A certified bookkeeper is someone who has demonstrated that they have the knowledge, skills, and work experience to perform the duties required of a bookkeeper. Clients often look at certifications to verify a level of experience and expertise when selecting a bookkeeper.
The two top professional bookkeeper organizations, the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) and the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB), both offer nationally recognized certification programs. You can also become certified through local or online college courses or specialize in particular accounting software. We have evaluated each of these programs to help you determine the best one for you.
Here are the steps to follow to become a certified bookkeeper.
Step 1: Assess Your Current Level of Education
It’s important to first assess your current level of education when deciding how to become a certified bookkeeper. Two goals of your education should be to learn the skills to become a competent bookkeeper and meet the education requirements of the certification program.
Evaluate whether you currently have the knowledge to be an efficient bookkeeper or if you have formal education or equivalent experience that could be applied toward certification. If you’re looking for a program that teaches you bookkeeping in addition to providing certification, you may also want to cultivate other specialties, such as QuickBooks, which will help you to further your career.
Step 2: Address Your Need for Credibility
As a financial professional, your credibility is key and a major factor in attracting or retaining clients. The primary purpose of becoming a certified bookkeeper is to enhance your credibility. Before selecting a certification program, you need to decide exactly what type of credibility you’re seeking. Do you want to be more credible across bookkeeping in general, or just for a particular software program, like QuickBooks or Xero? This will assist in determining the best type of certification for you.
Step 3: Assess Your Available Time and Money
Time and money are valuable resources, and you want to spend both wisely. Think about how much time you have available on a weekly basis and during the duration of the course, and whether a self-paced or structured schedule is best for you. Also worth considering is whether the exam itself is scheduled online or in person, and how often it’s administered. The cost of the exam—including the enrollment fee, course materials including workbooks, and any administrative fees—should also be taken into account.
Step 4: Choose Your Bookkeeper Certification Program
There are several bookkeeper certification programs available. You can opt for a professional organization, such as AIPB or the NACPB, which offer rigorous training programs and the distinction of a certified bookkeeper (CB) or certified public bookkeeper (CPB) title upon successful completion of the program. Alternatively, you can locate a suitable online or traditional college course that will provide you with certification along with a thorough bookkeeping education. If you’re an efficient bookkeeper, you may want to focus on one particular accounting software program.
Becoming a certified bookkeeper is recommended as the first step in our article about how to start a bookkeeping business. The following are the most popular types of bookkeeper certification programs:
- AIPB: Best for individuals who don’t have a formal education in bookkeeping
- NACPB: Best for individuals with a bachelor’s or associate degree in accounting
- Online and traditional college courses: Best for individuals who want to expand their bookkeeping knowledge and prefer to have access to an instructor while they learn
- Accounting software certification: Best for individuals who specialize in a particular accounting software application and want to be certified as an expert
Online and Traditional College Courses
Accounting Software Certification Programs
Annual Membership Cost
Exam & Materials Cost
$515 for members, $610 for nonmembers
$369 for members and $449 for nonmembers
Certified Public Bookkeeper
Advisor status for QuickBooks, Xero, and Zoho Books
Two years of full-time bookkeeping or 3,000 hours part-time or freelance
Two years of full-time bookkeeping or 3,000 hours part-time or freelance
Associate or bachelor’s degree in accounting (recommended)
Hours Required for Study
Varies depending on school and program
QuickBooks ProAdvisor: 12 to 16 hours
In 1997, the AIPB established the first national standard for bookkeepers: the Certified Bookkeeper program. Available in every state, this certification displays a mastery of key bookkeeping concepts and skills, establishing national credibility. These credentials demonstrate proficiency and assure potential clients that you’re capable of completing required tasks.
AIPB certification consists of five steps:
- Submit an application
- Meet the work experience requirement
- Pass the four-part certification exam
- Adhere to the code of ethics
- Complete an average of 20 hours of CPE each year
The certification exam consists of four parts. Parts 1 and 2 must be taken at a testing center and parts 3 and 4 are “take-home” exams that you can complete at your own pace and mail to the AIPB for grading. You must earn a grade of 75% for parts 1 and 2 and 70% for parts 3 and 4 to achieve certification.
The final step is key to maintaining your certification. As with most certification programs, certified bookkeepers must acquire 60 continuing professional education credits over a three-year period from the anniversary of the last certification test passed―or from the date that you satisfy the experience requirement if this requirement is met after you pass the exam―and every three years thereafter.
Once you have successfully met all certification requirements, you’ll receive a certificate of completion, and you also can put the letters “CB,” which stands for certified bookkeeper, after your name. You can then use this in your email signature, on your business cards, social media sites, and other marketing materials. This will let potential clients know that you’re qualified, which will generate new leads and allow you to negotiate higher billing rates.
The NACPB is ideal if you already have some kind of formal education, such as an associate or bachelor’s degree in accounting. It’s also best for someone who has a minimum of two years (4,000 hours) experience working as a bookkeeper. Since it’s a nationally recognized organization, obtaining certification through NACPB will afford you credibility among potential clients.
The organization offers both a bookkeeper license program and a bookkeeper certification. Similar to AIPB’s bookkeeper certification program, NACPB’s requirements to obtain licensure include accounting or bookkeeping experience, passing an exam, and maintaining the license by completing CPE credits.
Training is also available through NACPB, which includes free bookkeeper webinars, courses, and videos. You can also purchase bookkeeper guidebooks. Other free resources include bookkeeper news and updates, a dictionary of terms, and a bookkeeper support video knowledge base.
To obtain certification through the NACPB, you can choose one of two paths: license by education or license by work experience. If you already have a bookkeeper’s certificate from an accredited school or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in accounting, then you qualify to apply for your license through the education path; this means that the knowledge and skills that you have already achieved are enough for you to apply for a license without any prior experience working as a bookkeeper.
If you have more work experience than you do education as a bookkeeper or accountant, then you should apply for your license through the work experience path. This means that you must have at least two years (4,000 hours) of experience working as a bookkeeper or accountant.
Here are the steps you need to take to complete either the license by education or license by work experience path:
- Pass the exam
- Agree to abide by the Code of Professional Conduct
- Obtain 24 hours of CPE each year
- Submit the CPB application for licensure
This is a self-paced program that requires discipline to study and learn the course material on your own. If you thrive in this type of environment, then you’ll enjoy the flexibility of learning on your own time. The coursework includes exercises and quizzes to ensure that you have mastered the material. After you have completed everything, you’ll schedule the certification exam.
You can take online and in-person courses to achieve the required CPE credits each year. You can also continue your professional education with NACPB CPE courses in bookkeeping, payroll, QuickBooks, accounting, accounting analysis, tax, and business communication. Two of these courses—Bookkeeping with QuickBooks Online and Payroll with QuickBooks Online Payroll—are free for NACPB members. The Accounting with QuickBooks Online Accountant course is free to pro members.
After successfully passing the exam and meeting all of the requirements, you’ll receive a certificate of completion. You’ll also be able to put the letters “CPB,” which stand for certified public bookkeeper, behind your name. You can include this in your email signatures, on business cards, social media sites, and all of your marketing materials to promote your achievement.
Online and Traditional College Courses
There are several additional bookkeeper courses and certification programs that will provide certification. One benefit to this type of study is that you’ll have access to instructors while you learn. Available courses include UCLA Extension’s Bookkeeping Specialization program and U.S. Career Institutes’ Bookkeeping Specialist program.
Unlike the AIPB and NACPB certifications, you won’t earn the certified bookkeeper or certified public bookkeeper distinction when you complete these courses. However, you’ll receive a certificate from an accredited institution that shows you have the knowledge and skills to perform the duties required of a bookkeeper.
Bookkeeping Specialization: UCLA Extension
The four-course Bookkeeping Specialization program is offered by UCLA Extension. It’s designed for experienced bookkeepers as well as office managers or those who are looking to make the transition to a career in bookkeeping or accounting. While this course is offered by UCLA, which is located in Westwood, California, classes are offered both online and in-person.
The total cost of the program is $3,060. As long as you maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher in each course, you’ll receive a certificate upon completion of all courses in the program.
Below is a list of the courses that are included in the Bookkeeping Specialization Program:
- Bookkeeping and Accounting Essentials I
- Bookkeeping and Accounting Essentials II
- Accounting Using QuickBooks
- Payroll Tax and Accounting
Bookkeeping Specialist: U.S. Career Institute
The U.S. Career Institute is an online educational institute that provides affordable, real-world training designed specifically for the distance learner. They offer a Bookkeeping Specialist certificate that includes, but isn’t limited to, the following:
- Accounts Receivable
- Accounts Payable
- Computerized Bookkeeping
- Financial Statements
- Closing the Books
The total cost of the program is $589 if the tuition is paid in full upfront. You can also opt for automatic monthly payments of $639 total or mail-in payments of $689. The program can be completed at your own pace, and you can email or call your instructor with any questions.
Online and traditional college courses differ in terms of their requirements for education and experience. It’s important to examine the details for each to determine if the program fits your individual needs.
While you won’t receive the type of certification that allows you to put a “CB” or “CPB” behind your name, completing a bookkeeping course at an accredited institution will equip you with the knowledge necessary to service your clients and give you access to a pool of resources that will ultimately help you to further your career.
Accounting Software Certification Programs
If you already have the bookkeeping knowledge you need, you might choose to grow your business around a particular accounting application by becoming certified in that software. By getting certified, you’ll have a better understanding of the software so that you can support your small business clients. You’ll also have added credibility and increased visibility from being listed in advisor directories so that potential clients can find you easily.
Below we’ve included a few details on the certification programs available for three of the top accounting software programs.
QuickBooks is the most popular accounting software used by small businesses. There are many benefits that come with this program, such as a ProAdvisor certification badge that you can include on marketing materials like your business cards and website. In addition, you’ll be listed on the Find-a-ProAdvisor website so that small businesses that need to hire a QuickBooks Pro can find you. If you’re interested in learning more, read our article about how to become a QuickBooks ProAdvisor.
Xero is a great alternative to QuickBooks. To achieve certification, you must complete a four-hour certification course. As a certified Xero Advisor, you’ll have an account manager assigned to you to answer questions, you’ll have access to free software, and you’ll be listed in the Xero Advisor Directory so that potential new clients can find you.
Zoho Books Advisor
Zoho Books is one of a suite of business apps offered by Zoho. To become a certified Zoho Pro, you just have to complete a one-hour webinar. As a Zoho Books Advisor, you’ll receive free software, tech support when you need it, and a listing in their Zoho Advisor directory so that small businesses that need help can find you. You can also network, with exclusive access to Zoho’s partner portal and events that are conducted worldwide.
You don’t need an accounting or bookkeeping background or any type of formal education to become a QuickBooks ProAdvisor. Plan to invest at least 12 to 16 hours of study time to prepare for the exam, which consists of 80 questions. You must receive a passing score of 80 percent or better, and you can take it up to three times if you don’t pass on your initial attempt. For more information, read our article about how to become certified as a QuickBooks ProAdvisor.
Xero Advisor certification shows you how to use all of the core features of the software, from setup to bank reconciliation and reporting. To complete the course and become certified, you must attend both the live consecutive sessions and complete the two assessments. The course is worth 4 CPE credits.
To become a Zoho Books Advisor, you simply need to register for the Zoho Consulting Partner Program and attend the free one-hour webinar. Zoho will also provide training materials to help you master the software. You’ll receive free access to the Zoho Books premium plan and a dedicated account manager who’ll serve as a single point of contact.
Becoming certified in accounting software, such as QuickBooks, Xero, or Zoho Books, is a wise decision, especially when the majority of your clients use that particular software. Although you won’t earn a more general bookkeeping certification, you’ll receive access to free resources such as software, tech support, and a free listing in member directories. QuickBooks ProAdvisors will also be able to use a certification badge on all marketing materials.
The right certification for you’ll depend on your level of education and experience, your need for credibility, time and financial resources, and the type of accounting software you wish to specialize in. Two popular options are certifications and/or licenses available through the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers and the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers. Other options include online and traditional college courses and accounting software certification programs.