How to Become a Bookkeeper

Updated October 28, 2022

What does bookkeeping entail, and how can you be qualified to do it? Follow this guide to learn about required and optional education — and resources for finding a job.

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Bookkeepers keep track of the money flowing through their employer's business. These accounting professionals track and record financial transactions. They also update internal records and cross-check company finances with bank statements. Bookkeepers often take on payroll duties and manage accounts payable and receivable.

Bookkeeping attracts finance-oriented people with strong attention to detail and solid math skills. Bookkeepers do not need a license to practice.

For people wondering how to become a bookkeeper, this guide addresses the journey in detail. Learn about education options and job search and career advancement tips.

Steps to Becoming a Bookkeeper

How to become a bookkeeper depends on which education and training path you choose. Many bookkeepers earn undergraduate degrees: employers often prefer candidates with college training.

However, for some employers, higher education is not a necessary bookkeeping qualification. In some cases, relevant experience and accounting knowledge may carry more value than educational background.

The subsections below describe the key steps in both bookkeeping paths:

First Path: Earn a Degree

  1. Complete Your High School Diploma: You will need a high school diploma or GED certificate for admission to an accredited degree-granting school.
  2. Enroll in an Undergraduate Degree Program: An associate degree in bookkeeping or accounting delivers necessary job skills in about two academic years. You can also pursue a four-year bachelor's degree to learn the profession in deeper detail.
  3. Build Experience: Seek entry-level bookkeeping roles after graduation. Most new bookkeepers carry out limited duties during their early career phase. Accrued experience leads to more responsibility.

Second Path: Alternative Education

  1. Complete your high school diploma or GED certificate.
  2. Take Courses or Complete a Certificate: Pursue self-directed or formal learning by taking bookkeeping tutorials or courses. You can also enroll in certificate programs through community colleges and career training centers.
  3. Seek an Internship or Training Placement: Some employers will train bookkeepers on the job through internships or placement programs. Most bookkeepers can learn the profession's fundamental skills in about six months of practical training, according to the BLS. Once you become qualified, you can find a permanent job or work as a freelance bookkeeper.

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Required Bookkeeper Education

Bookkeeper responsibilities include recording financial transactions, overseeing an organization’s general ledger, and creating financial reports. Although some bookkeepers do not earn a degree, most employers prefer candidates who complete college coursework in accounting or a related field. Prospective bookkeepers can train for their profession in several ways.

Many professionals complete an associate degree in bookkeeping or accounting. This degree usually takes two years. During an associate program, students gain math and accounting skills. Graduates can work as bookkeeping or accounting clerks. An associate degree in bookkeeping also prepares graduates to transfer into a bachelor’s program.

Although some bookkeepers do not earn a degree, most employers prefer candidates who complete college coursework in accounting or a related field.

Bookkeepers may earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting. This program builds skills beyond bookkeeping. Accounting majors study auditing, public accounting, and cost accounting. Transfer students with an associate degree can often complete the four-year degree in two years. The degree prepares graduates for entry-level positions as accountants.

Many two-year and four-year colleges offer undergraduate certificates in bookkeeping. These programs usually take one year to complete and give students the foundational skills necessary to work as a bookkeeper. Earning an undergraduate accounting certificate also meets the qualifications for many bookkeeping jobs.


Required Licensing and Certifications for Bookkeepers

Unlike other accounting professionals, bookkeepers do not need any licenses or certifications. Some bookkeepers choose to earn optional credentials, such as the certified public bookkeeper (CPB) designation.

Optional Degrees and Credentials

The CPB credential is the most common certification for bookkeeping professionals. This optional license offers many advantages, including:

  • A way to stand out to employers by demonstrating knowledge and commitment to the profession
  • Adherence to higher ethical standards
  • Formal validation of your knowledge base
  • Enhanced credibility

The National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB) administers CPB certification in the United States. The American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) offers a similar credential. AIPB's certified bookkeeper (CB) designation may also lead to enhanced professional opportunities.

To earn a CPB credential through NACPB, candidates must complete four tests. Test-takers can prepare for each exam by taking NACPB-endorsed prep courses. The exams include:

  • The Bookkeeping Certification Exam
  • The Payroll Certification Exam
  • The QuickBooks Online Certification Exam
  • The Accounting Certification Exam

Each of the four exams leads to a standalone certification. Combined, all four certifications form a CPB designation. To maintain CPB standing, bookkeepers must complete at least 24 continuing education hours each year.

AIPB's CB program follows a similar path. Candidates must pass an exam to earn the credential. AIPB offers prep course workbooks for independent study. Associate degree programs and continuing education providers may also incorporate CB prep into their curricula.

Both organizations' membership programs can help test-takers save money. CPB candidates can also buy a bundle package from NACPB to save on costs.

Required Experience for Bookkeeping

Many bookkeepers begin their careers in junior accounting roles. For instance, some bookkeepers prepare by working as an accounts payable or accounts receivable clerk.

Certificate and degree programs may help candidates bypass some junior-level experience requirements. Even so, building your knowledge of essential bookkeeper duties through practice always helps. Hands-on learning opportunities like internships and practicums allow aspiring bookkeepers to gain education and experience at the same time.

Should I Become a Bookkeeper?

Beyond how to become a bookkeeper, aspirants should also consider the pros and cons of entering the profession. Historically, bookkeepers have benefitted from strong demand among small and mid-sized businesses. As of 2020, there were more than 1.6 million bookkeeping jobs in the United States.

However, the profession may be headed for a mild downturn as accounting automation increases. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 3% decline in bookkeeping jobs from 2020-2030. This loss could result in more competition for fewer available roles.

As of 2020, there were more than 1.6 million bookkeeping jobs in the United States.

To maintain a job market edge, bookkeepers may benefit from earning optional certifications. Both AIPB and NACPB tie their certification programs to enhanced job market access.

Searching for Bookkeeper Jobs

After meeting the qualifications to be a bookkeeper, you can focus on the job hunt. If you earned a certificate or degree, check with your school's career services department. They may offer resources to help you find work.

Other reliable job search strategies include joining professional organizations and networking with peers and mentors. Job-seekers can also seek entry-level roles through these popular accounting job boards:

AIPB's open job board does not require membership. Job-seekers can search available jobs and post their resumes free of charge.

This free job board features listings for accounting professionals at all levels. The site doubles as a comprehensive career information resource.

Another free resource, the Accounting Jobs Today board features a powerful and precise search tool. Users can filter roles by location, keyword or job title.

This professional services job search portal helps bookkeepers source diverse work opportunities. Members can boost their visibility through free profiles.

Read more tips on job searching:

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Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.

Upward Mobility

Some bookkeepers use their knowledge and experience to pursue accountant careers. Certified public accountants (CPAs) are one of the most popular such paths.

A CPA's primary job responsibilities include:

  • Preparing financial statements and operating budgets
  • Ensuring organizational adherence to compliance and reporting standards
  • Estimating profits or losses
  • Auditing organizational finances
  • Financial consulting with senior decision-makers

CPAs hold a complete picture of their employer's financial situation, making them valuable advisory team members. By contrast, bookkeeper positions focus more on day-to-day record keeping.

According to the BLS, CPAs earned a median annual salary of $73,560 as of 2020. CPA salaries outpace bookkeepers' median earnings, which the BLS reports as $42,410 per year.

CPA hopefuls need at least a bachelor's degree with coursework in accounting, business, or finance. Many pursue master's degrees in accounting. Exact requirements vary by state.

Questions About How to Become a Bookkeeper

Can you be a bookkeeper without a degree?

Candidates looking at how to be a bookkeeper without a degree can follow several paths. Enrolling in a certificate or degree program offers an education-based option. You can also pursue on-the-job training, building job skills through an internship or junior bookkeeping role.

How long does it take to start a bookkeeper career?

It depends on your educational path. An undergraduate degree will take 2-4 years and can pursue higher-paying positions in the field than those without a credential. Professionals who learn through on-the-job training can grasp essentials after about six months in entry-level roles.

What are the certifications among bookkeeping requirements?

Bookkeeping qualifications do not include formal certifications or licenses. However, certified professionals may enjoy advantages in the job market. Bookkeepers can earn certifications through AIPBand NACPB.

What are bookkeeper duties?

Bookkeepers must keep thorough, up-to-date records of organizational financial transactions. Bookkeeping requirements also cover reconciliation, the process of comparing internal records with bank records to ensure there are no discrepancies.

What is the difference between accounting and bookkeeping?

While these careers are related, bookkeepers handle day-to-day data entry and record-keeping, while accountants use those records to manage tax filings and higher-level financial operations.


Featured Image: d3sign / Moment / Getty Images

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