Learn About Being a Payroll Specialist

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

What does a payroll specialist do?

Payroll specialists oversee all aspects of timesheet and payroll processing to ensure payroll processing remains compliant, accurate and on-time. Specific responsibilities may vary based on the size of the company the payroll specialist works for and the industry of the company, but typically include: 

  • Preparing and submitting paper payroll checks for employees who do not have direct deposit 

  • Collecting banking information for direct deposit setup and processing deposits on paydays 

  • Familiarizing yourself and keeping current with policies relating to the taxation of salaries, benefits and other payroll factors 

  • Processing and monitoring garnishment orders and other issues that impact payroll specifications 

  • Documenting and maintaining all payroll records

  • Conducting semi-annual audits of all payroll records 

  • Reconciling general ledger regarding payroll transactions

  • Detecting and processing issues related to uncollected payroll 

  • Responding to employee inquiries regarding payroll issues or concerns 

Average salary

Payroll specialists are typically full-time employees, but may also be part-time or seasonal workers. Salaries for payroll specialists vary depending on their level of education, relevant work experience, the geographic location of the job, the size of the company and the industry of the company. 

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $19.71 per hour

  • Some salaries range from $7.25 – $38.60 per hour.

Payroll specialist requirements

Securing a position as a payroll specialist may involve certain requirements depending on the industry and size of the company, including:

Education

Payroll specialists need a minimum of a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) certificate. Many employers prefer candidates who also have a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting or another related field. Relevant coursework includes computer payroll time reporting and processing, bookkeeping, computer accounting and benefits deduction. 

Training

Payroll specialists often earn their roles through promotions from the position of a payroll clerk or as an entry-level position after completing the bachelor’s degree program. Payroll specialists will also often receive additional on-the-job training specific to their role and the company. This additional training is usually part of the on-boarding process for their new role. On-the-job training can last for a period of a few days up to a few months depending on the company and the role. 

Certifications

There are several certification programs that payroll specialists may consider. Certifications allow you to prove your skills and qualifications to current and potential employers. Payroll specialists can also earn certifications to gain additional knowledge about their responsibilities and further their career advancement opportunities. Popular certifications for payroll specialists include: 

Fundamental Payroll Certification

The American Payroll Association (APA) offers the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) so entry-level payroll specialist candidates can prove their knowledge and proficiency relating to payroll fundamentals. 

Certified Payroll Professional

The APA also offers the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) certification to payroll specialists who have at least 18 months of experience working in a payroll position and who have completed several payroll practices and concepts courses. 

Certified Bookkeeper

The American Institute of Bookkeepers offers the Certified Bookkeeper designation to individuals who have at least two years of professional experience in accounting, bookkeeping, accounts payable or a related field.

Microsoft Office certifications

Microsoft Office offers several certifications that verify an individual’s level of proficiency in using one or more of the five main Office apps – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and Outlook. 

Skills

Payroll specialists need a combination of several hard and soft skills to succeed in their role. Some of the most common skills required for a role as a payroll specialist include: 

Communication skills

Communication skills involve the ability to communicate both verbally and non-verbally with active listening, observing, speaking and empathizing. Payroll specialists must have excellent verbal and written communication skills so they can communicate internally with employees to discuss and resolve payroll issues and concerns and can communicate with the rest of the payroll department. 

Data entry skills

Data entry skills involve a combination of technical computer skills with strong attention to detail and accuracy. It is very important for a payroll specialist to be accurate in the data they are entering regarding employee time worked and compensation owed to ensure employees receive the correct amount of pay at the right time and to maintain accurate payroll records. 

Time management skills

Time-management skills involve the ability to balance and prioritize responsibilities in a manner that helps you complete your work on time while also maintaining a work-life balance. It is very important for payroll specialists to have excellent time management skills as their responsibilities require them to spend their days multi-tasking and to ensure they process payroll in a timely manner and employees receive their pay on time. 

Computer skills

Computer skills include a combination of typing, system and software knowledge. Payroll specialists need strong computer skills as their job responsibilities include typing and using programs such as Microsoft Office, QuickBooks, enterprise resource planning and automated payment processing systems such as ADP.

Payroll specialist work environment 

Payroll specialists typically work full time within an office environment. Some payroll specialists may work part-time or seasonally. Payroll specialists typically work standard business hours on a Monday-Friday shift. They may spend most of their day working independently, but may also work with a team of payroll clerks, human resources and internally across departments.

How to become a payroll specialist

Here are the steps you should take to become a payroll specialist: 

1. Get your education

Payroll specialists must have a minimum of a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) certificate. Many employers prefer candidates who also have a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting or another related field. Relevant coursework includes economics, accounting principles, spreadsheets, computerized accounting and taxes. 

2. Gain relevant work experience

Many payroll specialists earn their positions through promotions from a role as a payroll clerk. Many employers prefer payroll specialist candidates who have at least five years experience working in a position related to payroll. 

3. Get certifications

Certifications relevant to the position and industry of a payroll specialist are very important in helping you advance in your career. Popular certifications include the Fundamental Payroll Certification, the Certified Payroll Professional and Certified Bookkeeper certifications. Certifications help you prove your skills and qualifications and help you stand out as the best candidate for hiring managers and recruiters. These certifications may also help you advance your career to higher-level positions. 

Payroll specialist job description example

Our customer service call center is seeking an experienced Payroll Specialist who will oversee of payroll processing and ensure all of our staff receive timely paychecks and have a thorough understanding of their salaries. We recognize how hard our employees work to serve our clients and help our business grow. We’ll rely on our payroll specialist to audit and verify all time keeping records of employees’ hours worked and any deductions or withholdings required to comply with state and federal law.

The successful candidate will have at least five years of payroll experience, be a Certified Payroll Professional and will work with the rest of our team of payroll clerks, accounting and human resources to ensure the entire business runs as smoothly as possible.

Related careers

Skills and experience gained as a payroll specialist often transfer to other industry related positions and can help you advance to higher levels within your career. Common related careers include: 

  • Financial analyst

  • Underwriter

  • Loan officer

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