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Payroll Clerk Job Description, Career as a Payroll Clerk, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: High school

Salary: Median—$30,350 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Payroll clerks compute and record the earnings owed to each company employee on a computer and ensure employees are paid on time. This recording is known as posting. The information for the calculations is often taken from paper worksheets and work tickets. In offices where automated timekeeping systems are in place, the payroll numbers are already in the computer system, and the payroll clerks are required to check the electronic data for errors.

Payroll clerks are also responsible for calculating deductions, such as income tax withholding, Social Security payments, insurance, and union dues. These clerks may also prepare and distribute pay envelopes to employees and set up automatic electronic transfers between the company and an employee's bank. In addition to these duties, payroll clerks may keep records of benefit deductions, sick leave and vacation pay, 401(k) contributions, and other nontaxable wages.

In large organizations payroll responsibilities may be broken down into specialized areas. For instance, in some businesses bonus and commission systems may be in operation. In these organizations some payroll clerks may be known as bonus clerks and commission clerks.

Education and Training Requirements

Most employers require a high school education. Completion of a high school business program provides a good background for entry-level positions. Courses in mathematics, business software, and accounting are essential, especially when calculating bonuses and commissions. Some employers prefer to hire graduates of two-year business schools or junior college programs that include office skills. Others prefer beginners with no specialized education but a good general background. On-the-job training is provided and may last from a few days to several weeks.

Some organizations offer classes and certification programs for those who would like to become payroll clerks. The American Payroll Association, for instance, offers the Fundamental Payroll Certification for job seekers who wish to demonstrate a basic understanding of payroll operations.

Payroll clerks need a strong background in mathematics and accounting to calculate employees' earnings and deductions. (Photograph by Kelly A. Quin. Thomson Gale. Reproduced by permission.)

Getting the Job

A student's school placement office may be able to help him or her find a position as a payroll clerk. Jobs may be listed with state and private employment agencies. Newspaper ads and Internet job sites often list openings in this profession. If candidates are interested in a government job, they should apply to take the necessary civil service test. A person can also apply directly to the personnel departments of companies that employ payroll clerks.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Beginning payroll clerks usually perform routine clerical duties. As they gain experience and skill, they will be assigned more difficult tasks. Some employers have different levels of clerical positions with progressively more responsibility. Clerks may receive promotions to these higher levels with increases in pay.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 214,000 payroll clerks were employed in the United States in 2004. Employment of payroll clerks was expected to grow about as fast as average through the year 2014. Although many of the duties traditionally associated with payroll are becoming automated, the job itself is becoming more multifaceted. Many companies are offering a wide array of benefits and retirement plans, and they need payroll clerks to sort through and keep track of these plans. In the future more companies will also likely contract out to firms that specialize in payroll operations. As such, a greater number of payroll jobs will be found in the bookkeeping and payroll service industry.

Working Conditions

Payroll clerks work in many different settings. Some work in small, quiet offices; others in large, hectic ones. Much of the work is performed while seated at a desk. Clerks usually work at routine tasks that may be repetitive. They usually work thirty-five to forty hours per week. Many belong to labor unions that are active in the industry in which they work.

Where to Go for More Information

American Payroll Association
30 E. 33rd St., 5th Fl.
New York, NY 10016-5386
(212) 686-2030

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

Earnings and Benefits

A payroll clerk's earnings depend on the clerk's particular duties, skill, and experience. Earnings also depend on the type and size of the organization in which the clerk is employed. In 2004 full-time payroll clerks earned a median annual salary of $30,350 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Experienced clerks may earn more. Benefits usually include paid vacations, paid holidays, medical and life insurance coverage, and some type of retirement plan.

Additional topics

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