What is a Certified Payroll Professional?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2019
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A certified payroll professional is a human resources (HR) expert who calculates, manages, and distributes worker wages. With the help of payroll clerks, he or she ensures that staff members receive timely, accurate compensation. In addition, a payroll professional is usually responsible for managing benefits packages and retirement funds. Earning the title of certified payroll professional entails meeting the eligibility requirements set by the American Payroll Association (APA) and passing an extensive exam. The APA certifies candidates worldwide. In order to maintain certification, a person needs to take a set number of continuing education courses every five years.

The APA offers certification exams to payroll workers who meet one of three criteria standards. The first option requires that a person gains at least three years of verifiable work experience in payroll administration and accounting. To meet the second criteria, an individual needs to have two years of experience and participate in four APA-accredited two- to three-day seminars. People who have completed 18 months of work, entry-level Fundamental Payroll Certification exams, and three seminar classes meet criteria three. College coursework in accounting and payroll can usually be substituted for the seminar requirements in criteria two and three.


Once prerequisites have been met, an individual can apply to take the certified payroll professional exam. APA-affiliated testing centers around the world offer exam dates throughout the year. The computer-based, multiple-choice test consists of 190 questions and takes about four hours to complete. Questions focus on many different important points, including paycheck calculation, tax worksheets, benefits management, accounting, and reporting. Scores are usually available immediately after taking the test, and an official certificate is mailed within about one month.

Becoming a certified payroll professional can be very helpful in obtaining head payroll manager jobs at small businesses and major corporations. Most employers highly value the title, and they can be sure that their workers have extensive knowledge of the duties of the job. Certified payroll professionals can streamline and update payroll systems, instate more efficient HR procedures, and facilitate clear communication between workers and managers. In addition, they ensure that companies follow all legal guidelines regarding compensation, benefits, and tax withholding.

An experienced, successful certified payroll professional usually has many opportunities for career advancement. In time, he or she may be able to become an office supervisor or a senior HR manager. A payroll professional may even have the chance to obtain a top accounting executive position with continuing education and several years of experience.


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Post 1

While payroll may report to the HR function, it often times reports to finance. A payroll professional is different than an HR professional. While there is some overlap, Payroll requires a different set of skills and knowledge than HR.

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