Office and Admin

How to become a payroll clerk

Written by Kate Lopaze

If you’re a stickler for details and get a warm glow of satisfaction from the idea of people getting their paychecks on time, then you might want to consider becoming a payroll clerk. These financial professionals are responsible for maintaining and processing large amounts of financial data and payment information for companies.

What does a payroll clerk do?

Payroll clerks are employed by just about every kind of company (large or small, corporate or nonprofit, etc.) that has employees. These professionals manage employees’ financial data and are typically responsible for processing paychecks and other payments, keeping time records, and handling any pay-related information for employees (like tax information, insurance deductions, or other factors that can affect an employee’s pay).

A payroll clerk’s duties may include:

  • Calculating pay for employees
  • Using payroll software to manage employee pay and financial information
  • Calculating taxes and deductions
  • Producing and processing employee paychecks
  • Tracking employee work time and keeping accurate records
  • Initiating direct deposit payments
  • Calculating unemployment or severance pay
  • Verifying and resolving discrepancies in employee financial data or pay
  • Keeping detailed digital or paper financial records to be reported
  • Issuing pay statements and invoices
  • Process and distribute financial documents like W-2 tax forms
  • Following financial reporting procedures and legal best practices

This is typically a 9-to-5 kind of job, with a standard 40-hour work week. Payroll clerks can be found across industries, as their skills are needed by just about any company that handles employee pay.

What skills do payroll clerks need?

This is a highly specialized role, so there are specific skill sets that will be an asset to you in this field.

Math Skills: Although this is a highly administrative position, it also calls for very strong math skills. The payroll clerk is responsible for money going in and out to employees, so they really must be able to do financial math effectively and accurately.

Attention to Detail: Because of the emphasis on accuracy, a payroll clerk needs to be able to spot discrepancies or problems in financial documents or paychecks. Mistakes can have significant impacts on employees or the company, so an eagle eye is essential, whether the clerk is using advanced accounting software or good old-fashioned paper and calculators.

Problem Solving Skills: Part of the job is resolving issues that inevitably come up when money, math, and humans are involved. If there are discrepancies in amounts paid versus amounts owed, the clerk needs to be able to resolve the issue quickly and accurately.

What do you need to become a payroll clerk?

The baseline minimum combination is a high school degree and a stellar set of math skills, but many companies prefer their payroll clerk to have at least an associate’s degree in business, accounting, or finance.

How much do payroll clerks get paid?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, payroll clerks earn a median annual salary of $43,580, or $20.95 per hour.

What’s the outlook for payroll clerks?

Because these professionals have a strong and versatile set of skills and can work in any industry that has need of payroll processing, it’s a solid career choice in the financial services and administration field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the demand for payroll clerks will continue to grow by about 6% through 2024.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.