Bookkeepers produce financial records for organizations. They record financial transactions, update statements, and check financial records for accuracy. Bookkeepers are employed in many industries, including firms that provide accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services. They are also employed in various levels of government and schools.
Bookkeepers typically do the following:
The records that bookkeepers work with include expenditures (money spent), receipts (money that comes in), accounts payable (bills to be paid), accounts receivable (invoices, or what other people owe the organization), and profit and loss (a report that shows the organization's financial health).
Some bookkeepers are full-charge bookkeeping clerks who maintain an entire organization’s books. Others are accounting clerks who handle specific tasks. These clerks use basic mathematics (adding, subtracting) throughout the day. As organizations continue to computerize their financial records, many bookkeepers use specialized accounting software, spreadsheets, and databases. Most clerks now enter information from receipts or bills into computers, and the information is then stored electronically. They must be comfortable using computers to record and calculate data. The widespread use of computers also has enabled bookkeepers to take on additional responsibilities, such as payroll, billing, purchasing (buying), and keeping track of overdue bills. Many of these functions require clerks to communicate with clients.
Bookkeeping clerks often are responsible for some or all of an organization’s accounts, known as the general ledger. They record all transactions and post debits (costs) and credits (income). They also produce financial statements and other reports for supervisors and managers. Bookkeepers prepare bank deposits by compiling data from cashiers, verifying receipts, and sending cash, checks, or other forms of payment to the bank. In addition, they may handle payroll, make purchases, prepare invoices, and keep track of overdue accounts.
Accounting clerks typically work for larger companies and have more specialized tasks. Their titles, such as accounts payable clerk or accounts receivable clerk, often reflect the type of accounting they do. Often, their responsibilities vary by level of experience. Entry-level accounting clerks may enter (post) details of transactions (including date, type, and amount), add up accounts, and determine interest charges. They also may monitor loans and accounts to ensure that payments are up to date. More advanced accounting clerks may add up and balance billing vouchers, ensure that account data is complete and accurate, and code documents according to an organization’s procedures. Auditing clerks check figures, postings, and documents to ensure that they are mathematically accurate and properly coded. They also correct or note errors for accountants or other workers to fix.
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Most bookkeepers need a high school diploma, and they usually learn some of their skills on the job. They must have basic math and computer skills, including knowledge of spreadsheets and bookkeeping software. However, some employers prefer candidates who have some postsecondary education, particularly coursework in accounting. In 2009, 25% of these workers had an associate’s or higher degree.
Bookkeepers usually get on-the-job training. Under the guidance of a supervisor or another experienced employee, new clerks learn how to do their tasks, including double-entry bookkeeping. (Double-entry bookkeeping means that each transaction is entered twice, once as a debit (cost) and once as a credit (income) to ensure that all accounts are balanced.) Some formal classroom training also may be necessary, such as training in specialized computer software. This on-the-job training typically takes around six months.
Some bookkeepers become certified, which shows that people have the skills and knowledge needed to carry out all bookkeeping tasks, including overseeing payroll and balancing accounts, according to accepted accounting procedures. For certification, candidates must have at least two years of bookkeeping experience, pass a four-part exam, and adhere to a code of ethics. Several colleges and universities offer a preparatory course for certification. Some offer courses online. In addition, certified bookkeepers are required to meet a continuing education requirement every three years to keep their certification.
With appropriate experience and education, some bookkeepers may become accountants or auditors. These clerks are responsible for producing accurate financial records. They must pay attention to detail to avoid making errors and to recognize errors that others have made. Bookkeepers should be comfortable with basic arithmetic because they deal with numbers daily. Bookkeepers need basic computer skills. They should be comfortable using spreadsheets and bookkeeping software. Also, these workers have control of an organization’s financial documentation, which they must use properly and keep confidential. It is vital that they keep records transparent and guard against misappropriating an organization’s funds.
Bookkeepers generally work in offices, but some who are self-employed can work at home.