Payroll: Outsource it… but not to your Bookkeeper!

By Patrick Bonnaure, ProLedge founder.

Many of the clients who engage our firm for bookkeeping services ask us if we could run payroll for them as well. The answer is an unmitigated “NO!”. We absolutely encourage small businesses to outsource payroll, but to a dedicated payroll service provider, not to a bookkeeper or bookkeeping firm. When it comes to payroll, your bookkeeper’s role should just be to ensure that all the payroll information is properly recorded in QuickBooks and that the integration between the payroll provider and QuickBooks is tight and efficient.

Once upon a time, it was quite common for CPAs and bookkeepers to run payroll for their clients, but over the last few years, CPAs have started backing out in drove from payroll. Bookkeepers are following the trend, but not as fast because most independent bookkeepers are not getting the proper training and information to understand the risks that they are getting their clients and themselves into.
In order to maintain their certification, CPAs have to go to through CPE (Continuing Professional Education) and they are now being bombarded with warnings about the liability of running payroll for their clients. They are getting the message loud and clear. Bookkeepers on the other hand, don’t have these CPE requirements, and as a result, the information is trickling down to the bookkeeping profession at a much slower pace.

There are many reasons small businesses should outsource payroll and this is beyond the scope of this blog, but a few of these reasons also explain why your bookkeeper should not be the one doing payroll.

  • Cost. Over the last 10 years, payroll providers like Paychex, ADP and Intuit have made massive improvements in their processes and efficiencies, primarily because they have reached scale and they invested enormous amounts of money in technology. Nowadays, a small business owner, a CPA or a bookkeeper can’t come close to being able to match these payroll providers on price.
  • Liability. Payroll is fraught with liability: any mistake in calculation, filing or payment can trigger actions from your employees, the IRS or your sate. The IRS reported that 40% of small businesses pay an average penalty of $845 per year for late or incorrect filings. This in itself is quite worrisome, but think of what employees lawsuit could cost if your mistakes caused them financial harm. Most large payroll providers protect you from these liabilities. If they make a mistake, they take on the fines and the lawsuits. Luckily, they make a lot fewer mistakes than small business owners, CPAs and bookkeepers. Most independent bookkeepers won’t even be insured to provide you with payroll service, because they are not aware of the liability.

In other words, if your bookkeeper offers you to manage your payroll, it’s a red flag.


  • 31-05-10

    True,we should outsource the payroll not the bookkeeper.

  • 31-05-10

    I absolutely agree. We are looking at several of the wholesale services the larger payroll providers offer right now to move our clients to an outside service.

  • paul penner says:

    For those clients that pay slightly higher fees, that require more attention, and I continually give them pointers etc, I can include payroll services, checks hand-delivered if need be, for no additional charge. And I don’t mind constantly checking for changes that could potentially change payroll and cause a mistake on my part.

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