What You Need to Know to Get That Payroll Professional Salary

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We have good news for anyone interested in payroll clerk jobs or working their way up to payroll manager or supervisor: There's a payroll professional salary waiting for you.

If payroll is your field—or you'd like it to be—you should know that the amount of a salary you can earn is based on job duties along with experience, skills and education required and the role's location.

First, let's take a look at what you can expect to make when working in payroll.

Salary benchmarks for payroll jobs
According to Robert Half's 2020 Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals, the salary midpoint (at the 50th percentile) for payroll professionals is as follows:

  • $40,250 — payroll clerks
  • $47,500 — payroll coordinators/administrators
  • $75,000 — payroll managers/supervisors

At the midpoint, candidates have average experience with the necessary skills to meet the job requirements, and the role may be in an industry where competition for talent is moderate.

Payroll professional salary varies widely from city to city. In Duluth, Minnesota, for instance, the estimated midpoint salary for a payroll clerk is $32,039, while in Chicago, Illinois, it's $49,910.

Although the midpoint is the "sweet spot" for most companies—because it allows them to pay at market rate—some employers strive to lead the market. For those firms, a payroll professional salary will be above the midpoint. Per the 2020 Salary Guide, estimates for payroll professional salary at the 75th percentile, for example, are:

  • $47,250 — payroll clerks
  • $55,500 — payroll coordinators/administrators
  • $89,250 — payroll managers/supervisors

Again, rates differ by location.

Payroll professional job duties
Payroll responsibilities vary by job title. Depending on the business' size and structure, these duties may overlap.

Payroll clerks perform tasks associated with wage processing. At the most basic level, they reconcile timecards, enter data into the payroll system, distribute paychecks, and maintain payroll records. The payroll clerk position, however, has evolved over time. Now, many organizations task payroll clerks with a full spectrum of payroll processing duties, including wage calculations, payroll accounting, and payroll inquiry resolution. In some companies, payroll clerks are called payroll specialists.

Payroll coordinators/administrators are responsible for keeping the payroll unit efficient. They oversee the payroll clerk's work, or process payroll if the company does not have payroll clerks/specialists. Payroll coordinators/administrators usually team up with other departments—such as human resources, finance and IT—and external auditors to cultivate sturdy payroll internal controls. They are often found in organizations with large or complex payrolls and are skilled at coordinating payroll with employee benefits.

Payroll managers/supervisors are in charge of an entire payroll function. They delegate tasks to the payroll team and collaborate frequently with related department heads, particularly HR and finance leaders, to establish payroll goals. Primary payroll duties include budget preparation; department planning; policy development; strategy implementation; compliance with federal, state and local payroll laws; statistical reporting; change management; recruiting, training and supervising the payroll staff; and delivering timely performance evaluations.

Experience, skills and education
As stated earlier, employers also examine the candidate's experience, skills and education when considering a payroll professional salary.

Though hiring managers often prefer candidates with payroll experience, entry-level payroll clerk jobs are available. You'll need at least a high school diploma and proficiency in Microsoft Office to be considered for an entry-level payroll clerk position. You can improve your standing by obtaining the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC). If the payroll clerk job requires end-to-end payroll processing, employers prefer an associate's degree in a related field and payroll certification, or equivalent experience.

The education requirements are likely more stringent if your aim is to become a payroll administrator/coordinator. Along with a bachelor's degree or an associate's degree and/or Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) designation, you should have keen understanding of payroll software, accounting practices, and payroll administration. Employers might relax the education criteria if you have significant experience administering payroll and employee benefits.

For payroll managers/supervisors, your level of experience must be far greater—generally, a minimum of five years in payroll management. A payroll manager/supervisor is normally CPP-certified with a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance, human resources, or business administration. Employers might forego the CPP prerequisite and accept only a bachelor's degree if you have an extensive track record as a payroll manager/supervisor. Payroll software expertise along with superb leadership and interpersonal skills are essential.

To work in payroll, you need a sharp eye for detail, excellent mathematical and time management skills plus the ability to multitask and work adeptly under pressure. Strong communication, organizational and problem-solving skills are also necessary, no matter where you work. As for personal attributes, honesty, trustworthiness and reliability are frontrunners.

The irony of payroll is that many people in business don't know much about it; however, everyone wants to be paid for their work! Now that you know more about the payroll professional salary and what it takes to get one, you can embark upon or advance your payroll career.

This article was first published on the Robert Half International blog. Accountemps, a Robert Half company, is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. Accountemps has 300 locations worldwide. More resources, including job search services can be found on the Accountemps website.