Payroll Tools

A Roadmap to Payroll Certifications (CPP and FPC)

  • The American Payroll Association (APA) has two general payroll certification programs
  • A Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) designation can be earned by those working in payroll for several years
  • The Fundamental Payroll Certification (FCP) generally is available for those who are new to payroll
  • To retain certified status, both designations require approved continuing education

Shortly after the American Payroll Association was formed In the early 1980s, an effort began to educate and elevate those working in payroll through a certification program. The purpose behind this push was to lend some legitimacy to payroll becoming a professional career track with specialized knowledge needed to understand the key functions and master the operations.

Two certification programs for payroll professionals

Nearly 40 years later, the APA oversees two types of certification programs and tests: the Certified Payroll Professional, or CPP, and the Fundamental Payroll Certification, or FPC. 

The APA has developed other certificate programs geared toward specific aspects of the payroll function, and there are certificate programs, including payroll, in several colleges and universities, but there are no other widely available general payroll certifications in the United States. One cannot yet get a four-year college degree in payroll.

Canadians have their own certification exam process through the Canadian Payroll Association, and there are similar designations and degrees that payroll professionals can achieve in the U.K. and in other countries.

To become a Certified Payroll Professional

To earn the CPP designation, individuals are required to meet two experience criteria and pass a four-hour exam. The first criteria allows those to take the exam if they have worked in payroll for three of the past five years, and there are definitions for qualified payroll work. 

The second criteria requires at least 24 consecutive months of work in payroll and the completion of a set of courses before taking the exam.

Then the 190-question exam can be scheduled and taken. It is recommended that those desiring the CPP designation do some preparatory training. The exam covers seven key areas of payroll, including core payroll concepts, compliance, calculation of pay, payroll systems, payroll management and administration, audits and accounting. 

While the APA provides extensive study material, local APA chapters throughout the country also conduct CPP-related training classes. 

Recent APA statistics show that approximately 50% of those taking the CPP exam pass and become CPPs. 

The designation is effective in five-year increments, and it can be renewed by participating in continuing education through programs that offer Recertification Credit Hours (RCHs), the APA’s version of CLEs for legal continuing education, or CPEs for certified public accountants. The APA allows some payroll-related curriculum with CLE and CPE designations to be converted to RCH equivalents.

Should an individual fail to show an accumulation of 120 RCHs after five years, they can lose their CPP designation and, to get it back, they may need to take the CPP exam again. 

Since the first CPP test was developed in 1985, there are now more than 11,000 active certified payroll professionals, according to the APA. 

More information on CPP eligibility and the exam is available on the APA website.

The Fundamental Payroll Certification program

The first FPC designation was developed in 2000 as a way for the APA to recognize those who may be new to the payroll field or who are working in some areas of payroll but are not working directly as payroll professionals. This includes sales professionals/consultants serving the payroll industry, systems analysts/engineers supporting payroll systems, and payroll service provider client representatives.

Candidates are allotted three hours to complete the 150-question exam that covers the same seven key areas of payroll that are included in the CPP exam. 

Approximately 75% of those taking the FPC exam pass, according to recent APA statistics. There are now more than 7,000 FPC’s.

More information on FPC eligibility and the exam is available on the APA website.

Both exams are available over a four-week period in the fall and spring and, starting in 2020,  exams have been proctored remotely.

Payroll Tools

Time Saving Tips for Your Payroll Team

A career working in payroll is challenging and sure keeps you busy. We know!  So here are some tips to help keep you on track and save time!

Make sure all your employees’ information is accurate

There is nothing more frustrating than going to process payroll and having the wrong information for an employee. Confirm every new employee’s information before you process their payroll so that you don’t have to go back to them on payday for the correct information. Here is what you will need:

To begin, you will need the following items:

  1. Your company legal name, DBA (if applicable), and company address
  2. All of your tax ID numbers, including:
    • Your federal employer identification number (EIN)
    • Your state tax withholding ID number
    • Your local tax ID numbers (if applicable)
  3. Your state unemployment (SUTA) account number and SUTA rate for your company. Note: Your state unemployment agency may send your SUTA rate determination in a separate letter. This rate is based on your industry and your company’s individual claim history for unemployment.
  4. All employee information*, including :
    • names
    • addresses
    • Social Security numbers
    • tax filing status
    • details on current deductions & contributions
    • (*This can be found on the W-4 form filled out by your employees.)
  5. The pay rate and pay frequency (weekly, biweekly, etc.) for all employees.
  6. All payroll registers for the current year, by pay date.
  7. All employer taxes for the current year, by pay date.
  8. Copies of all tax filings for current year (i.e. 941, state & local tax returns, SUTA).

Have a checklist

Make a list of the things you need to do to process payroll accurately and on time. This will save you time and streamline the process. 

Here are some items you might want to include on your list:

  • Collect time and attendance efficiently
  • Enter payroll information in your system
  • Process the payroll
  • Provide pay stubs, whether you pay employees in person, through the mail or with direct deposit
  • Tabulate taxes if your system doesn’t do this for you
  • Double check your information to ensure accuracy 

Keep your records organized

While this is typically a job for HR employees, there are files you may need to access as a payroll professional. This will allow for efficiency if changes need to be made in your system. Each employee should have a file that contains all of their payroll information. 

The following information about your employees is what you, as a payroll professional, should be able to access quickly. 

  • Employee identification number
  • State and local tax ID numbers
  • State unemployment ID number (most states require this)
  • Employee addresses, phone numbers and email addresses
  • Social security numbers
  • I-9 forms
  • W-4 forms

You should also carefully organize and be able to easily access:

If you are looking for more information about what these files should look like and include, take a look at this article by ADP.

Find a payroll software provider that works best for you

There are so many different payroll processing platforms out there. Some of these platforms, like Gusto, QuickBooks or Patriot are better for small businesses. Some payroll platforms are effective for all business sizes. 

Automate Payroll 

When processing payroll, try to automate as many processes as possible, using one of the payroll platforms mentioned above. Manual work creates a greater margin for human error. Not only does this cause mistakes that could create issues for the company, manual work is a waste of time for you! Automating as many aspects of payroll as possible will save time and money for you and your employer. For more information about how to avoid payroll errors, take a look at this column from the Journal of Accountancy.

Use direct deposit

Using direct deposit can save you tons of time and money. There are great benefits of direct deposit. Here are just a few of them:

  • Reduces worry about losing paper checks
  • Allows employees to access funds right away
  • Better for the environment
  • Increased security because no paper checks are changing hands

Some savings that you will realize from using direct deposit for payroll are:

  • Reduced payroll-processing time 
  • Decreased check fraud
  • Less time away from work for employees (they do not need to leave work to deposit checks)

If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of direct deposit, the NFIB has a detailed article about this.

Double check your work

For aspects of your payroll system that are manual, make sure to double-check your work. You can’t entirely avoid human error, but you can try! Just as a copywriter proofreads what they write, proofread your input into the payroll system to avoid errors.

Hopefully, some of these tips will help free up some time in your busy schedule as well as help you to work more efficiently in the long run.