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What is a Payroll Specialist?

A payroll specialist is an essential role in any company. Payroll specialists are responsible for ensuring that employees get paid correctly and on time. Payroll specialists use payroll software to process payroll, calculate taxes and deductions, and generate reports.

They also may be responsible for maintaining employee records and preparing payroll tax returns. Payroll specialists typically have an associate’s degree in accounting or a related field.

What Do People in Payroll Jobs Do?

The duties of a payroll specialist vary depending on the size of the company they work for.

In small businesses, payroll specialists may be responsible for all aspects of payroll, from processing payroll to preparing tax returns. In larger companies, payroll specialists typically specialize in one area of the payroll process, such as processing or tax preparation.

More specifically, a payroll specialist typically has the following job duties.

  • Calculating wages, deductions, and taxes
  • Preparing paychecks
  • Issuing W- forms
  • Maintaining employee records, such as vacation days and sick days
  • Preparing reports, such as payroll summaries
  • Answering employees’ questions about their paychecks

Where Do People in Payroll Jobs Work?

Payroll specialists typically work in the human resources or accounting department of a company. Some payroll specialists work for payroll service companies that process payroll for multiple clients. With the rise of remote employment opportunities, payroll specialists may be able to take on a job where they can work from home.

The following are examples of industries that employ payroll specialists.

  • Accounting
  • Banking
  • Consulting
  • Education
  • Government
  • Healthcare
  • Insurance
  • Manufacturing
  • Nonprofit organizations

What Degree is Required to Become a Payroll Specialist?

Most payroll specialist positions require an associate’s degree in accounting or a related field. However, some companies may hire payroll clerks with little to no experience and provide on-the-job training. Payroll certification is not required but may help advance a payroll specialist’s career.

Although there are no mandatory payroll certifications, some payroll specialists may choose to obtain certification from the American Payroll Association (APA) or other organizations. The APA offers several certifications, such as Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) and Certified Payroll Manager (CPM).

How Much Money Does a Payroll Specialist Earn?

The average hourly pay for payroll specialists comes in at just under $24. The top earners make up to $27 per hour, while the bottom earners get paid as little as $16 per hour.

Some payroll administrator positions offer additional commissions, profit sharing, and bonuses. Of course, these extra pay opportunities depend on where a payroll specialist works.

However, it’s possible to earn anywhere from $400 to $5,000 extra annually through bonuses. If a company offers profit sharing, then a payroll specialist may earn somewhere between $600 and $9,000 per year.

Combining base hourly pay with commissions, bonuses, and profit-sharing, most payroll specialists earn between $34,000 and $63,000 per year.

Payroll Specialist Job Requirements

A payroll specialist needs to have various skills to do the job correctly. These skills include the following.

  • Analytical skills: Payroll specialists need to understand and analyze payroll data.
  • Attention to detail: Payroll specialists must pay close attention to details to ensure that payroll processes accurately. One small mistake can lead to a big problem, for example, when an employee doesn’t get paid the correct amount on payday.
  • Communication skills: Payroll specialists need to communicate with other employees in the company, and with outside agencies such as the IRS. If mistakes violate Internal Revenue Service rules and regulations, they can lead to issues for the payroll specialist’s employer.
  • Computer skills: A payroll specialist should be comfortable using payroll software and other computer applications. Some of the computer applications used during daily work include email clients and word processing.
  • Organizational skills: Payroll specialists must keep track of multiple tasks and prioritize them to meet all job requirements. For instance, the specialist must file payroll tax returns on time to avoid penalties. As well, he or she needs to update employee records regularly.
  • Time management skills: Payroll specialists need to manage their time efficiently to meet deadlines.
  • Math skills: Payroll specialists use math skills to calculate payroll taxes and deductions.
  • Familiarity with payroll tax laws: Payroll specialists must be familiar with payroll tax laws so they can accurately process payroll and file payroll tax returns.
  • Problem-solving skills: Payroll specialists need to be able to solve problems that arise during payroll processing. For example, if an employee doesn’t get paid correctly, the payroll specialist needs to figure out why and fix the problem.
  • Ability to work independently: A payroll specialist will often work independently and needs to take initiative to complete tasks.
  • Ability to handle confidential information: Payroll specialists must keep employee and employer payroll information confidential.

Payroll Specialist Career Path

Many payroll specialists start their careers as payroll clerks or assistants. Once a payroll specialist has obtained the necessary skills and experience, there are many opportunities for advancement within the field.

With experience, they may advance to positions such as payroll manager or Director of Payroll. Payroll specialists sometimes end up becoming certified public accountants (CPAs) or certified payroll professionals (CPPs). Other payroll specialists work for payroll service companies that process payroll for multiple clients.

Some payroll specialists may move into supervisory or management positions, while others may specialize in an area of payrolls such as tax preparation or benefits administration.

The job outlook for payroll specialists is positive, with expected job growth of 11% through 2028. This is faster than the average for all occupations. New needs for payroll expertise across several types of industries will drive the growth. For example, the demand for payroll specialists will rise as companies work to comply with increasingly complex payroll tax laws and regulations.

As more businesses outsource payroll processing to payroll service companies, there will be a need for payroll specialists to process payroll for their clients. In addition, the growth of online payroll software will create a need for payroll specialists who can help businesses set up and use these applications.

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