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Are you ready to level your pay career? Getting a paycheck can help.
This in-depth guide covers everything you need to know about the various salary certifications you can obtain and how to apply for them. In addition, you will find important strategies to help you knock the salary certification exams out of the park.
Why payroll certifications are so important
The thing about salaries is that it’s hard to prove how good you are at what you do. It is not that you can put together a portfolio with all the numbers you have crushed. After all, a company’s financial information must be private.
What you can do, however, is advance your knowledge and skills and then definitely prove your expertise by passing a payroll certification exam.
A salary certification helps you stand out from potential employers. It shows them that you really know your stuff when it comes to the latest rules, laws and procedures. You can even achieve a higher position based on your certification and therefore a higher income.
All in all, a salary certification shows your commitment to your career and the quality of your education and experience.
The different types of salary certifications
If you hope to become a certified payroll professional, you must choose the appropriate certification and pass an exam.
The American Payroll Association (APA) offers two main types of certification. Some online payroll services also offer their own tool-specific certifications.
Let’s look at these certifications:
Basic Salary Certification (FPC)
The FPC exam is for start-up professionals who want to demonstrate a baseline competency within payrolls. You may already be a payroll clerk, consultant, or in a similar position that supports payroll administration when you graduate. No special criteria are required to participate in the FPC exam.
The exam includes the basics of the payroll. Topics include:
Core Payroll Concepts Compliance / research and resources Calculation of the payslip Payment process and support systems and administration Payment administration and management Audits Accounts
You put the computer-based test on a secure Pearson VUE test center. And you have three hours to complete 150 multiple choice test questions.
To graduate, there is a $ 320 fee for APA members and $ 395 for non-members. If you do not continue and receive the more advanced certification, you must re-certify within three years.
Certified Payroll Professional (CPP)
The CPP exam gives payroll staff, supervisors and managers the opportunity to demonstrate their skills at a higher level. If you want to take the exam, you must meet one of the following criteria:
The professional has practiced payroll for at least three of the five years prior to the test. The professional has practiced payroll for at least two years prior to the test and has completed specific APA courses during these two years. The professional has been practicing payroll for at least 18 months prior to the test, has received the FPC certificate and has completed certain APA courses in the last 18 months.
CPP exam covers more complex concepts. These include:
Security Principles and PracticesBusiness Principles and PracticesInvestigationsPersonal SecurityPhysical SecurityInformation SecurityCrisis Management
As with FPC, you take the online exam at a Pearson VUE Center. The exam has 190 multiple choice questions and lasts for up to four hours.
The fee for APA members is $ 380 and $ 550 for non-members. You are expected to recertify within five years.
Payroll software certification
Many payroll software providers offer certification in the use of their tools. Such certificates do not have exactly the same gravitas as one from APA. Nevertheless, it will demonstrate your expertise in a very widespread tool in the industry and it can help you stand out as a job candidate.
It may not have the same effect as an APA certification, but it also does not require as much time or monetary investment. So you can consider this kind of certification as a respectable starting point.
To give you an example, you can obtain certification in one of the most widely used and well-known payroll tools, Quickbooks. You receive training through various methods, such as videos, virtual conferences, webinars, and personal events.
Once you have received the certification, you can proudly display your badge on your website, in any marketing material and so on.
How to apply for salary certification
There are a few things you need to do before making an exam reservation at APA. Here is your quick and easy step-by-step guide:
Step 1 – Check the qualification criteria
No specific criteria are required for the FPC exam. If you want to take the CPP exam, be sure to meet the qualification criteria described above before starting the application process as you will need to provide proof.
Step 2 – Submit the application
You must submit an online application with APA before making an exam reservation. Use your legal name as indicated on your identification.
If you want to take the CPP exam, your current or former supervisor must verify your work experience by signing the Employer Confirmation section.
You should receive an approval or rejection of your application within three business days if you apply online, ten business days if it is via email, and 14 business days if it is by mail.
Step 3 – Pay the exam fee
Pay the total amount required to APA online by credit or debit or by sending a check. If you are unable to use any of these methods, call the APA Customer Service Department.
Step 4 – Make an exam reservation
You can only make an exam reservation once you have filled out the online application and paid the fee. Make a reservation as soon as possible by phone or online, as exam places are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Find your nearest official testing center through the Pearson VUE website.
5 Strategies for Ace Payroll Certification Exams
When it comes to APA certification, the more prepared you are, the more confident you will feel, and the greater the likelihood of success. So get used to what the exam entails, study in a way that suits your learning style, and make sure to practice before you go to the exam.
1. Read the relevant manual carefully
The FPC Handbook and the CPP Handbook are filled with information on the respective surveys and application processes. They also contain useful links and answer lots of frequently asked questions.
You should read the relevant candidate handbook diligently. You will feel much more confident passing the exam when you know what you are going for.
For example, each handbook outlines the exam format, which means there will be no surprises:
You can also use information like this to your advantage. For example, in this case you now know how the exam is weighted and which areas you need to focus more on your study time in.
2. Save the exam content
You can also download the FPC Exam Contents and CPP Exam Contents for free from the APA website. These content sketches divide the topic included in the exam into intricate details.
This, of course, shows you exactly what you need to know to pass the exam. Familiarize yourself with it.
You can also use the outline as a checklist for your exam preparation. Tick each concept when you have a solid grip on it.
Use a study guide
By using a study guide, you can learn the materials at your own pace. Self-study can simply be more appropriate for your learning style, or if you need to take care to study around your busy work schedule.
There are a number of textbooks, tutorials and courses available online. For the CPP exam, you can use PayTrain. Since it is a resource from APA, you know it will be relevant and comprehensive.
A good thing about PayTrain is that it starts with a pre-assessment test to determine the areas you already know well and those where there is room for improvement. This saves you from hashing the items you already have again.
The course includes learning modules that cover the core concepts. And you will be able to supplement your learning with quizzes, flash cards, calculations and exercises. In addition, there is an practice exam at the end of the course to see where you stand.
The cost of the tutorial is $ 1,030 for APA members and $ 1,305 for non-members. Or you can choose the guided version of the course for $ 1,130 for APA members or $ 1,405 for non-members.
4. Take an exercise test
Exercise tests are an important part of the study for any exam. First, they give you a sense of what will happen on exam day and boost your confidence. You can also use practice tests as a way to find gaps in your knowledge while studying.
As mentioned above, an exercise test is included in the PayTrain course. This will probably be the case for any preparatory course for the salary certification exam.
There are additional online resources where you can find practice tests. But the free versions are often quick tests that do not properly reflect the actual salary certification exams. Try to find a resource that mimics the exam to get a more realistic sense of what awaits.
5. Form good study habits
When you graduated from school, you may have thought that you left the studio for the exam. It’s not easy to get back in the turn of studying years down the line. So here’s a reminder of some things that will help you study more effectively:
Create a study plan – Having a schedule or an allotted time to study helps you stay focused. It can take a few months to study for a salary certificate, so be sure to give yourself enough regular study time in advance. Dividing the syllabus into manageable chunks also helps. Take regular breaks – You know what works for you. But most people need to take regular breaks to make sure they do not burn out. Experts recommend a short break of five to 15 minutes every hour and then longer breaks of about 30 minutes every two to four hours. Learn Your Way – It has been established that people have different learning styles. Some learn e.g. Through experience and will therefore find practice tests particularly useful. Others learn best by reading information. Again, it’s about figuring out what works for you, especially what helps you retain the most information in the long run. Use more resources – Even the APA admits that you should not only use a study guide or resource to prepare for the salary certification exam. It is especially important to spend more resources here, as the rules and best practices in the payroll industry often change. Therefore, you can not risk relying on only one resource if it is obsolete.
One step you may want to take next is to get an APA membership. As you have already seen, APA members get huge discounts when it comes to certification exams and study grants.
In addition, you can network with professionals who may be able to give you exam tips and career advice. You also receive the latest news from the payroll industry and additional training resources for free, e.g. Access to webinars.
You may also want to explore alternatives to APA payroll certification, e.g. Certification in specific payroll tools.
But if you decide to take the APA route, you need to know what comes after certification. Remember that the FPC certification expires in three years, the CPP certification in five.
To maintain your FPC or CPP certification, you must earn credit hours by attending training events, such as courses, seminars, and webinars. To re-certify, simply resume the exam in the year your certificate expires.
And of course, when your FPC certificate expires, you can take the next step and go to CPP instead.