Whether you're on the way to becoming a licensed accountant or are just looking to test out the financial industry, bookkeeping is an excellent career choice for many people. But while a career in bookkeeping doesn't always require secondary schooling, countless professionals opt to pursue certification. As a burgeoning bookkeeper yourself, determining which bookkeeping certification is best can be one of the biggest career decisions you make.
Which Bookkeeping Certification is Best?
The answer to this question largely depends on your specialty and which software you prefer. However, there are two major bookkeeping certifications that are pretty universally respected throughout the industry. These certifications come from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) and the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB).
But will completing a bookkeeping certification really help boost your career? And how do you know which, if any, of these certifications is the best investment for you and your business?
The Value of a Bookkeeping Certification
To understand which bookkeeping certification is best, we first need to look at the role of a professional bookkeeper. Bookkeepers handle the day-to-day finances of a business, including maintaining accounts, handling payroll, and recording all incoming and outgoing transactions.
Although the two fields work closely with each other, bookkeepers and accountants are not the same.
Yes, their roles are somewhat different in the workplace, but the required education and certification also vary. Primarily, accountants cannot work in their field without some type of certification. For bookkeepers, though, certification is an extra step that isn't technically necessary.
While some professionals move straight from high school graduation to working in the bookkeeping industry, most choose to complete a two-year Associate's program in bookkeeping. Even after this education, though, certification might be necessary to get a leg up in the field.
How much does bookkeeping certification cost?
When determining which bookkeeping certification is best for your career, we recommend putting little weight on the actual cost of the certification.
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't know the financial cost of becoming a certified bookkeeper. The cost of bookkeeping certification can vary depending on the authority you choose to pursue your license through and the requirements put forward by this organization.
In most cases, the certification exam itself costs around $100 to $150. However, this doesn't take into account potential costs for study materials, exams, and other fees. It's difficult to put a solid price on study courses and other related costs (we'll go into a bit more detail in the specific certification sections below), but most certifications in total will cost between $150 and $700.
Will earning a bookkeeping certification help your career?
While the costs associated with bookkeeping certification aren't exorbitantly high, you might be wondering if they're really worth it. The answer to this will depend on the current state of your career and your experience.
If you're just entering the professional job market or have recently switched to bookkeeping from an unrelated field, then certification might provide a much-needed boost to your resume.
However, if you already have several years of bookkeeping experience, certification probably won't do much to benefit your career.
One exception to this is in the case of an employer requiring certification. If certification is the one thing standing between you and a great opportunity, we suggest speaking with the hiring manager about pursuing certification after the acceptance of a job offer. If you have the skills and experience they're looking for, your new employer might even cover the cost of your exam and application.
Should you pursue a license or a certification?
As you look into the available bookkeeping certifications, you might also come across bookkeeping licenses. In many cases, these licenses are granted and overseen by the same organizations that manage certifications.
In short, licenses are a step up from certification. Not only is there typically an additional application (and associated fee), but becoming a licensed bookkeeper often means meeting a range of other requirements that just becoming certified does not.
Fortunately, you don't necessarily need to choose between certification and licensure. Since certification is often a requirement for becoming licensed, you can always pursue your license at a later date.
One key thing to consider is that some licensing authorities will only grant licenses to bookkeepers with a relevant two- or four-year degree. In some cases, you can get around this with alternative education. But it is definitely something to consider if you wish to pursue a career in bookkeeping.
Which Bookkeeping Certification Is Best for You?
Finding which bookkeeping certification is best for your career is made a little more complicated by the fact that there are multiple certifications out there. Fortunately, though, these certifications are pretty easy to differentiate and understand.
In the world of bookkeeping, there are three main types of certification: Certified Public Bookkeeper, Certified Bookkeeper, and software-specific certifications. So which of these bookkeeping certifications is best for the up-and-coming professional?
Certified Public Bookkeeper
The designation of Certified Public Bookkeeper (or CPB) is nationally accredited by the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers. If you're looking for a certification that will be recognized across the United States and its territories, and that carries the most influence in the financial industry, then this certification might be best for you.
Bookkeepers who wish to complete this certification are tested on the contents of the NACPB's Accounting Fundamentals course. This course costs between $400 and $500. After completing this course, you must take and pass the Uniform Bookkeeper Certification Examination, which costs between $100 and $150 to attempt.
However, receiving the full recognition and benefits of this certification also means applying for a license. Without this license, you are not able to place "CPB" behind your name or otherwise refer to yourself as a Certified Public Bookkeeper.
Luckily, obtaining this license is both easier and cheaper than obtaining the certificate. To become a licensed Certified Public Bookkeeper, you must submit an application with proof of your certification and two- or four-year bookkeeping degree. The application fee costs around $100.
On the other hand, we have the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers' certification. In many ways, becoming a Certified Bookkeeper is a stepping stone to becoming a Certified Public Bookkeeper. This certification does not include the same level of accreditation and recognition as its NACPB counterpart. But it can be a great first step for those starting their bookkeeping career.
To become a Certified Bookkeeper, you will need to complete the Certified Bookkeeper Program, including the four-part exam. In total, this program costs between $475 and $575. If desired, you can spread this program over several months or even years.
In addition to completing this examination, applicants must have two years of professional bookkeeping experience. The completion of this certification allows you to place "CB" behind your name without any additional licensing.
Sometimes, software companies release their own certification programs to prove professional proficiency in their product's use. These certifications are hardly ever necessary. But they can be an easy and affordable way to make your resume more competitive and help it stand out to employers.
Perhaps the most popular software and respective certification is Intuit QuickBooks. This bookkeeping software is used by small businesses and individuals to track transactions, expenses, taxes, and more. If you want to be successful in the bookkeeping industry, it's crucial that you understand the ins and outs of this software.
There are many different certifications for Intuit QuickBooks, including courses from the company itself and from outside sources. However, if you want to invest in quality QuickBooks certification, we suggest going with the NACPB's QuickBooks Certification.
Just like NACPB's other certifications, this course and certification are nationally accredited. It is a bit pricey, though, at between $400 and $500 for the course and between $100 and $150 for the exam.
Level up Your Career Path with the Right Certification
Is the certification necessary to be a respected and successful bookkeeper? Absolutely not. However, investing the time and money into obtaining one of these certificates can be the difference between landing your dream job or settling for something less.
If you do choose to pursue certification, knowing which bookkeeping certification is best for you and your particular career path is essential to making a good investment. We hope we've answered most of your questions here. But don't be afraid to reach out to your professional organization or career center of choice to learn more.
If bookkeeping certification is outside your budget at the moment, don't be afraid to seek out alternative ways to fund this training. In some cases, your current employer might even invest in this certification for you. Otherwise, keep in mind that it's never too late to pursue further training and career development.
But, of course, even the best bookkeeping certification won't replace years of experience and industry knowledge. If you're an experienced bookkeeper with plenty of work under your belt, don't stress. There might be no real benefit to pursuing certification in the first place.
Are you or a loved one a certified bookkeeper? Let us know your experiences in the comments below!