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Occupational Outlook: Billing and Posting Clerks and Machine Operators

Significant Points

  • The health care industry employs 1 out of 3 workers.
  • Most jobs in this occupation require only a high school diploma; however, many employers prefer to hire workers who have completed some college courses or a degree.
  • Slower-than-average employment growth is expected as increased automation of billing services reduces the need for billing clerks.

Nature of the Work

Billing and posting clerks and machine operators, commonly called billing clerks, compile records of charges for services rendered or goods sold, calculate and record the amounts of these services and goods, and prepare invoices to be mailed to customers.

Billing clerks review purchase orders, sales tickets, hospital records, or charge slips to calculate the total amount due from a customer. They must take into account any applicable discounts, special rates, or credit terms. A billing clerk for a trucking company often needs to consult a rate book to determine shipping costs of machine parts, for example. A hospital’s billing clerk may need to contact an insurance company to determine what items will be reimbursed and for how much. In accounting, law, consulting, and similar firms, billing clerks calculate client fees based on the actual time required to perform the task. They keep track of the accumulated hours and dollar amounts to charge to each job, the type of job performed for a customer, and the percentage of work completed.

After billing clerks review all necessary information, they compute the charges, using calculators or computers. They then prepare itemized statements, bills, or invoices used for billing and recordkeeping purposes. In one organization, the clerk might prepare a bill containing the amount due and the date and type of service; in another, the clerk would produce a detailed invoice with codes for all goods and services provided. This latter form might list the items sold, the terms of credit, the date of shipment or the dates services were provided, a salesperson’s or doctor’s identification, if necessary, and the sales total.

Computers and specialized billing software allow many clerks to calculate charges and prepare bills in one step. Computer packages prompt clerks to enter data from handwritten forms, and to manipulate the necessary entries of quantities, labor, and rates to be charged. Billing clerks verify the entry of information and check for errors before the computer prints the bill. After the bills are printed, billing clerks check them again for accuracy. Computer software also allows bills to be sent electronically if both the biller and the customer prefer not to use paper copies; this, coupled with the prevalence of electronic payment options, allows a completely paperless billing process. In offices that are not automated, billing machine operators run off the bill on a billing machine to send to the customer.

In addition to producing invoices, billing clerks may be asked to handle follow-up questions from customers and resolve any discrepancies or errors. Finally, all changes must be entered in the accounting records.

Working Conditions

Billing clerks typically are employed in an office environment, although a growing number—particularly medical billers—work at home. Most billing clerks work 40 hours per week during regular business hours, though about one in seven works part time. Because billing clerks use computers on a daily basis, workers may have to sit for extended periods and also may experience eye and muscle strain, backaches, headaches, and repetitive motion injuries.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Most billing clerks need at least a high school diploma. However, many employers prefer to hire workers who have completed some college courses or a degree. Workers with an associate or bachelor’s degree are likely to start at higher salaries and advance more easily than those without degrees. Employers also seek workers who are computer literate, and in particular those who have experience with billing software programs.

Billing clerks usually receive on-the-job training from their supervisor or some other senior worker. Some formal classroom training also may be necessary, such as training in the specific computer software used by the company. Workers must be careful, orderly, and detail oriented with an aptitude for working with numbers in order to avoid making errors and to recognize errors made by others. Workers also should be discreet and trustworthy, because they frequently come in contact with confidential material. Medical billers in particular need to understand and follow the regulations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which were enacted to maintain the confidentiality of patient medical records.

A number of community and career colleges offer certificate programs in medical billing. Courses typically cover basic biology, anatomy, and physiology in addition to training on coding and computer billing software.

Billing clerks usually advance by taking on more duties in the same occupation for higher pay or by transferring to a closely related occupation. Most companies fill office and administrative support supervisory and managerial positions by promoting individuals from within the organization. Workers who acquire additional skills, experience, and training improve their advancement opportunities. With appropriate experience and education, some billing clerks may become accountants, human resource specialists, or buyers.

Employment

In 2004, billing and posting clerks and machine operators held about 523,000 jobs. Although all industries employ billing clerks, the health care industry employs the most, about a third of all billing clerks. The wholesale and retail trade industries also employ a large number of billing clerks. Third-party billing companies—companies that provide billing services for other companies—are employing a growing number of billing clerks. Industries that are providing this service are the accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services industry and the office administrative and business support services industries. These industries currently employ around 5 percent of the occupation, although a portion of clerks in these industries are performing the function on their own accounts. Another 3 percent—mostly medical billers—were self employed.

Job Outlook

Employment of billing and posting clerks and machine operators is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through the year 2014. Automated and electronic billing processes are greatly simplifying billing and allowing companies to send out bills faster without hiring additional workers. In addition, as the billing process becomes simplified, other people, particularly accounting and bookkeeping clerks, are taking on the billing function. Strong growth in the health care industry, which employs many billing clerks due to the complicated nature of medical billing, will generate some jobs for billing clerks in the future. Although growth will be limited, many job openings will occur as workers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Turnover in the occupation is relatively high, characteristic of an entry-level occupation that typically requires only a high school diploma.

Employment growth will occur in the expanding health care industries, but growth will be limited as more hospitals and physicians’ offices use contract billing companies. Contract billing companies generally have much more sophisticated technology and software, enabling them to produce more bills per person. In all industries, including health care, the billing function is becoming increasingly automated and invoices and statements are automatically generated upon delivery of the service or shipment of goods. Bills also will increasingly be delivered electronically over the Internet, eliminating the production and mailing of paper bills.

Earnings

Median hourly earnings of billing and posting clerks and machine operators were $13.00 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.76 and $15.86. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.12, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $18.88.

Related Positions

Billing clerks process and send records of transactions for payment; other occupations with similar responsibilities include payroll and timekeeping clerks; bookkeeping, auditing, and accounting clerks; tellers; and order clerks.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

 

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