Certifications for Bookkeepers: A Guide for Managers

When it comes to hiring a financial manager for your business, you have many options — non-certified, certified, bookkeeper, accountant, CPA. It’s important to understand the distinctions between each of these and consider which bookkeeping certifications you want your bookkeeper to possess. Hiring the right bookkeeper for your business will help your company’s financials run smoothly. Learn about bookkeeping certifications, discover which is most competitive and what to look for when considering online bookkeeping certifications. 


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What is a certification for bookkeeping?

A bookkeeping certificate ensures that the bookkeeper who has earned the certificate meets certain requirements. Some certificates require continuing education to maintain. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, bookkeeping and accounting are two distinct roles — know the difference between the two roles to ensure you hire the right financial professional.  

Accountants must seek certification to practice under the title “accountant,” and have advanced training, allowing them to file taxes to the IRS. Bookkeepers are not required to seek certification in order to work in the field and often perform day-to-day budgeting rather than high-level tax accounting.  

Related: 5 Bookkeeper Interview Questions and Answers


Why do some businesses require a bookkeeping certificate?

Many businesses prefer to hire bookkeepers with certifications because the certificate ensures that the bookkeeper has certain skills and education. Some hiring managers may not have a strong background in bookkeeping, making it a challenge to appropriately gauge the skills and knowledge of the potential bookkeeper. A certificate helps the hiring manager see exactly what skills and education the candidate has and what they can do on the job. 

Related: How to Hire a Bookkeeper


Certifications to look for when hiring a bookkeeper

Unlike the accounting field, where certification is required and the industry highly regulated, bookkeepers can choose whether to earn certification. A candidate with a bookkeeping certification often has advanced training and skills compared to those without certification. When hiring a bookkeeper, review the most common (and reputable) bookkeeping certifications to ensure you’re hiring a candidate who meets the requirements for the role. 


Certified Bookkeeper (CB)

The American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) issues one of the two gold-standard bookkeeping certifications in the U.S. To earn the title Certified Bookkeeper, candidates must pass a four-part exam which covers information like: 

  • Accruals
  • Deferrals
  • Adjustments
  • Revenue recognition
  • Depreciation (tax and book)
  • Payroll
  • Federal reporting forms
  • Internal controls
  • Fraud protection

To earn this certification, the AIPB requires candidates to obtain two years of experience either before taking the exam or immediately following completion of the exam. CB candidates must also agree to abide by bookkeeping codes of ethics. Passing scores are 75% on the first two sections of the exam and 70% on the final two sections of the exam. 


Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB)

The National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB) accredits the second gold-standard certification for bookkeepers — Certified Public Bookkeeper. The exam is similar to that of the AIPB’s CB test. The CPB exam has four parts, testing the candidate’s knowledge in areas like: 

  • Business transactions
  • Accounts payable
  • Accounts receivable
  • Financial statements
  • Merchandise inventory
  • Accounting for partnerships
  • Corporations and corporate earnings
  • Payroll fundamentals 
  • QuickBooks fundamentals 

Besides passing each part of the exam with at least 75% accuracy, candidates must also verify their bookkeeping experience and education, agree to abide by bookkeeping codes of ethics and earn 24 hours of continuing education credits per year.


Software certifications

Some bookkeeping job candidates might list a few other certificates on their resume. Software specific certificates ensure the holder has the necessary understanding and competency to use the associated program effectively. These certifications, in conjunction with either a CB or a CPB designation, can help you gauge the skill of potential of the bookkeeping candidate. A few of the most common bookkeeping software certifications include: 

  • QuickBooks
  • Expensify
  • Xero
  • Concur
  • Bill.com
  • Avalara
  • FreshBooks

Related: How to Write a Bookkeeper Job Description Sample


What to look for with online bookkeeping certifications

Since bookkeepers can earn a number of online certifications that sound official but don’t guarantee the same level of skill and knowledge as the CB or CPB certifications, it’s best to learn as much as you can about a candidate’s certification if you don’t recognize the awarding organization. 

Consider administering a bookkeeping skills test to your applicants as part of the hiring process. This way, you can verify your potential bookkeeper truly has the necessary skills to manage your company’s books and finances. Ideally, bookkeeping candidates will hold a CB or CPB certificate. 


Benefits of hiring a certified bookkeeper

Appropriately certified bookkeepers provide the companies they work for with a host of benefits, including: 

  • Fewer errors: Bookkeepers are experienced professionals who know how to accurately record and track important financial information. Certified bookkeepers are much less likely to make costly accounting errors than non-certified bookkeepers. 
  • Excellent budgeting: A certified bookkeeper will closely track your company’s expenses, ensuring that you stay within your budget and avoid costly debts. 
  • Time management: By using a certified bookkeeper, you can spend your time handling other important managerial tasks rather than focusing on the books.
  • Expertise: Certified bookkeepers must have a certain amount of financial aptitude and continue their education, so you can count on their industry expertise. 

Bookkeeping certifications are a useful tool for hiring managers to use when assessing potential candidates. Make sure you review any certificates your potential bookkeeper mentions to ensure they’re from a reputable source and require elements like a code of ethics, experience validation and continuing education. This way, you know your bookkeeper has the right set of skills to manage their role.

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