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Education and Training: High school

Salary: Median—$28,570 per year

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Bookkeepers keep financial records that track a company's expenditures, profit and loss, cash flow, and other financial activities. Bookkeepers usually work for the accounting departments of their companies. Bookkeepers employ database and spreadsheet computer programs to do their record keeping.

Most small firms have one general bookkeeper, also called a full-charge bookkeeper. General bookkeepers verify and enter into ledgers the details of their firm's financial transactions. They then summarize these details in a general ledger. Periodically, a general bookkeeper balances the books. When the books are balanced, it is possible to tell at a glance how much cash has been spent and how much received, what the company owes and what is owed to the company, and whether the company has made a profit or suffered a loss. In addition to keeping records, general bookkeepers may prepare payrolls, tax reports, and customers' monthly invoice statements.

Large firms break down the bookkeeping responsibilities into specialized areas. Each area is handled by one or more bookkeeping clerks, also called accounting clerks, who are supervised by a head bookkeeper. Accounts receivable clerks are responsible for the ledger that records the firm's sales of goods and services, whereas accounts payable clerks are responsible for the ledger that records the firm's purchases of goods and services. Auditing clerks check records posted by other workers to make certain they are correct.

The widespread use of computers and bookkeeping programs has dramatically cut down on the amount of time required for bookkeepers to perform their bookkeeping duties. As such, many offices now require bookkeepers to take on additional responsibilities, such as payroll, customer service, or billing.

Education and Training Requirements

A high school education, with emphasis on business math, bookkeeping, and accounting, is needed to get a job as a bookkeeper. Some employers prefer to hire junior college or business school graduates for the position of full-charge bookkeeper. Good performance in business subjects such as business software, typing, accounting, bookkeeping, and business mathematics is an asset. The ability to use a computer is essential, and knowledge of basic spreadsheet and database programs is helpful.

Many employers prefer to train bookkeepers themselves. An aptitude for mathematics and the ability to concentrate on detail are basic requirements. Once on the job, a bookkeeper with some business education beyond high school will have a better chance for advancement.

Bookkeepers with two years of bookkeeping experience can obtain a Certified Bookkeeper designation, which is awarded by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers. The certification ensures employers that bookkeepers can carry out all standard bookkeeping duties. In order to obtain the certification, a bookkeeper must pass three exams and adhere to a code of ethics. Many colleges offer preparatory courses for these exams.

Getting the Job

School placement offices may be able to help a student find a position as a bookkeeper. Other jobs may be listed with state and private employment agencies, on Internet job sites, and in newspaper classified ads. If interested in a government job, apply to take the necessary civil service test.

Because almost every business has at least one bookkeeper, prospective workers might try applying to any firm that interests them. Even if there are no job openings at the time of applying, candidates may be considered for future openings.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Bookkeeping clerks usually begin by recording routine transactions. Then they advance to supervisory work. Talent, training, and experience all help determine a bookkeeping clerk's chances for promotion. Bookkeepers who take courses in college accounting may go on to become accountants. General bookkeepers may advance if they assume other responsibilities.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, bookkeepers, accounting clerks, and auditing clerks held two million jobs in 2004. Employment of bookkeepers was expected to grow more slowly than average for all occupations through the year 2014. Though the demand for accounting services will continue to grow, the increased use of computers and bookkeeping and accounting software in the office has eliminated much of the need for bookkeepers. However, the turnover rate among bookkeepers is high, so there should be jobs available.

Working Conditions

Most bookkeepers work a standard forty hours per week. They mostly work in pleasant offices. The pace of the work is steady and often repetitive, particularly for bookkeeping clerks. Some overtime may be expected during periodic book balancing and at the end of the fiscal year. Some of these workers belong to labor unions that are active in their industry.

Earnings and Benefits

Bookkeeping salaries vary by region and industry. The median annual salary for bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks was $28,570 in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Where to Go for More Information

American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers
6001 Montrose Rd., Ste. 500
Rockville, MD 20852
(800) 622-0121

Office and Professional Employees International Union
265 W. 14th St., 6th Fl.
New York, NY 10011
(800) 346-7348

Universal Accounting Center
5250 S. Commerce Dr.
Salt Lake City, UT 84107
(800) 343-4827

The benefits that bookkeepers receive depend entirely on the industry in which they work. Generally, however, a bookkeeper can expect paid vacations, holidays, and health insurance.