Bookkeeping can be an excellent career choice. Most businesses need someone to keep track of their financials, and with remote work on the rise, bookkeepers can easily work for clients from anywhere in the world.
In fact, we ranked remote bookkeeping as one of the best online jobs, thanks to its combination of scalability, flexibility and earning potential.
There’s no educational or certification requirement to work as a bookkeeper. However, there are certain situations in which you may want to consider getting a bookkeeping certification, or at least taking a course to buff up your skills.
In this article, we’ll take a look at…
- When bookkeeping certifications make the most sense.
- The four broad types of bookkeeping certifications.
- The top five specific certifications to consider.
And then we’ll answer a few of the most frequently asked questions about bookkeeper certification.
Do You Actually Need a Bookkeeping Certification?
There is no legal or professional requirement to complete a bookkeeping course or certificate program to work as a bookkeeper.
However, a bookkeeping certificate offers some advantages:
- Higher pay. As a general rule, employers will pay you more if you’re certified. As a freelancer, certifications can help differentiate you from other providers so you can win more clients and charge higher rates.
- Improves your skills. Courses and certification programs are not just about credentials — they help you gain knowledge and ensure that you have the skills necessary to succeed in the field.
- Some employers require it. While there’s no general certification requirement, many employers only hire certified bookkeepers.
You may not need a bookkeeping certification if…
- You have a four-year accounting degree. Accountants learn the bookkeeping basics, so if you have that degree, you probably don’t need bookkeeping certification.
- You have a lot of bookkeeping work experience. If you’ve been working in the field for years, earn a living you’re satisfied with, and have no trouble keeping up with industry changes, you may not find certification worth the time and money.
- You’re interested in doing bookkeeping as a side hustle. If your goal is to work on a part-time, freelance basis for small clients you find on platforms like Upwork and Fiverr, you may do just fine without certification.
The Four Types of Bookkeeping Certification
There are four broad types of bookkeeping certification.
Note that the terms “certification” and “certificate” are not interchangeable.
- In general, a bookkeeping certificate represents proof of education, such as the completion of a specific bookkeeping course.
- A bookkeeping certification shows that you meet industry standards as set by a professional organization, and most likely that you passed a standardized exam.
Bookkeeping courses usually give you a certificate, but they almost never provide certification. This is important, because it means that if you decide to enroll in a course, you should look for one that prepares you for a certification exam.
1. Professional Certification
Professional certification is administered by organizations within a given field. For example, the most widely-recognized certification in the bookkeeping industry is the Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB) certification offered by National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers.
This type of certification is widely accepted as proof of basic competency. Earning one means you’ve met rigorous standards pertaining to bookkeeping skills and knowledge, have worked in the field, abide by a set of ethics and code of conduct and continue to keep up with industry trends and changes.
Thus, putting one of these on your resume can offer a huge boost to your prospects and negotiating power. That said, these may require continuing professional education to ensure you stay up to date on the bookkeeping industry.
2. Proficiency Certification
Proficiency certifications demonstrate mastery of specific bookkeeping procedures or software programs. One example is the Quickbooks ProAdvisor certification, which shows that you’ve demonstrated the ability to use Quickbooks at a certain level by passing a test.
In the next section, we’ll go into more detail about three leading proficiency certifications: Quickbooks, Xero and Freshbooks.
3. Third-Party Certification
There are many online bookkeeping courses, and most of them offer a certificate upon completion to show that you finished the course. Often, these certificates are branded as a certification, and they can be helpful on your resume. They’re certainly better than nothing.
However, they can be expensive and they aren’t backed by a professional organization. That means that some employers may find them to be valuable while others do not. As a rule, they do not carry the same weight as professional certification when meeting with clients or interviewing for jobs.
Ultimately, it comes down to name recognition. Your prospective employer or client may recognize a well-known third-party course/certification. More obscure ones might not do anything for you.
Note: One well-regarded course that’s worth checking out is Ben Robinson’s Bookkeeper Launch.
4. College Certificates
College certificates are not certifications. These are academic courses — often one year long — that are offered primarily (though not exclusively) by for-profit colleges and universities.
These certificates are usually very expensive, but they don’t confer professional certification and they are not degrees. They do teach you the basics of bookkeeping and they may help you become more prepared for certification exams, but there are less costly options available that will provide you with the same level of education.
In fact, these certifications are expensive by design. They’re often advertised as an alternative to a more traditional college education and their price tag matches that. In most cases, students in these courses are prodded to apply for state and federal financial aid, and often to take out student loans.
Given how little benefit these programs provide, we recommend avoiding them.
A better educational investment would be earning a four-year accounting degree. If you already have a degree, you may be able to apply for a post-baccalaureate program, which is a second bachelor’s degree that only takes two years to complete.
The Five Best Bookkeeping Certifications
The best bookkeeping certifications either come from widely-known professional bookkeeping associations or top-ranked accounting/bookkeeping software providers.
With that said, we’ve compiled the top five best bookkeeping certifications below. Getting at least one of these could give your bookkeeping career a serious boost.
#1. Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB)
The National Association of Certified Professional Bookkeepers (NACPB) is one of the leading professional organizations in the industry. It offers tons of resources for bookkeepers, including help with attaining a variety of licenses and certifications.
It also offers a few of its own, including the CPB certification, which has fairly rigorous requirements.
First, there’s a four-part Uniform Certified Public Bookkeeper examination. This covers the following areas:
- Part 1: Accounting Fundamentals.
- Part 2: Accounting Principles.
- Part 3: Payroll Fundamentals.
- Part 4. QuickBooks Fundamentals (Desktop) or QuickBooks Online Fundamentals.
Each section can be scheduled and taken separately. You need to score 75% or better (37/50 questions) to pass each one.
Additionally, aspiring CPBs must have an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in accounting to sit for the test. If you don’t, you can complete NACPB’s “Education Alternative,” which involves passing four courses (one for each part of the exam).
The final pre-certification requirement is work experience. CPB applicants must gain 2,000 hours of accounting or bookkeeping experience. (Freelance work does qualify.)
Once you meet all these requirements, you’ll agree to the CPB Code of Professional Conduct and apply for certification. At the time of publication, the application cost was $100.
Once certified, you must complete 24 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) every year, starting the first full year after receiving your certification.
The CPB requires a lot of work, but the investment is worth it since this certification boosts your skills and adds a lot of weight to your resume.
#2. Certified Bookkeeper (CB)
Founded in 1987, the American Institute of Public Bookkeepers also offers a well-known bookkeeping certification.
To get your CB, you’ll need to meet the following requirements within a three-year period:
- Pass the national certification exam.
- Earn two years of bookkeeping experience. This can include internships, bookkeeping work, or relevant volunteer work like the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. (Note that Freelance bookkeepers need 3,000 hours of work experience.)
The CB exam has four parts:
- Part 1: Adjustments and Error Correction.
- Part 2: Payroll and Depreciation.
- Part 3: Inventory.
- Part 4: Internal Controls and Fraud Prevention.
You take the first two parts at a Prometric test center and need to score at least 75% on each.
Parts 3 and 4 are at-home workbook exams. You fax or email these to the AIPB for grading once you’re done. You need at least a 70% on each one to pass.
As of 2021, CB certification costs $479 for AIPB members and $574 for nonmembers.
The main advantage the CB has over the CPB is that it doesn’t require previous education, such as a specific degree or the completion of preparatory courses.
That said, taking some courses may be necessary anyway if you don’t feel prepared. So depending on your background and time available, the CPB may still be the better overall option.
#3. QuickBooks Certification
Quickbooks is one of the most popular accounting software programs, and it offers a certification program called ProAdvisor for bookkeepers that want to stand out as Quickbooks pros.
There are certifications for the following:
- QuickBooks Online
- QuickBooks Online Advanced
- QuickBooks Desktop
- QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise
- QuickBooks Online Payroll
Quickbooks offers numerous courses to prepare you for the ProAdvisor certification exam. However, they aren’t necessary — you can take the exam if you’re confident you’ll pass based on your Quickbooks experience.
ProAdvisors must take a short recertification exam every year to ensure they’re solid on their skills and keeping up with Quickbooks updates. They also have to complete 16 hours of CPE every year.
Once certified, you can earn ProAdvisor rewards points to unlock perks, including:
- Free listing on Find-a-ProAdvisor, which Quickbooks says provides almost a quarter-million leads annually.
- Free QuickBooks Online, payroll, and time-tracking.
- Discounted apps, services, supplies, and ProConnect tax returns.
- Unlimited phone, chat, and email support.
#4. Xero Advisor Certification
Xero is a cloud software program for small to medium-sized businesses. Naturally, it offers bookkeepers who want to specialize in its software an Advisor Certification. You have to sign up for the Xero partner program first, but that’s free.
Xero offers a “fast-track assessment” for experienced users to skip all the requirements and get certified fast. However, you only have one attempt, so don’t take it unless you’re confident.
Otherwise, aspiring Xero Advisors have to meet a few requirements.
- First, you’ll hop on a 15-minute call with a Xero rep. They’ll ask you a bit about your bookkeeping background, goals, and interest in Xero.
- After that, you’ll get on a 30-45 minute call to get your free Established plan (one of Xero’s plans), activate/demo Xero HQ (where you can manage clients), learn about the two options for pursuing certification (self-paced and webinar), and meet your account manager.
- Then, you can pursue certification through one of the ways mentioned above: self-paced (Xero offers several online courses you must pass) or webinar (you attend a live webinar and take assessments afterward).
Xero isn’t clear about how long these take, but you can check your progress as you work through them.
Becoming a Xero Advisor is free.
#5. FreshBooks Accounting Partner Program
Freshbooks is well-known as an effective and user-friendly cloud accounting software product. It created its Accounting Partner Program to help bookkeepers and accountants, focusing on a collaborative approach to managing their books.
Freshbooks partners have access to:
- Various tools and technology.
- Personalized education and certification.
- Dedicated support.
- Client discounts.
You need a professional certification to pursue Freshbooks certification. If you have one, you simply need to complete the Freshbooks accountant training to become a full partner.
Bookkeeping Certification FAQs
It depends on the type of certification you’re pursuing. For professional certification, the CPB has fairly strict educational requirements while the CB does not. In general, proficiency certifications do not require prior coursework, but you should assume that the exams are designed to truly test your knowledge of the software in question. In some cases, even people who have been using these solutions for years may need to take one or more courses to be able to pass the certification exam.
The answer depends on your goals. Certification may be necessary to move up in the field, demand higher rates/salaries, and land more complex roles. However, if you’re not pursuing bookkeeping as a full-time career — perhaps just as a side hustle — certification might not be worth the time and cost because small clients usually care more about your ability to get the work done than your credentials.
Some online bookkeeping courses may offer certification at the end. However, keep in mind that these are not professional certifications and may not be recognized by a future employer.
Booking Certification: Helpful, But Not Always Necessary
Bookkeeping certifications definitely have their place. They can help you move up more rapidly, demand a higher salary or rates, and find more clients. If you’re serious about a bookkeeping career, a certification can go a long way.
That said, they’re not necessary to get started or even make decent money. As long as you learn the basics of bookkeeping and put in some leg work, you can find clients happy to pay you to manage their books.
Read next: Where to best the best remote bookkeeping jobs.