What Is Bookkeeping? Getting Started in Accounting

Written by Coursera • Updated on Jun 24, 2021

Learn more about what bookkeepers do and how to get started in this career.

A bookkeeper works at her laptop computer next to a window.

Bookkeepers manage a company’s financial accounts, ensuring they are accurate and easy to review. Their work plays an important role in the operation of a successful business. In this article, we’ll explore what bookkeepers do, why they’re important to a business, and how you can get started in this role.

What is bookkeeping?

Bookkeeping is the process of keeping track of a business’s financial transactions. These services include recording what money comes into and flows out of a business, such as payments from customers and payments made to vendors. While bookkeepers used to keep track of this information in physical books, much of the process is now done on digital software. 

It’s a skill used in both large companies and small businesses, and bookkeepers are needed in just about every business and industry. 

Did you know?

Bookkeeping as a profession dates back to the 15th century when Italian mathematician Frater Luca Pacioli—the father of modern bookkeeping—detailed many accounting systems and tools still used today, including double-entry bookkeeping.

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What does a bookkeeper do?

The work of a bookkeeper may vary depending on the needs of the businesses. You may work at a large company, small business, or as a freelancer.

Here are some other tasks you may handle as part of this job:

  • Record transactions using accounting software, spreadsheets, and databases

  • Collect and organize financial records, cash flow statements, bank documents, and loss statements

  • Generate invoices and receive payments from customers

  • Track debits and credits for various accounts

  • Reconcile financial statements

  • Create balance sheets and income statements

  • Review reports for accuracy

  • Complete payroll

  • File business tax returns

Bookkeeper salary: How much can you make?

The median salary for bookkeepers in the US is $42,410 per year as of 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is slightly higher than the median annual wage across all occupations. You can sometimes choose between full-time and part-time positions, and you may go to work in an office or work from home.

Bookkeeper vs. accountant: What’s the difference?

Both accountants and bookkeepers work to maintain accurate records of finances, and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Generally, bookkeepers focus on administrative tasks, such as completing payroll and recording incoming and outgoing finances. Accountants help businesses understand the bigger picture of their financial situation. 

An accountant can certainly perform bookkeeping tasks, but the title generally involves other responsibilities as well. An accountant may interpret the financial records put together by a bookkeeper to assess a company’s financial health. They may also perform audits and prepare tax returns. Becoming an accountant usually requires more training and education than bookkeeping but can be a good next step in your financial career.

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How to become a bookkeeper

If you're organized and enjoy working with numbers, a job as a bookkeeper could be a good fit. Here’s what you can do to gain the skills necessary to get started.

Take a bookkeeping course. 

A bookkeeping course can teach you the basic knowledge you’ll need to prepare financial reports, organize data using tools like Microsoft Excel, or understand how to balance books. 

Some courses can also earn you a credential from an industry leader for your resume—like the Intuit Bookkeeping Professional Certificate on Coursera. 

While it’s not always necessary to have a degree, some companies will look for candidates with coursework in accounting.

Get a bookkeeping certification. 

Certifications aren’t necessary to become a bookkeeper but can signal to employers that you have the training and knowledge to meet industry standards. After you have a couple years of experience, you can earn the Certified Bookkeeper designation from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers by passing a series of exams.

Consider earning a degree. 

Though having a two-year or four-year degree isn’t always required to be hired as a bookkeeper, some companies may prefer candidates who do. 

An associate or bachelor’s degree in bookkeeping or related fields like finance, accounting, or business can teach you about the broader industry, enhance your potential earnings, and boost your competitiveness for jobs. A degree can also help you make the leap from being a bookkeeper to being an accountant or other business-oriented role.

Get started in bookkeeping

Start building the professional skills you need to get a job as a bookkeeper in under four months with the Intuit Bookkeeping Professional Certificate on Coursera. Learn at your own pace from industry experts while getting hands-on experience working through real-world accounting scenarios.

Learn more about the course by watching this short video:

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This is the first course in a series of four that will give you the skills needed to start your career in bookkeeping.

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Written by Coursera • Updated on Jun 24, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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