Accounts Payable Professional Careers: Job Description & Salary

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Are the benefits of an accounts payable career worth the challenges? Read about the job duties and discover the truth about salary, career prospects and educational requirements to see if a career as an accounts payable professional is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being an Accounts Payable (AP) Professional

Accounts payable professionals keep track of the money going out to pay for the day-to-day operations at a business or a public or private sector organization. Read the following pros and cons to see if an accounts payable career adds up to you.

Pros of Being an Accounts Payable Professional
A bachelor's degree is not normally required*
Steady job growth (11% or more expected between 2012 and 2022)*
Flexible part-time jobs could be available (1 out of 4 AP clerks was employed part-time in 2012)*
Accounting clerks and specialists are employed in almost every industry*

Cons of Being an Accounts Payable Professional
Long hours may be required during the tax season*
Sitting at a computer all day could create health issues*
Pay is not very high (approximately $38,070 mean annual salary in 2014)*
Career advancement will most likely require additional education*

Source(s): *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Info Essentials

Job Description and Duties

When a company receives a service or supply it hasn't paid for yet, it has a debt outstanding. Accounts payable professionals, often referred to as clerks or specialists, handle this debt, adding new payables as the goods and services come in and subtracting as bills are paid. Using accounting software, AP clerks enter financial data into the computer and make sure all information is entered properly and all necessary components are completed. Depending on the size and complexity of the organization, you could also work with and file paper documents. If you want to be an accounts payable specialist, you must be comfortable with numbers and mathematical calculations and be able to perform your work accurately.

Making mistakes in this job could result in regulatory violations or the loss of profits for an organization, and being responsible for large amounts of money is a stress you should consider in your career decision process. Sitting at a computer and performing repetitive accounting tasks is valuable to a business but may become monotonous and could possibly lead to eye strain, backaches, muscular injuries and other health issues. You could also be required to work long hours when tax deadlines approach.

Occupation Growth and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks should expect as-fast-as average (11%) employment growth during 2012-2022. Professionals who know how to use the most current accounting software will qualify for more positions, as more sophisticated bookkeeping tools become more prolific over the next decade.

The BLS estimated that 1,575,060 bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks were employed in the U.S. in 2014. Although that number sounds high, accounts payable professionals are needed in every business; only ten percent of accounting professionals are employed by accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services.

Average salaries for bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks were estimated to be $38,070 in May 2014, as measured by the BLS. This salary may be somewhat low, but there is generally no need to invest in a costly undergraduate degree program to qualify. The bottom ten percent of these clerks received annual pay around $22,480 while compensation for the top ten percent approached $56,470 or more.

Training and Requirements

Accounts payable professionals should be competent at math functions and at using the computer to perform accounting tasks. While a high school diploma may be sufficient for some positions, the BLS acknowledged that more employers are seeking candidates who have additional computer training or an associate degree in business or accounting. Community colleges offer courses that provide training in accounting software. Associate degree programs focus on topics that include business communications, auditing, finance and accounting methods, and generally can be completed in about two years.

After obtaining employment, accounts payable professionals will continue to learn skills through on-the-job training and will sometimes participate in company sponsored classes to learn about computer programs and techniques that an individual business may require. Because accuracy is important, you will need to be a good listener, pay close attention to details, have strong math abilities and be an expert at following instructions.

What Employers Are Looking for

Employers in almost every industry need accounts payable professionals, and a high school diploma may be the only educational requirement, although some hiring managers may give preference to candidates with an associate degree. Job listings often specify the need for additional industry experience, accounting knowledge or familiarity with software the company may utilize. Below are examples of skills and requirements found in several online job postings in March of 2012:

  • A wireless telecommunications company in Las Vegas is searching for a full-time accounts payable assistant to submit payment to vendors and scrutinize other AP transactions for inaccuracies. One year of accounting experience and knowledge of coding is necessary, and knowledge of Great Plains software is desirable.
  • A public accounting oversight board in Washington D.C. wants to hire an accounts payable specialist with 1-2 years of experience to handle transactions related to the corporate credit card program and 1099 tax filings, in addition to other accounting tasks. The employer stresses the importance of adhering to the regulations and policies and seeks someone who will participate in testing groups and provide ideas for reaching goals.
  • An agricultural business in Ohio is looking for an accounts payable specialist to organize invoices, create checks 2-3 times a week and perform some bookkeeping functions. They prefer someone who has a year or two of AP experience, but computer literacy is required.

How to Beat the Competition

Accounts payable professionals who want to stay on top in their field need to stay abreast of new accounting software developments and keep computer skills sharp. Companies often seek faster ways to track and store accounting data, so you must have the ability to adapt to these changes. Businesses also desire individuals with a wide range of skills instead of one specialty. The BLS suggests AP clerks expand their skills and knowledge by helping out with other unrelated accounting duties if possible, and this additional work might lead to other job opportunities and promotions.

The BLS recognizes that many graduates from bachelor's degree programs often accept entry level accounting clerk positions in order to get their foot in the door. You will be competing against them, so pursuing an undergraduate degree in accounting or business could be beneficial, although costly. Professional certification is not required for accounts payable positions, but by pursuing a certificate, you would be showing employers that you are serious and dedicated to the field in which you work. The American Accounts Payable Association offers the Leadership Certificate for AP workers who are in management roles or who desire to move into a supervisory or leadership positions.

Other Career Options

Procurement Clerk

If you are looking for a clerical career right out of high school but maybe aren't ready to commit to taking college courses or earning a degree to compete for accounts payable positions, you might be interested in a job as a procurement clerk. Procurement clerks handle orders for materials and make sure items are received. The BLS states that usually only a high school diploma is required and on-the-job training provides most of the skills necessary to perform the job. According to estimates from the BLS, the demand for employment clerks is expected to grow by only six percent from 2008-2018 because of the wide-spread use of the Internet for online ordering. May 2010 statistics from the BLS showed that a procurement clerk earned an average yearly salary of around $37,000, slightly higher than an accounts payable specialist.

Accountant

If you love accounting and want to delve further into that field, you could think about becoming an accountant. Accountants perform many complex duties involving the filing of taxes and regulatory reports with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Accountants also complete and analyze financial records at a business or public entity and recommend actions beneficial to the company or organization. The BLS projected that the growth of employment for accountants and auditors could increase by 22% between 2008 and 2018 due to the complexity of financial regulations and the need for experienced professionals to help organizations become compliant.

To be considered for hire by most employers, accountant candidates are generally required to hold a bachelor's degree in accounting or similar field. Although additional education beyond high school is necessary and will require a monetary investment, accountants and auditors can receive annual pay averaging around $62,000. The upper ten percent earned a median salary reaching $107,000, as seen in May 2010 BLS statistics. Most accountants will need to become Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) before performing many job duties related to the SEC. Although certification requirements vary by state, you would generally need to hold a 4-year degree, complete additional courses and pass an examination.

Popular Schools

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    1. Kaplan University

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    Master's
      • Master - Accounting
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      • Bachelor: Accounting
      • Bachelor: Managerial Accountancy
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      • Bachelor: Auditing-Forensic Accountancy
      • BSBA - Investment
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      • Associate: Accounting
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    2. Louisiana State University Shreveport

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    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration with a General Business Specialization
      • Master of Business Administration - Finance Concentration
      • Master of Business Administration - Finance Specialization
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    3. Regent University

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      • Master of Business Administration - Accounting
      • Master of Arts in Law - Business
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      • Bachelor of Science in Accounting
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    4. Georgetown University

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      • Master of Science in Finance
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    5. Saint Leo University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BA: Accounting
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      • AA: Business Administration
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    6. South College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting
      • Bachelor of Business Administration
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      • Associate of Science in Accounting
      • Associate of Science in Business Administration
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    7. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration
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    8. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Professional Accounting
      • Master of Finance
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      • BS - Accounting
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      • Graduate Specialization - Accounting
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    9. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Government Analytics
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Saint John's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Accounting
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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master - Accounting
  • Bachelor: Accounting
  • Associate: Accounting

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Louisiana State University Shreveport

  • Master of Business Administration with a General Business Specialization
  • Master of Business Administration - Finance Concentration
  • Master of Business Administration - Finance Specialization

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Regent University

  • Master of Business Administration - Accounting
  • Master of Arts in Law - Business
  • Bachelor of Science in Accounting
  • Bachelor of Science in Business - Accounting

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Georgetown University

  • Master of Science in Finance
  • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management

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Saint Leo University

  • BA: Accounting
  • BA: Business Administration - Management
  • AA: Business Administration

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South College

  • Bachelor of Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting
  • Bachelor of Business Administration
  • Associate of Science in Accounting
  • Associate of Science in Business Administration

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George Mason University

  • Master of Business Administration

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Colorado State University Global

  • Master of Professional Accounting
  • BS - Accounting
  • Graduate Specialization - Accounting

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