How To Become a Payroll Specialist

payroll specialist calculating a company payroll

Some people live to work, while others work to live. Regardless of which category any given employee falls into, all workers expect to get paid in full and on time. The task of ensuring that this happens without a problem falls to the payroll specialist.

In fact, the job title of payroll specialist can refer to a number of different professionals, such as payroll clerks, payroll coordinators or administrators, payroll data analysts and payroll managers or supervisors. No matter which particular role you aspire to, your payroll specialist career path will begin with your college education. Explore the process of how to become a payroll specialist in this in-depth career guide.

What Does a Payroll Specialist Do?

The job of a payroll specialist blends together elements of the accounting and human resources fields. The main responsibilities for these professionals are to process the company’s payroll as well as ensuring that all payroll functions are in compliance with applicable regulations and that all employees get paid properly. Payroll management specialists may also be responsible for the following tasks:

  • Maintaining the company’s payroll database, updating it as needed
  • Identifying potential technical glitches and find ways of fixing them
  • Recommending improvements to the current payroll system
  • Collecting banking information to set up direct deposit for employees
  • Processing paper payroll checks for workers who prefer not to use direct deposit
  • Conducting regular audits of all payroll records
  • Reconciling ledger entries with payroll transactions
  • Executing wage garnishments actions from the IRS or state agency properly
  • Staying on top of the latest payroll management trends and changes in the field such as federal and state law updates
  • Answering employees’ questions about payroll

Where Do Payroll Specialists Work?

Payroll specialists can work in every sector (public, private and nonprofit) and industry. These professionals may work directly for one company, or they may work for a human resources (HR) firm that handles HR and payroll management tasks for many companies. Payroll specialists typically work in an office setting, although some positions may be eligible for remote or hybrid office/remote work.

A payroll specialist’s job is usually nine to five. However, overtime may be required during the busy seasons. For a payroll professional, the busy seasons are the annual W2 distribution and the period of time approaching quarterly tax deadlines.

How Do I Become a Payroll Specialist?

If you’ve decided that this is the right career field for you, then it’s time to take a closer look at the process of how to become a payroll specialist. All payroll specialists are expected to have at least a high school diploma or GED. If you’re still in high school, schedule a visit with your high school guidance counselor.

During your meeting, talk to your guidance counselor about your career goals and see whether you can adjust your course load accordingly. It will be helpful to take more mathematics classes, including business statistics and accounting, if they are available at your school. You should also try to take classes in microeconomics, macroeconomics, business law and computer applications.

After high school, you should plan on earning your bachelor’s degree, because most employers prefer to hire payroll specialists who have a degree. It’s not necessary to pursue graduate-level education. However, you should plan on earning a professional certification to demonstrate your payroll-specific competencies. 

What Degree Should I Study for Payroll Management Jobs?

It’s generally expected that aspiring payroll specialists hold a bachelor’s degree, although some entry-level positions may be available to high school graduates. There is no universal requirement regarding the type of bachelor’s degree these individuals should earn. However, it’s customary to choose an accounting, business administration or human resources management degree.

Should an Aspiring Payroll Specialist Earn a Certification?

Yes, both aspiring and established payroll specialists are strongly encouraged to pursue certification opportunities following graduation and later on in their career path. Some certification programs are available to new graduates and those with minimal work experience, whereas others are intended for established professionals who wish to move into senior-level roles.

The certifying body of choice for many professionals in this field is the American Payroll Association (APA). The APA offers two certification options: the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) and the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP). The FPC is ideal for new and aspiring payroll specialists because there are no work experience requirements.

If you aspire to work in human resources, you can develop a firm foundation for future success at Grand Canyon University. Apply today for admission to the Bachelor of Science in Applied Human Resources Management offered by the renowned Colangelo College of Business

Begin your journey toward pursuing a rewarding career by clicking on Request Info at the top of your screen.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.