How to Become a Bookkeeper Without a College Degree
If math, spreadsheets, and organization all fall under your forte, a career in finance may be your calling. Learning how to become a bookkeeper can lead you to a profitable career in providing a numbers-driven service that every business needs.
While extensive accounting services may only be needed once per quarter, bookkeeping is an ongoing part of every company’s operations. However, this process can be tedious for business owners, while also requiring more skill than virtual assistants typically provide. As a result, companies are always on the lookout for bookkeepers to outsource to or to permanently add to their team.
Below, we’ll dive deeper into what bookkeepers do, how much they make, and how you can become a bookkeeper — even if your goal is to run your own business.
What Do Bookkeepers Do?
A bookkeeper is primarily charged with maintaining a complete and accurate record of a company’s financial transactions, including any activity in the billing, purchases, payroll, accounts payable, or accounts receivable realm. More simply, the role can be described as the upkeep of a company’s financial books.
As a bookkeeper, you may be asked to:
- Create and update financial statements
- Keep track of client receipts
- Perform audits of current financial records
- Resolve any issues found during your audits
- Prepare client financial data for quarterly and annual taxes
How Much Do Bookkeepers Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average bookkeeper makes $40,240 per year in the United States. This is slightly above the median annual wage for all U.S. workers.
This number isn’t particularly impressive, especially in comparison to other careers in finance, but freelance bookkeepers have the opportunity to make far more than the average. ZipRecruiter reports the average bookkeeper salary to be well over $50,000 per year. Experienced bookkeepers can raise their hourly rates to $50 per hour, sometimes even higher, and typically charge a monthly minimum to make the most out of low-commitment clients.
Bookkeeping is a career with a fairly low barrier to entry. Though a high school diploma is typically expected and some coursework or experience may be required, there are plenty of opportunities to become a bookkeeper without even getting an associate’s degree.
However, you will need to exhibit all of the following skills, even if you’re applying to an entry-level bookkeeping position or starting your own business:
- Proficiency in Microsoft Excel
- Proficiency with accounting software like QuickBooks Online, Xero, or FreshBooks
- Basic accounting skills
- Advanced math skills
- Strong attention to detail
Bookkeepers are also expected to show their commitment to a code of ethics and bookkeeping law. Because you’ll be working with sensitive documents, it’s extremely important to always protect your clients.
How to Become a Bookkeeper
There are many paths you can take to land a full-time or part-time career in bookkeeping. However, you can use the steps below as a basic guideline for how to set yourself up for the greatest success.
1. Complete Your Job Training
As we mentioned before, it’s not a necessity to get a college degree if you want to become a bookkeeper. Still, some bookkeepers do choose to get an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as economics, accounting, or business mathematics. This degree serves as proof of formalized training to impress clients and employers, while also giving degree holders more career flexibility in case bookkeeping doesn’t pan out.
Following your degree or in place of a degree program, you’ll want to get some part-time or internship experience so you can get into a full-time career as soon as possible.
Those who don’t want to spend thousands on a college education can instead dive straight into getting bookkeeping experience. This is a field where entry-level trainee positions are quite common, so you can get paid while getting about six months of training. You won’t always be guaranteed a job after the training period, but you do greatly increase your chances of being hired onto open positions by getting trained directly by a company.
2. Get Certified
Many professionals will also choose to get a Certified Bookkeeper (CB) designation from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB). Some opt to get the Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB) designation from the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB) instead. Both of these will give you greater legitimacy in the field, which is especially helpful if you don’t have a college degree.
To get the CB designation from AIPB, you’re required to:
- Pay an application fee of up to $574, covering all official workbooks and all parts of the exam
- Have two years of full-time experience or 3,000 hours of part-time or freelance experience
- Pass a certification exam with 75% on two in-person parts and 70% on two mail-in parts
- Follow AIPB’s code of ethics
- Complete at least 20 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) each year
To get the CPB designation from NACPB, you’re required to:
- Pay an application fee of up to $600, covering all parts of the exam
- Have a bookkeeper’s certificate, any college degree in accounting, or two years (4,000 hours) of bookkeeping experience
- Pass a certification exam with 75% on all four parts
- Follow NACPB’s Code of Professional Conduct
- Complete at least 24 hours of CPE each year
3. Decide on Your Future Career Path
Once you have a couple years of experience and your certification, you’ll want to start thinking about how to proceed in the future. At this point, you can consider if you have further opportunities for advancement, whether at your company or another, or if becoming a freelance bookkeeper makes sense for you.
If you opt for a bookkeeping business of your own, here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Select a business entity. Most bookkeepers choose to work as a sole proprietor or LLC, but you can compare more options in our business entity guide.
- Create a website. This should minimally include your services, contact information, and any experience or certifications you have. Read more about how to start a website.
- Start marketing. Set up your online presence, including social media pages and Google and Yelp listings, and begin pushing content and paid ads about your bookkeeping services.
- Network in your community. Local networking events and coworking spaces provide great opportunities for connecting with other business owners, who can easily be future clients.
Frequently Asked Questions
When you know how to become a bookkeeper, you have an excellent opportunity to enter the field of finance — with or without a degree. If you’re interested in learning more, here are some frequently asked questions to help.
1. Can I work remotely as a bookkeeper?
Absolutely. Bookkeeping is a great telecommuting job, regardless of whether you’re planning to start a virtual bookkeeping business or become a traditional employee. You can read our guide to learn where you can find remote bookkeeping jobs so you can work from home full-time.
2. Are there any professional organizations that I can join as a bookkeeper?
AIPB and NACPB, the organizations through which you can get bookkeeping certifications, are actually professional organizations that you can join before or after you take your exam. You can also join the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (IBC), which is known as the largest bookkeeping institute in the world. Joining any of these can provide great resources and networking opportunities while boosting your credibility.
3. What is the typical career path of a bookkeeper, beyond the basic bookkeeping position?
The next step for a traditionally employed bookkeeper is often to become a bookkeeping supervisor. This is typically the highest level position you’ll take on, unless you start your own business, but some bookkeepers will later pursue a bachelor’s degree to become an accountant.
Enter the Field of Finance
No matter what type of company you want to work for in the future, there’s a good chance they’ll need someone to help keep their finances in order. As a bookkeeper, you can work with a wide range of clients. Whether you aim to become a freelancer, opt for a full-time career, or find a reliable part-time gig, your bookkeeping job opportunities are waiting for you.
If you need help keeping finances in order for your own business, learn how payroll services can take some of the work off your shoulders.