When it comes to self-employment, “independence” is the word. From the projects you take on to the hours you work, all the decisions are yours when you work for yourself.
Of course, that also means being responsible for your own bookkeeping. Neglect this side of your business, and you could end up missing out on savings — or landing in hot water with the IRS.
When the reality of all this sets in, plenty of first-time freelancers and new business owners start to think, “Should I hire a bookkeeper? Can I even afford a bookkeeper?”
This post is here to help! We will go over the cost of bookkeeping — and help you determine whether it’s right for you.
What do bookkeepers do?
Bookkeepers keep track of a business’s earnings and expenses, ensuring all financial records are in order.
As the name suggests, they keep the books organized. That way, everything is ready go:
- When it’s time to file taxes, or
- If financial information needs to be sent to an accountant or the IRS
What does a bookkeeper’s typical day look like?
A bookkeeper’s daily duties depend on who they’re working for.
For an independent contractor
Let’s say an independent contractor, maybe an Uber driver, hires a bookkeeper. In this case, the bookkeeper’s day will probably revolve around tracking the driver’s business write-offs. That way, they can maximize their savings when it’s time to file their self-employment taxes.
For a bigger business
On the other hand, say a small to medium-sized business employs a bookkeeper. In that case, they’ll probably spend their time on a wider range of activities, such as:
- Payroll planning
- Credit card and bank account reconciliation
- Daily transaction analysis
- Inventory management
Fun Fact: Did you know the practice of keeping accounting records can be traced back more than 5,000 years ago? Ancient Egyptian bookkeepers kept meticulous records that tracked the coming and going of goods in royal storehouses.
Why are bookkeepers important?
By helping businesses keep their financial records in order, bookkeepers can help businesses:
- Prevent fraud
- Assess investments
- Make sound, data-based financial decisions
Ultimately, these are all different ways bookkeepers help drive profitability and growth.
How much does a bookkeeper cost?
Based on our research, the cost of a bookkeeper will generally range from $500 to $3,520 a month. We know that’s a pretty big range. Your actual cost will depend on factors like:
- Your location
- The bookkeeper’s experience and credentials
- Whether they’re full-time or part-time
- Whether you’re hiring in-house or outsourcing
An in-house bookkeeper will often cost you more than an outsourced bookkeeper, although hiring one so gives you more oversight and control over your bookkeeping.
Keep in mind: The costs above represent an average rate for traditional bookkeeping services. Online services will generally be the most affordable. More on that later!
Of course, money isn’t the only consideration here. You also have to think about the size of your business, not to mention its structure and complexity. At the end of the day, different companies have different needs.
That said, we know cost is important. So let’s break down the various bookkeeping options, who they're best for, and how much you're likely to spend on them.
Best for: Large businesses with lots of employees, complex financial systems, or a high volume of daily transactions
Monthly cost: $3,200 - $3,520
The average base salary of an in-house bookkeeper is $42,000 - $46,000. (Based on data from Bureau of Labor Statistics, Salary, Payscale, Glassdoor, and Indeed.) This comes out to $3,200 - $3,520 per month, or an average hourly wage of $20 - $22.
Keep in mind, salary isn’t the only cost associated with hiring an in-house bookkeeper. You should also factor in the costs of training, employee benefits, and FICA tax. (A freelance bookkeeper would cover their own FICA taxes. You can read more on the benefits of hiring a 1099 worker over a W-2 working in this article!)
Best for: Small-to-medium businesses
Monthly cost: $250-$1,500
There’s less of a clear-cut answer when it comes to the cost of outsourcing a bookkeeper. That’s because you might not employ their services full-time.
After digging through the pricing tiers of a number of different bookkeeping service providers, we’ve found that the average range for small to medium businesses is $250 - $1,500 per month.
The lower end of the range typically includes basic bookkeeping for a small business that only requires five or so hours of work per month. If you can get away with that, part-time bookkeeping services can be much more affordable than a full-time bookkeeper working in house.
On the other hand, larger companies with a higher volume of complex transactions will need more hours. An outside bookkeeper will charge them at the higher end of the range.
Best for: Freelancers, independent contractors, gig workers, and other sole proprietors
Monthly cost: $16
For one-person businesses, a dedicated traditional bookkeeper might be overkill — not to mention unaffordable. But it can still be overwhelming to handle your financial recordkeeping on your own.
If that’s your situation, an app-based bookkeeping solution like Keeper might be the sweet spot for you. This is the least expensive option by far, and it's probably a good fit if you:
- Need help tracking your business expenses for tax time
- Wouldn’t mind the ability to chat with a tax pro when you have questions
If you download the Keeper app, you can link it to your bank or credit card, and it’ll automatically scan your last 18 months’ worth of purchases for tax write-offs — potentially saving you thousands of dollars on your taxes.
You’ll also get access to your very own tax assistant who can answer your tax and bookkeeping questions.
At only $16/month (with a seven-day free trial!), this is a low-risk option for freelancers or independent contractors — or anyone who wants a bit of help filing their self-employment taxes (which you can do right in the app).
We’ve been able to keep our monthly fees affordable by using machine learning to do the first pass on your write-offs, letting our bookkeeping staff jump in only on the harder tasks. Try it out here!
Should I do my own bookkeeping?
By now you know how much a professional bookkeeper costs. And you might be wondering, is hiring a bookkeeper really worth the money? Or can I do it myself?
If the cost is a significant deciding factor for you, here’s a way for you to determine whether it’s worth it.
- Figure out how long you spend on bookkeeping each month. Keep a record of the work you do, and how many hours it takes. You know: the data entry, phone calls, handling of your accounts receivables, and financial transactions.
- Determine the average hourly rate you charge clients.
- Multiply the first number by the second, and you’ll know how much your DIY bookkeeping is costing you!
For example, let’s say you spend about five hours a month on bookkeeping, and your average hourly rate is $75.
That would mean your DIY bookkeeping is “costing” you $375 a month (5 hours x $75). (If you pay for tax software to help you file taxes, that’s an additional cost to consider.)
In this example, doing your own bookkeeping is more expensive than hiring a professional — and a lot more expensive than using Keeper. It’s a better idea to have someone do it for you, since your time is more valuable elsewhere.
Non-financial reasons to avoid DIY
Ultimately, deciding whether or not to DIY your bookkeeping depends on a number of other factors, as well as your priorities. For example:
- Perhaps you’re looking to spend all your time supercharging your business growth
- Maybe you don’t the know-how to handle your financial records — or the time to pick it up
Both of these are valid reasons not to DIY — even if it makes financial sense on paper.
If you’re still on the fence about hiring a bookkeeper, here are a few extra considerations to keep in mind.
Signs it’s time to hire a bookkeeper
Not every self-employed worker or small business owner needs a bookkeeper. Maybe you’re new to the 1099 world, or have simple finances you don’t mind managing on your own. Or perhaps you’re tight on cash and can't afford to hire a professional right now.
On the other hand, getting some help with bookkeeping can free up time you can use on new projects. It also helps you improve your company’s financial health, keeping you organized and letting you maximize your tax write-offs.
Still not sure? Here are a few telltale signs that it's time to hire a pro.
Your books are out of date
Let’s be honest, tending to the books isn’t everyone’s idea of a spring picnic. And because the task can feel overwhelming, your books may end up falling behind.
This isn’t a great spot to be in. Without up-to-date books, you won't have an accurate understanding of your business expenses, profits, and overall cash flow. This can result in serious losses that you could have avoided.
You have an accountant doing your bookkeeping
If you fall behind on your books, you can hand them off to your regular accountant come tax season and have them take care of things, right?
If you fail to keep accurate monthly records throughout the year, a CPA won't always provide them retroactively. And as we mentioned, without these records, you won't know where your finances stand.
If they do agree to provide retroactive records, you could end up with a pretty hefty bill. The cost of full-service accounting is hefty, and CPAs tend to charge a higher hourly rate than bookkeepers.
This process could also involve a lengthy back-and-forth. Your accountant will need to fill in the gaps in your records — which means they’ll ask you to collect all your proof of purchases from the last year.
You're spending a lot of time on bookkeeping
It can be time-consuming to research how to stay on top of your books — not to mention best practices for developing a financial system from scratch.
If you feel like you've become a full-time bookkeeper and let your actual job fall to the wayside, it's time to consider getting professional help. You'll thank yourself when you have time to work on your projects again!
You're missing out on tax write-offs
Too many self-employed workers, startups, and business owners miss out on write-offs that can save them a lot of money.
A professional — or a reliable tax software! — will help you take advantage of these deductions. They know exactly what expenses qualify and how to claim them. Their experience will ensure nothing slips through the cracks, helping you reduce your taxable income and stay on the right side of the IRS
By now, you should have an idea of how much a bookkeeper is going to cost you, and how that price tag stacks up against the cost of doing it yourself. Armed with that knowledge, you’re ready to decide whether to bring in a professional or hire outside help.
Whatever decision you make, we hope this post helps you continue to navigate the world of self-employment with confidence — and profits!
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At Keeper, we’re on a mission to help people overcome the complexity of taxes. That sometimes leads us to generalize tax advice. Please email email@example.com if you have questions.