Payroll Clerk Course Curriculum Details

Penn Foster’s online payroll clerk course includes three sections that can help prepare you for a career as a payroll clerk. Courses will cover topics including employee classification, the payroll outsourcing process, and how payroll interacts with the accounting system.

Program Goal and Outcomes

Program Goal

To prepare graduates for an entry-level career as a payroll clerk.

Upon completion of the program, students should be able to...

  • Properly classify workers, differentiating employees and private contractors based on the common law rule.
  • Track employee time and differentiate between types of employee compensation.
  • Identify, track, and account for all required employee deductions associated with benefits and all required wage taxes.
  • Explain how payroll interacts with the accounting system and the associated record keeping, controls, and measurements.
  • Understand the payroll outsourcing process and the pros and cons of outsourcing payroll.

In this course, you’ll develop the foundational skills to help you gain success in the program. You’ll learn how you can improve your study skills, so you’re able to use a number of tools that will help you to enter the professional world.


  • Identify skills needed to be a confident and independent online learner.

In this course, you’ll study the traditional payroll process and the methods used to manage data entry functions to improve operational efficiency. You’ll explore the concepts of electronic payment and employee self-service systems. This course also discusses the types of employees and contractors and the importance of confidentiality in the payroll processing function.

You’ll study the importance of accurate time tracking and the varieties of technical applications used to track time on the job. This course explains the distinction between wages and salaries and how to calculate compensation for different kinds of wage plans, as well as supplemental wages including overtime, commissions, and sick and vacation pay.

You’ll be introduced to a wide range of employee benefits and the wage implications and taxability of each type of benefit.


  • Identify the pros and cons of different payroll cycle options.
  • Explain steps available for evading the “data-entry trap” in order to streamline timekeeping procedures.
  • Explain the nature and purposes of electronic payments, self-service, and transaction error analysis.
  • Discuss and explain the importance of staff training with respect to sustaining an ongoing program for automating payroll operations.
  • Explain the importance and uses of a payroll calendar.
  • Describe and explain necessary measures for maintaining information confidentiality.
  • Differentiate common-law and statutory employees from independent contractors, W-9 contractors, and others who may not be considered employees.
  • Describe and explain factors involved in employee time tracking, including time tracking scope, employee exclusions, and data collection scope.
  • Explain and apply an understanding of handwritten time sheets, timecards, computerized time clocks, and other time-tracking options, such as biometric time clocks and web-based time tracking.
  • Explain and apply an understanding of differences between salaries and wages.
  • Describe the concept of the workweek.
  • Explain and apply calculations for different kinds of wage compensation, including hourly rate plans, piece-rate plans, overtime, salaries paid for partial periods, and tips.
  • Describe the different kinds of supplemental wages in order to calculate commissions, golden parachute payments, employee expense reimbursements, sick pay, and vacation pay.
  • Explain and address taxation and wage deduction issues related to adoption assistance, the provision of athletic facilities, company-provided cell phones, de minimis benefits, and disability insurance.
  • Address taxation and wage deduction issues related to educational assistance, employee discounts, and flexible spending accounts.
  • Address taxation and wage deduction issues related to health savings accounts, leaves of absence, life insurance, lodging on business premises, and meals.
  • Explain and address taxation and wage deduction issues related to medical insurance, including COBRA, moving expense reimbursement, and no-additional-cost services.
  • Address taxation and wage deduction issues related to pension plans, differentiating defined contribution and defined benefits, and personal retirement accounts.
  • Address taxation and wage deduction issues related to retirement planning services, stock options, stock purchase plans, transportation benefits, and vacation benefits reporting.
  • Address taxation and wage deduction issues related to workers’ compensation insurance and working conditions benefits, including in the latter applications of rules regarding vehicles, education, and outplacement services.
  • Explain and apply rules for valuing benefits, including commuting, lease value, and unsafe conditions commuting.
  • Explain and apply rules for withholding, depositing, and reporting benefits, using the benefit authorization form, and determining the taxability of benefit.

You’ll study how to execute the actual deduction process for benefits and special situations like garnishments. This course also reviews the process of calculating and withholding employee and employer payroll taxes.

This course provides instruction on how and when federal, state, and local payroll taxes are actually paid to the appropriate tax agency and on the rules and processes associated with different deposit schedules. You’ll also study the common types of manual and electronic methods for the distribution of employee compensation.


  • Explain and discuss deductions for corporate fringe benefits.
  • Explain and apply procedures for dealing with pay deductions related to contributions to charitable causes.
  • Explain and apply procedures for processing garnishment deductions for employees who are responsible for child support, outstanding student loans, and unpaid taxes.
  • Discuss and explain deductions for financing repayments of employee acquisitions of company merchandise.
  • Explain and apply methods for reducing and/or simplifying deduction processing under different circumstances.
  • Discuss the complexities involved when a government agency garnishes employee wages.
  • Calculate tax withholdings using different methods, including the wage bracket method and the percentage method.
  • Calculate taxes paid by the employer and deductions for self-employed persons.
  • Explain the common paymaster rule, the assessment of payroll taxes for a successor employer, and the management of payroll taxes for part-time employees.
  • Discuss and explain the impacts of state payroll taxes.
  • Differentiate monthly and semiweekly deposit schedules, including the application of rules and calculations associated with both kinds of deposit schedules.
  • File Form 941 and related forms, including Schedule 941-B and Form 941-V.
  • Explain and calculate penalties and interest related to unpaid federal taxes.
  • Describe, calculate, and remit federal and state unemployment taxes.
  • Describe and explain two manual and two electronic methods for compensating employees, including calculations required for cash, check, direct deposit, and the use of pay cards.

This course will help you understand the payroll accounting process, including specific journal entries, the creation of financial statements, the uses of a payroll register, and the preparation of internal and external reports. You’ll study the proper applications of W-2, W-3, and 1099-MISC forms.

This course describes the procedures used for the creation and maintenance of payroll data and records necessary for company and IRS compliance. You’ll practice the processes for adding employees to the payroll system and the application of documents or systems required for capturing and documenting work time and generating payment/withholding records. This course also covers the types of controls that are used to identify and prevent fraud associated with the payroll process.

You’ll review the calculations and measurements used to monitor and improve the payroll process and to supply critical data used to manage human capital. The course also provides an overview of payroll outsourcing and the business activities required to institute and manage outsourced payroll activities.


  • Apply accounting journal entries to the process of transferring payroll information to an accounting system.
  • Understand and apply different types of payroll journal entries, including accrued wages, bonuses, commissions, and accrued benefits.
  • Explain and apply procedures for recording stock subscriptions, employee advances, and accrued vacation pay.
  • Identify payroll information in financial statements required for recording wages and payroll taxes.
  • Discuss and describe the payroll register, including the register’s fields.
  • Describe and explain other internal management reports, including trend reports and annualized cost reports.
  • Explain and apply procedures related to processing and managing Form W-2, Form W-3, and corrections to those forms.
  • Explain and apply procedures for Form 1099-MISC and new-hire reporting.
  • Describe and use procedures for maintaining payroll records vital to the payroll function, including the employment application, the employer identification number, the Social Security number, the employment eligibility verification, the withholding allowance, and the personnel file.
  • Enumerate and describe documents that must be retained under the mandate of the Internal Revenue Service.
  • Describe and use basic documents vital to the payroll function, including timecards, weekly time sheets, billing time sheets, paychecks, and paycheck remittance advices.
  • Explain and use procedures for adding new employees, collecting timecard data, calculating commissions, processing payroll, and issuing payments to employees.
  • Explain and use payroll controls, including general controls, payroll calculation controls, cash payment controls, check payment controls, direct deposit controls, self-service controls, garnishment controls, employee advance controls, and vacation pay controls.
  • Describe business scenarios requiring controls that aren’t normally required.
  • Explain conditions that justify reviewing a company’s existing controls.
  • Explain and apply a variety of payroll measurements, including the transaction error rate and the Form W-2c to Form W-2 ratio.
  • Explain the uses and calculations of measurements such as profit per employee and employee turnover rate.
  • Present an overview of payroll outsourcing and identify sound reasons for taking the outsourcing option.
  • Explain and discuss reasons for rejecting the outsourcing option.
  • Explain and define the outsourced payroll contract and the challenges of transitioning to payroll outsourcing.
  • Explain key issues to be dealt with while managing and measuring outsourced payroll.
  • Explain what’s involved in terminating an outsourcing arrangement.

Additional Details

  • Licensing and/or certification requirements for jobs in this field are not the same in every state and may include educational, testing, and/or experiential requirements beyond those offered in the Penn Foster Program. Prospective students should contact the state professional licensing board or similar regulatory body in the state(s) where they plan to work to determine their requirements before enrolling in this Program. Click here for contact information for state licensing/regulatory boards and certain industry licensing information.

Penn Foster College Accreditation & Licensing Details

Penn Foster College has been nationally accredited for over 40 years, and has met the high standards of integrity and performance set by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) in Washington, D.C. Penn Foster College has been thoroughly reviewed and has earned several important accreditations and licensing. We also participate in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements.

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A Committed Support System

While you can study independently, you’re not alone! With a dedicated Student Services department, the Student Community, and instructors just a call away, you’ll have access to the support you need.

Progress Tracking and Goal Setting Tools

Our customizable goal-setting tools will help you create a schedule and stick to it. Need some extra time to complete a lesson? Not a problem — you can adjust your study plan at any time to set a pace that works for you.

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Student Community

Looking to connect with other Penn Foster students? Our Student Community is the perfect place for you to interact with your peers — as well as Penn Foster faculty and staff — to discuss your online learning experience, congratulate fellow students, and share your Penn Foster experience.

Computer Specifications
As you know this is an online academic program. This means you will need access to high-speed internet to begin your program. In addition, you will need access to a Microsoft® Windows® based computer running Windows 10® or later or an Apple® Mac® computer running macOS® or later, access to a word processing program to complete written assignments, and an email account to complete this program with Penn Foster.
We reserve the right to change program content and materials when it becomes necessary.
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