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An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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CPP (Certified Payroll Professional)

What Is a CPP Payroll?

CPP, or Certified Payroll Professional, is an expert who has been certified in advanced payroll processing, software, and legislation. Employers that would like to keep payroll in-house with a high-level of proficiency can encourage their staff to obtain payroll certifications by taking a CPP test.

What Is a CPP Test?

Developed by the American Payroll Association (APA), the CPP test is an exam that certifies the expertise of payroll specialists, managers, and supervisors. It entails various high-level components of payroll. Specifically, the CPP exam is broken down into seven sections:  

  • Core Payroll Concepts (24 percent of the exam)

  • Compliance/Research and Resources (16 percent of the exam)

  • Calculation of the Paycheck (20 percent of the exam) 

  • Payroll Process and Supporting Systems and Administration (12 percent of the exam)

  • Payroll Administration and Management (10 percent of the exam)

  • Audits (9 percent of the exam)

  • Accounting (9 percent of the exam)

Conducted electronically, the exam is four hours long and features 190 multiple choice questions; each question offers four answer choices. There are 25 trial test questions that are not counted toward the score. Examinees are notified on the day of the exam whether they have passed or failed. 

Is the CPP Exam Difficult?

As with any evaluation, whether anyone finds the CPP exam difficult or not depends on the person (their background/experience level and/or the amount of time they have invested in studying). The passing score of the CPP exam is 300. 

The exam questions are weighted, so rather than scoring the test based on how many questions the examinee gets right, it’s based more on getting the higher value questions correct. Those who fail the CPP exam can retake it in the next testing cycle.

How Much Is the CPP Exam?

As of January 2020, the CPP exam in the U.S. costs $380 for APA members and $550 for non-APA members.

How Do You Get a Payroll Certificate?

Receiving a payroll certificate entails the following requirements. 

1. Checking Eligibility

It’s important to determine whether your employees are even eligible to apply for the CPP exam. The APA carries a list of strict requirements that involve specific experience and education prerequisites. Those who’d like to take the exam must have fulfilled one of the three criteria: 

  • They have been employed in payroll for at least three out of the five years before the date of the exam application.

  • They have been employed in payroll for at least the last 24 months and completed a series of APA-approved courses.

  • They have been employed in the payroll practice for at least the last 18 months and have completed APA-approved courses during this time period. 

2. Apply for the CPP Exam

If your employees meet APA’s requirements, they must complete an application, receive approval from the APA’s certification department, and pay the exam fee before registering for the CPP exam. It typically takes the APA 10 to 15 days to process applications from the time that they receive them. 

3. Schedule/Register for the Exam

Once the APA approves your employee’s eligibility to take the CPP exam, they will issue an identification number that the test-taker will use to schedule their exam. They have a year from the date of approval to schedule this.

4. Study and Take the Exam

The APA offers preparatory materials, such as training booklets, classes, and online webinars. They also offer a CPP Bootcamp package that features 20 online courses covering a wide range of topics. APA chapters host informational and study sessions ahead of exam season. 

5. Seek Recertification

If employees have passed their CPP exams, they must renew their certification every five years. This recertification process requires that CPPs fulfill over 120 recertification credit hours (RCHs). These hours entail continuing education activities such as APA-accredited events and webinars. 

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