Bookkeeper and accountant are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably and while what they do may overlap at times, there are some very distinct differences between the two. The two roles can have a significant impact on the success of your business.

The key to any successful business is to keep detailed and updated records of all business transactions so that you can make sound business decisions at any given time based on an accurate cash flow.

If a bookkeeper keeps records of all business transactions and an accountant interprets and analyzes that data, between a bookkeeper vs accountant, which one does your small business need or do you need both?

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What does a bookkeeper do vs an accountant?

A bookkeeper and an accountant have two different roles. A bookkeeper maintains the financial records of business transactions on a daily basis. This includes records of payments, sales, receipts, and purchases. Bookkeepers are essentially keeping track of all the money that comes in and goes out of the business.

While a bookkeeper records financial transactions, posts debits & credits, generates invoices, manages payroll, and maintains & balances ledgers & accounts, an accountant generally examines and verifies the bookkeeper’s work and then makes financial insights and conclusions based on the bookkeeper’s data. While their roles differ, they work collaboratively.

The accountant’s role takes the bookkeeper’s information a few steps further by analyzing the financial data that has been recorded, making adjusting entries, generating forecasts, looking for business trends, preparing financial statements & tax returns, performing audits, and generating reports.

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With all of this information pulled together in financial statements and reports, an accountant can provide business owners with sound financial advice. This includes where your business stands financially, what that means for your business, what you should do about it if anything, and where your business should go from here.

What’s the difference between a staff accountant vs a bookkeeper?

An accountant can be considered a bookkeeper but a bookkeeper isn’t considered an accountant without the proper education and certification. The biggest difference between the two is the educational background, certification, and licenses.

Infographic: Bookkeeper vs accountant: What are the differences?

A bookkeeper maintains the financial records of the business transactions on a daily basis. 
Key tasks
Records payments, sales, receipts, and purchases
Keeps track of all cash inflows and outflows
Records financial transactions
Posts debits & credits
Generates invoices
Manages payroll
Maintains & balances ledgers & accounts

An accountant analyzes the financial data recorded by the bookkeeper. 
Key tasks
Makes adjusting entries
Generates forecasts
Looks for business trends
Prepares financial statements
Prepares tax returns
Performs business audits
Generates reports

While their roles differ, bookkeepers and accountants work collaboratively.


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Differences between a bookkeeper vs. accountant

Bookkeepers don’t need to have the educational background in finance or the certification. However, licensing is available if they want to add a more professional touch to their business.

On the other hand, staff accountants typically have a bachelor’s degree in finance or accounting. For staff accountants to become CPAs, they must meet their state’s requirements and pass the CPA exam that includes standard accounting principles and tax laws. 

CPAs are more specialized in tax codes and can represent clients before the IRS during audits. For CPAs to maintain their accreditation, they must also maintain ongoing educational requirements.

There are also other credentials accountants can receive such as CFA and CIA that allow accountants to provide a specific set of services to businesses. CFAs or chartered financial analysts are knowledgeable about global markets, investment analysis, ethical financial practices, and portfolio management. 

CIA or certified internal auditor is an accountant who is certified in conducting internal audits. CIAs specialize in processes that involve security monitoring and financial risk assessment.

How much does a bookkeeper vs an accountant charge an hour?

The rate an accountant or bookkeeper charges depends on several factors. These include how much work needs to be done, the level of expertise needed, the state where the work is being performed, and whether the fee will be a fixed price for a specific service or an hourly rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, the national average hourly rate for bookkeepers was $21.90 per hour and for accountants, $37.14 an hour. Accountants make more due to their educational background and if a CPA, their certification.

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How much is a bookkeeper vs an accountant’s salary?

Similar to what bookkeepers and accountants charge an hour, their salary is based on different factors as well. Salaries are typically based on education, certification, years of experience, credentials, industry or employer, job description, location, and complexity of work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2021, the national average salary for bookkeepers was $45,560 and for accountants was $77,250. Again, education and certification play a role in the different salary amounts.

When to hire an online accountant vs an online bookkeeper

Whether to hire an online accountant versus an online bookkeeper depends on the needs of your business. Bookkeepers will document and track all of your business’s financial records and keep everything organized. 

These detailed records may save you money down the road if you ever decide to hire an accountant. Bookkeepers charge lower fees for their services than accountants. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to hire a bookkeeper first to get those services at a minimum and then hire an accountant later to just handle the taxes.

There are also several advantages of hiring an online accountant in addition to or over a bookkeeper. These advantages include the benefit of a comprehensive financial analysis, a higher level of expertise, and legal assistance. Accountants can suggest recommendations and strategies to make the most out of your business financially. They can provide advice on investing and taxes. They can also help businesses efficiently deal with corporate taxes and any legal issues.


Frequently asked questions

How much does a bookkeeper vs an accountant charge an hour?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, the national average hourly rate for bookkeepers was $21.90 per hour and for accountants, $37.14 an hour.

How much is a bookkeeper vs an accountant’s salary?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2021, the national average salary for bookkeepers was $45,560 and for accountants was $77,250.

In closing

It can be a difficult decision to decide if and when to hire a bookkeeper vs accountant. If you’re spending so much time on the financial end of your business that you’re not able to meet all of your customer’s needs, you aren’t able to concentrate on other areas of your business, or you don’t have time to grow your business, then it’s time to ask for help from one or both.

One possibility is to start out by hiring a bookkeeper to handle all of the books and financial reporting and then hire a CPA down the road to handle your taxes. Both can be a huge benefit as your business grows and the finances become more time-consuming and complex.

Caryl Ramsey has years of experience assisting in different aspects of bookkeeping, taxes, and customer service. She uses a variety of accounting software for setting up client information, reconciling accounts, coding expenses, running financial reports, and preparing tax returns. She is also experienced in setting up corporations with the State Corporation Commission and the IRS.


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