Double entry bookkeeping

In this lesson, recording transactions using T-accounts is explained. This is followed by an extention on the 'worksheet-method' of accounting, which was introducted in the previous lesson on financial statements - Using the accounting equation to record transactions. The main drawback of the 'worksheet-method' is that only the balances of balance sheet items are kept up-to-date, whereas firms will need information on expenses and revenues as well. The extended method discussed here allows for creating an income statement as well as a balance sheet. It is the main method used to account for small businesses as well as multinationals.

Finally, the full accounting cycle: from transactions to financial statements is illustrated.

Using T-accounts

In the simple 'worksheet method', each balance sheet item has their column in an Excel-like worksheet. Transactions are included in the rows, with 'entries' in the columns of the items that are affected by the transactions. Increases were added, and decreases subtracted. Even though this method would work (even for large volumes of transactions), this is not how accounting systems are organized.

In practice every balance sheet item has their own record, called a T-account. A T-account, as the name suggests, looks like a capital T, the left side is defined as ‘debit’ (or ‘D’) and the right side as ‘credit’  (or ‘C’). On one side additions are written, and on the other side subtractions.  Which side is ‘+’ and which side ‘-’ depends on the type of T-account. See the figure below for the debit-and-credit rules for the different T-accounts.

Increases in assets (assets have a normal debit balance), are written on the debit side (and decreases on the credit side). Increases in liabilities and equity, which normally have a credit balance, are written on the credit side (and decreases on the debit side).

Debit-and-credit rules

debit-and-credit rules

Important: Debit and credit is not the same as 'plus' and 'minus' (nor the other way around).
It is context dependent: for assets debit is plus (and credit minus), for liabilities and equity it is the other way around.

A straightforward way to remember the debit and credit rules is that T-accounts increase on same side (debit or credit) as the side on where it is normally presented on the balance sheet. Since assets are presented on the balance sheet’s debit side, it is natural to write an increase on the debit side of an asset’s T-account (and decreases in the credit side). Similarly, liabilities and equity are presented on the credit side of the balance sheet. Hence, increases for these T-accounts are included on the credit side of the T-account (and decreases on the debit side).

The value (balance) of a T-account is computed by balancing out the debit and credit side. For example, a T-account with total debits of 100 and total credits of 80 will have a debit balance of 20. A T-account can technically ‘switch’ from one side to another. For example, a credit of 7 to a T-account with a debit balance of 5 will result in a credit balance of 2. This switching can take place for a bank account when the balance of the bank account switches from positive and negative.

Which T-accounts does the firm need? A company is free to chose the number of T-accounts. Depending on the nature of the business detail may be required in different areas. For example, a consultancy firm may have a single T-account ‘vehicles’ to register the cost of the vehicles they own. A car rental firm probably requires more detail when it comes to accounting for the cars they own. Such a company could have T-accounts for different kind of cars such as sedans, SUV’s and trucks. 

How transactions enter T-accounts

The journal is a chronological list of all transactions that have occurred. Each transaction enters the journal in a journal entry. The journal entry lists the T-accounts and the amounts that change as a result of the transaction. The journal entry follows the debit and credit rules discussed above. As a result, a journal entry is always balanced (total amount of debits equals the total of credits).

Example


Jan 1: The firm is incorporated on the 1st of January, 20X0. The owner, Betty, pays 40,000 cash for 10,000 shares.

Following the accounting equation:

Assets = Liabilities + Equity  
Cash       Paid-in Capital  
40,000 = 0 + 40,000  


The following journal entry corresponds with this transaction:

T-account Debit Credit  
Cash 40,000    
Paid-in capital   40,000  

Cash is an asset, which has a normal debit balance. Increases are written on the debit side of its T-account. Therefore, the 40,000 is written in the debit column of the journal entry.
Paid-in capital is part of equity. For equity T-accounts, increases are written on the credit side. Thus, the 40,000 appears in the credit column for Paid-in capital.

Key points:
- T-accounts are used to register transactions
- T-accounts have a debit side (left) and a credit side (right)
- increases in assets are recorded on the debit side, decreases on the credit side
- increases in liabilities and equity are recorded on the credit side, decreases on the debit side
- the number of T-accounts (i.e., the level of detail that can be provided) differs across firms
- the journal is a list in chronological order of all transactions
- each transaction is posted to the journal in the form of a journal entry
- a journal entry is a list of all T-accounts affected by a transaction, where each T-account has a number added on the debit side, or on the credit side
- a journal entry is balanced: the total of amounts debit equals the total amount of credits

Using temporary T-accounts

Using the accounting equation for keeping the books for an actual business has one main drawback, which is that it is cumbersome to infer what caused equity to change, as only the level (the value at a point in time) of equity is available. In other words: revenues and expenses are not separately recorded.

Using temporary T-accounts overcomes this drawback. Instead of changing the T-account ‘retained earnings’ as a result of revenues or expenses, additional T-accounts are used (such as ‘sales’, ‘wages expense’, ‘interest expense’, etc.). These T-accounts are called temporary T-accounts, as at the end of the accounting period their balances are booked into retained earnings. This way, the next period’s income statement starts with all zeros, while at the same time getting the balance sheet back into balance (as net income needs to be added to retained earnings). The balance sheet T-accounts are called permanent, because they are not cleared at year’s end.

Permanent T-accounts will show the amount or 'stock' at some point in time:
Value = Beginning value + increases - decreases = Ending value

Temporary T-accounts will show the change, or 'flow', since the beginning balance is set to zero for these T-accounts:
Value = 0 + increases - decreases = Change

The debit and credit rules for temporary T-accounts follow those of equity. That means that if equity increases because of revenue, a temporary T-account is credited. If equity is reduced because of an expense, a temporary T-account is debited.

Using the same examples as above to illustrate the use of temporary T-accounts.

Example


Jan 15: ABCD Inc receives 3,000 cash for services delivered in January.

Cash (an asset) increases by 3,000 and retained earnings (equity) increases by 3,000. Instead of crediting retained earnings, another (temporary) T-account sales is used.

T-account Debit Credit  
Cash 3,000    
Sales   3,000  

Jan 26: ABCD joins the Association of Landscapers, and receives an invoice of 400 to be payable in February.

Instead of debiting retained earnings, another (temporary) T-account operating expenses is used.

T-account Debit Credit  
Operating expenses 400    
Accounts payable   400  

Key points:
- T-accounts for the balance sheet are called permanent T-accounts; the end of year balance is carried over to the next year
- T-accounts that record changes in retained earnings are called temporary T-accounts
- the end of year balance for all temporary T-accounts is carried over to ‘Retained earnings’ so that the next period’s opening balance for each temporary T-account is zero

From transactions to financial statements

Some readers may prefer to refer to the comprehensive example before studying the various steps involved as described in this section.

There are several steps from the recording of financial transactions to constructing the financial statements (each step is explained in more detail below):
- recording the transaction in a journal entry
- posting the journal entry to a log called ‘the journal’
- updating ‘the ledger’ which holds all T-accounts to reflect the newly posted journal entry
- at year’s end, adjusting entries are made
- at year’s end, temporary T-accounts are used to construct the income statement, which is added to retained earnings, and dividends declared are subtracted from retained earnings; in this step all temporary T-accounts are reset to zero
- at year’s end, the permanent T-accounts (included the updated retained earnings) are used to construct the balance sheet

recording the transaction in a journal entry

As discussed above, transactions are recorded on T-accounts that are impacted by the transaction. For example, when a firm pays the electricity bill, the T-accounts cash and electricity expenses need to be updated with the amount paid.

Not all transactions are recorded. Usually when parties come to an agreement, but neither party performs their part of the deal, no transaction is recorded. For example, a customer places an order (which is legally binding), but does not pay yet. Also, the firm has not made a delivery. Only if at least one party delivers (either the customer pays, or the firm makes a delivery), a journal entry is made.

For accounting purposes, a transaction can also be the mere passing of time. Consider for example the effect of time on the value of a loan. A loan that is interest bearing will increase when time passes by. Journal entries that are made at year’s end to update the financial statements are called ‘end of year adjusting entries’.

posting the journal entry to the log called ‘the journal’

The ‘journal’ is a list of all journal entries that were made (in chronological order). It is used as a reference so that at a later point in time people can easily see which journal entries were made on a specific date. It is not helpful in constructing the actual values of T-accounts, as you will need to work through the whole journal to collect all entries to some T-account. For this purpose, the ledger is used (discussed next).

updating ‘the ledger’ which holds all T-accounts to reflect the newly posted journal entry

The ‘ledger’ is a collection of all T-accounts and contains all the changes to these T-accounts. So, if you want to verify whether or not the actual amount of cash equals the amount of cash in the books, it can easily be determined by accessing the T-account cash from the ledger. This T-account will show all transactions involving the receipt or payment of cash and will show the balance.

Tax authorities require firms to keep several years of history of the ledger. With the ledger, the tax authorities can easily verify whether or not the firm has correctly applied fiscal law in the audited years.

at year’s end, adjusting entries are made

At year’s end, it is common that assets and liabilities need to be adjusted. For example, the firm has long term assets that gradually reduce in value. So, at year’s end, the decline in value for the period needs to be accounted for. Also, the liabilities may have changed. For example, over time, interest accrues on interest bearing liabilities.

The adjustments are booked with a journal entry and posted to the journal, just as any other transaction.

at year’s end, temporary T-accounts are used to construct the income statement, which is added to retained earnings, and dividends declared are subtracted from retained earnings; in this step all temporary T-accounts are reset to zero

In the process of making the financial statements, a list of all T-accounts with their balances is constructed, which is called the ‘trial balance’. It is important to realize that the trial balance is not a balance sheet, but rather a list of temporary T-accounts (expenses and revenues and dividends declared) as well as permanent T-accounts (assets, liabilities and equity).

The temporary T-accounts related to expenses and revenues are used to make the income statement, where net income equals total revenues minus total expenses.

As the trial balance is balanced (total debits equal total credits), net income is implicitly included twice in the trial balance. First, it is the balance of the temporary T-accounts. In case of a profit, the net balance of the temporary T-accounts will be a credit balance. Second, net income will be the net balance of the permanent T-accounts. In case of a profit, assets will have a higher balance than liabilities and equity. When temporary T-accounts are used, revenues and expenses were no longer added to retained earnings. In other words, net income needs to be added to retained earnings to have a balanced balance sheet.

When net income is know, the statement of retained earnings can be computed. During the year, all changes in retained earnings are booked on temporary T-accounts. Thus, retained earnings is not used during the year. Hence, the balance of this T-account on the trial balance will be last year’s ending balance. So, at year’s end this T-account needs to be updated. Retained earnings increases with net income of the year, and decreases with dividends declared. This step is performed by making a journal entry which resets all temporary T-accounts to zero, and transferring the balance to retained earnings.

Example


Consider the following trial balance:

T-account Debit Credit  
Sales   100  
Wages expense 50    
Rental expense 30    
Dividend declared 15    
Cash 30    
Accounts receivable 100    
Real estate 150    
Paid-in capital   20  
Retained earnings   50  
Bank loan   200  
Interest payable   5  
Totals 375 375  

the journal entry to ‘close the books’ is the following:

T-account Debit Credit  
Sales 100    
Wages expense   50  
Rental expense   30  
Dividend declared   15  
Retained earnings   5  

Notice that all temporary T-accounts will have zero balances as a result of this entry. Even though net income is 20 (=100 – 50 – 30), retained earnings will increase by 5, as during the year 15 had been paid out as a dividend.

It is also possible to use an additional temporary T-account 'Profit summary'. In this case, first all temporary T-accounts are cleared against this T-account (and not retained earnings). As a second step, the profit summary is added to retained earnings. The ending balance of retained earnings is the same for either method.

at year’s end, the permanent T-accounts (included the updated retained earnings) are used to construct the balance sheet

When the statement of retained earnings is made, construction of the balance sheet is straightforward. All permanent T-accounts (and their balances) are taken from the trial balance, while using the updated value for the balance of retained earnings. This will result in a balance sheet where total debits equal total credits.

Key points:
- journal entry are posted to the journal, which is a log with all journal entries made in  chronological order
- the ledger is the collection of all T-accounts and all debits and credits to these T-accounts
- at year’s end, adjusting entries are needed to make sure all assets and liabilities are included for the correct amounts
- the trial balance is a list of all T-accounts (whether temporary, or permanent) and their balances, where the total of all debit balances equal the total of all credit balances
- in the trial balance, the balance of retained earnings will be last year’s balance, as retained earnings is not used during the year (instead during the year temporary T-accounts are used for expenses, revenues and dividends)
- after ‘closing the books’, retained earnings increases with net income, and decreases with dividends
- the income statement is showing revenues minus expenses (which are temporary T-accounts)
- the statement of retained earnings shows the beginning balance of retained earnings to which net income is added and dividends are subtracted, resulting in the end of year retained earnings
- the balance sheet shows the balances of all permanent T-accounts

Comprehensive example: From transactions to financial statements

This section extends the example introduced in Financial statements: Using the accounting equation to record transactions. For these transactions, journal entries are made and entered into the journal, updating the ledger, etcetera, resulting in the financial statements. This example does not include adjusting entries. Examples on adjusting entries are included in the next lesson accrual accounting.

Work through the interactive example below:
- On tab 'transactions' the transactions are listed, where for each transaction the effect on the accounting equation is shown, as well as the journal entry. Clicking on the T-account in the journal entry shows the debit-and-credit rules for that T-account.
- On tab 'browse' the trial balance is shown. When clicking on a T-account, the transactions recorded in the T-account are listed. When clicking on a transaction, the underlying journal entry is presented.
- On tab 'statements' three financial statements are shown: the income statement, the statement of retained earnings and the balance sheet.

Continue with reading the next tutorial: Accrual Accounting



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