Do you find financial industry jargon confusing? Bookkeeping? Accounting? Aren’t they one and the same thing? Well, not really — and in this blog post we’re going to explore the differences between bookkeeping and accounting, and how they apply to payroll needs.
A bookkeeper records the day-to-day financial transactions of their current company. Bookkeepers must have excellent attention to detail in the course of handling thousands of financial transactions.
Back in the day (in this case, 2600 BC), bookkeepers kept their records on small slabs of clay. These days, we use slightly more advanced technology. You will most likely use accounting software on a laptop or desktop computer.
Bookkeepers typically have a two-year associate's degree. However, they are technically classified as accountants. So, not all accountants are bookkeepers, but all bookkeepers are accountants.
The duties of a bookkeeper typically include data entry, checking their data against other documents, and producing regular reports on their company's financial position.
A bookkeeper's duties are part of the accounting cycle, an eight-stage process every business needs to follow to maintain financial compliance.
Accountants typically handle the final two steps in the process.
Much like a bookkeeper, an accountant maintains financial records. The significant difference is that accountants are tasked with interpreting financial data. As a result, accountants require a four-year bachelor's degree in accounting.
Bookkeepers, in contrast, typically only need to gather the data. While the bookkeeper can compile and gather information, the balance sheet and detailed financial statements are produced by those with more experience and education.
Accountants might take this a step further by registering as a CPA, or Certified Public Accountant. CPAs meet state licensing requirements to become publicly practicing accountants. However, you do not need to be a CPA to be an accountant.
An accountant might handle everything that a bookkeeper does (see above).
However, all accountants must be qualified to undertake the last two steps of the accounting cycle:
Accountants have the duty of creating information sheets from data typically acquired from bookkeepers. They then check this data against other documents — for example, bank statements — to ensure everything is correct. When accountants "close" an account, it means they are fully confident of its accuracy for official reporting.
Because of this additional skill set, accountants are more likely to take on leadership roles. If you have a financial department in your company, it is most likely run by someone with an accounting background.
All of this continuous checking and rechecking of information brings us to a quote from Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki:
"The word accounting comes from the word accountability. If you are going to be rich, you need to be accountable for your money."
- T. Kiyosaki:
Regardless of how much money you make, accountants are often the last line of defense against financial blunders. Kiyosaki recognizes this, reminding you of the importance of accurate financial reporting.
Accountants know this, which is why they jump over numerous hurdles to get to where they are today. Your financial data really must go through eight layers and (at least) two people. The use of the complete accounting cycle is necessary to maintain accurate records.
Bookkeepers have an associate's degree; accountants have a bachelor's degree. This extra education gives a more vital skill set for interpreting financial data. Another way to look at this is through the scope: bookkeepers deal with daily finances while accountants work with larger scales (yearly, past five years, or decades).
Earlier, you might recall us stating that all bookkeepers are accountants, but not all are bookkeepers. Bookkeeping is often the first step towards taking an accounting role. An accountant's early workdays might be filled with data entry and tracking. They take this skill set with them to gain a firm understanding of how financial monitoring works.
Some associate's degree level programs still have you manually enter numbers on a physical spreadsheet. To do this in real life is bookkeeping, although you are more likely to do it with something like Quickbooks.
Smaller businesses might utilize accountants in bookkeeper roles, handling all financial data. Companies that choose to do the opposite (using bookkeepers in accountancy roles) are making a big mistake. If you have to hire one financial expert, choose an accountant.
One of the more common financial duties in a business is payroll.
Payroll is the process a company uses to pay its employees. The process includes tracking time, accounting for bonus pay, and making on-time distributions. Another big part of payroll is calculating taxes.
The payroll department handles the reporting and payment of those taxes. Reporting and paying them accurately depends on employee data (through form W-4) and how much they make (what tax bracket they fall into).
For example, you'll take more out of a single earner of $100k per year than a family of four who earn $50k.. You also tax overtime pay differently. So payroll includes many financial variables.
One of the significant variables might be the state you operate in. So take some time to do some research regarding your state's laws for scheduled tax payments.
The official title for people who handle payroll is payroll clerks. Payroll clerks are a specific type of bookkeeper, as managing payroll is an early stage of the accounting process. However, the entire payroll department of a large corporation might consist of people from Human Resources (HR) and accounting.
Because of the crucial human element of payroll, accountants from within HR might handle it. After all, receiving payment is a pretty big deal to people who work.
Employees with payment discrepancies need delicate handling, which is a big part of the HR skillset. Accounting professionals might not have this same ability unless they've worked the necessary positions. On the other hand, HR professionals might not have the required skills to handle payroll accounting.
Payroll accounting is the tracking of data related to employee compensation. The accounting half stops once time tracking is done, as the accounting half doesn't handle paying employees.
Much like other accounting forms, payroll accounting follows the complete accounting process. However, the payroll department might not have as much need for some financial statements (e.g., a statement of cash flows).
Instead, trial balances showing the total number of employee expenses will be produced and reviewed by accountants. Financial decisions regarding a company's tolerance for additional employees might be made using this information.
Because it is just one aspect of an accounting process, payroll accountants often report to the head of their payroll department. Information from the payroll department will go to the company's overall financial officers. From there, a complete picture of a company's expenses and earnings can help locate apparent problems of identifying high-performance areas.
Remember that regardless of what type of accounting you do, the information does not exist in a vacuum. Corporations have sometimes found that increased wages save money by reducing high retraining costs.
Much like all types of accounting, it begins using the bookkeeping process. So you need to establish a system for regularly acquiring data on employees. After, you need to process that data.
As you might imagine, there is a lot to go through. Thankfully, payroll software for accountants helps the process.
Payroll software for accountants simplifies the data tracking process. It handles automated reporting of taxes, payout to employees, and production of information that entire departments previously held.
In our earlier section on the difference between a bookkeeper and an accountant, you recall that bookkeepers handle a lot of manual data entry. Much of that manual data entry can now be left to automated systems. Push Operations, our automated system, is one example of this in action.
Even the best bookkeepers are prone to human error. Push Operations is driven by an automated platform that eliminates that potential for error. With the direct translation of data between systems, you don't need to worry about something being incorrect.
Here are some of the top things to look out for in payroll software for accountants:
Our sister article on looking for the best payroll software for accountants reminds you of more reasons this can help. Automated tracking of features removes the risk of human error as well as the need to pay another employee..
If you are a CPA, you already know that costs are a concern. So instead of giving yourself more worries, put part of your business in the hands of trusted automation.
When it comes to the difference between a bookkeeper and an accountant, there’s a lot of crossover.
Bookkeepers handle more straightforward data entry jobs that require great attention to detail. The early days, before software automation, required them to be incredibly focused when putting in data, especially when handling employee payroll.
Accountants need to be able to interpret large-scale financial data. They must be sure that the information they gather and interpret is accurate. Inaccuracies can lead to fines and federal or state backlash.
Both roles can benefit from the use of payroll software for accountants. Having an automated system that is regularly backed up takes a lot of worry and work hours out of the process. Alongside assigning the proper duties, knowing the differences between different roles can make any accounting process more efficient.