A certified payroll professional (CPP) is an individual who has passed the American Payroll Association’s Certified Payroll Professional Examination. This exam tests an individual’s knowledge of key payroll operations, including documentation, calculating tax deductions, and managing payments. 

Applicants must meet strict requirements before qualifying to take the exam. These include working in payroll for several years and taking a variety of courses from the American Payroll Association.

What Does a Certified Payroll Professional Do?

A CPP can perform a variety of essential tasks required for efficiently and accurately administering payroll. Some of the things a CPP might do include:

  • Collecting tax forms and banking information from employees
  • Calculating wages based on employee timesheets
  • Calculating deductions for payroll taxes
  • Administering payments to employees
  • Answering payroll questions from employees and HR staff
  • Supervising other employees involved in payroll administration

Does Your Company Need a Certified Payroll Professional?

Having a CPP may be important for larger businesses that want to manage and run payroll in-house using self-service payroll software. A CPP can oversee the payroll process and ensure that your company’s payroll remains in compliance with all state and federal requirements.

However, not every company needs a CPP on staff. Many smaller companies choose to outsource payroll to a company that specializes in payroll, accounting, and compliance. It is often more cost-effective for small and medium-sized businesses to outsource payroll than to hire a CPP and maintain payroll systems.

Whichever path your company chooses, it’s important to have a professional in charge of managing your company’s payroll. Payroll is complex and your company could face stiff penalties from regulators if it falls out of compliance.

What is the CPP Exam?

The CPP exam is an online exam offered by the American Payroll Association several times each year. The test takes around four hours and includes 190 multiple-choice questions. Questions in the exam are focused on seven topic areas:

  • Core payroll concepts
  • Calculating paychecks
  • Compliance
  • Payroll process and software
  • Payroll administration
  • Audits
  • Accounting

The CPP exam costs $380 for American Payroll Association members or $550 for non-members.

Who Qualifies for the CPP Exam?

There are several ways that candidates can qualify to take the CPP exam.

First, candidates can work in payroll accounting, payroll administration, or payroll consulting. To qualify for the exam, an individual must have worked in one of these fields for three of the past five years.

Alternatively, an individual can work in a payroll field for at least 24 months and take a selection of courses offered by the American Payroll Association. There are several combinations of payroll courses that can be used to qualify.

Finally, an individual can work in a payroll field for at least 18 months and complete the Fundamental Payroll Certification Exam. Individuals must also complete several advanced payroll courses in order to qualify.

Maintaining the CPP Certification

After an individual passes the CPP exam, they must complete continuing education credits to maintain their CPP certification. The American Payroll Association requires that CPPs complete at least 120 hours of approved courses, webinars, and events every five years.


A certified payroll professional (CPP) is a payroll expert who has passed the American Payroll Association’s CPP exam. Individuals must qualify in order to take the exam and must complete continuing education to maintain their certification.

Small companies may find that it is more cost-effective to outsource payroll than to hire a CPP. However, for large companies, it may make sense to hire one or more CPPs in order to manage payroll in-house.