degree in finance or related field
  • Knowledge of local and state tax laws
  • Accounting certification
  • 2+ years working in payroll
  • Excellent written skills
  • Self-motivated

Typical work environment

A payroll specialist is required to maintain and manage payroll for company employees or clients. These specialists are required to maintain employee and salary databases, as well as check timesheets for accuracy. Some of the required tasks for a payroll specialist may be to handle direct deposits, input and modify data in a database, and ensure quality distribution of payments. Payroll specialists are required to work in an office or occasionally an online environment. The job requires a data-minded individual due to the number-heavy aspect of the position. Oftentimes, payroll specialists will work full-time, although this position is heavily dependent on the size of the business or the number of clients the payroll specialist will work for.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a payroll specialist can be from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, in an office setting. However, longer or different hours can be necessary.

Available certifications

A payroll specialist can benefit from having certificates related to accounting and payroll work. Some of the common certificates that would be beneficial for a payroll specialist include:

  • Certified Payroll Professional (CPP). The Certified Payroll Professional certification is widely recognized and beneficial. It requires at least three years of previous experience in the payroll field. Because of this, this certification is recognized as a standard for excellence in a payroll professional and specialist.
  • Uniform Payroll Certification (UPC). The Uniform Payroll Certification is offered by the NBA as a certification to ensure techniques and payroll management skills are at a determined level. This is a good certification for any payroll specialist looking to have a recognized certification when looking for jobs or payroll specialist positions.
  • Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC). The fundamental payroll certification is designed for entry-level payroll professionals to demonstrate a competent understanding of payroll software, tasks, and work in general. This certification is open to any payroll specialist and should be considered as a potential entry-level certification. It is recognized as a relevant certification for a payroll professional and does not require any previous work experience in the payroll field or related industries. This certification is issued after the relevant exam is completed successfully. It is offered by the American Payroll Association.

Career path

The career path for a payroll specialist starts with obtaining a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field. Candidates can further their career prospects and potential by completing classes or earning a certification from the American Payroll Association.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 43-3051

2020 Employment137,300
Projected Employment in 2030119,700
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 13% decrease
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift17,700 decrease

Although some aspects of the payroll process are being automated, jobs in this field are estimated to grow in the next handful of years at a rate that’s about average in comparison to careers across the board. This steady growth helps make the position of payroll specialist a stable career for interested and talented candidates.