Accounting Fundamentals: Introduction to Debits and Credits

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If the words "debits" and "credits" sound like a foreign language to you, you are more perceptive than you realize—"debits" and "credits" are words that have been traced back five hundred years to a document describing today's double-entry accounting system. Under the double-entry system every business transaction is recorded in at least two accounts. One account will receive a "debit" entry, meaning the amount will be entered on the left side of that account. Another account will receive a "credit" entry, meaning the amount will be entered on the right side of that account. The initial challenge with double-entry is to know which account should be debited and which account should be credited.

Here we will discuss the accounts in which the debits and credits will be entered or posted.

What is an Account?

To keep a company's financial data organized, accountants developed a system that sorts transactions into records called accounts. When a company's accounting system is set up, the accounts most likely to be affected by the company's transactions are identified and listed out. This list is referred to as the company's chart of accounts. Depending on the size of a company and the complexity of its business operations, the chart of accounts may list as few as thirty accounts or as many as thousands. A company has the flexibility of tailoring its chart of accounts to best meet its needs.

Within the chart of accounts the balance sheet accounts are listed first, followed by the income statement accounts. In other words, the accounts are organized in the chart of accounts as follows:

⇒   Assets
⇒   Liabilities
⇒   Owner's (Stockholders') Equity
⇒   Revenues or Income
⇒   Expenses
⇒   Gains
⇒   Losses

(Click here to see samples of chart of accounts)

Double-Entry Accounting

Because every business transaction affects at least two accounts, our accounting system is known as a double-entry system. (You can refer to the company's chart of accounts to select the proper accounts. Accounts may be added to the chart of accounts when an appropriate account cannot be found.)
For example, when a company borrows $1,000 from a bank, the transaction will affect the company's Cash account and the company's Notes Payable account. When the company repays the bank loan, the Cash account and the Notes Payable account are also involved.
If a company buys supplies for cash, its Supplies account and its Cash account will be affected. If the company buys supplies on credit, the accounts involved are Supplies and Accounts Payable.
If a company pays the rent for the current month, Rent Expense and Cash are the two accounts involved. If a company provides a service and gives the client 30 days in which to pay, the company's Service Revenues account and Accounts Receivable are affected.
Although the system is referred to as double-entry, a transaction may involve more than two accounts. An example of a transaction that involves three accounts is a company's loan payment to its bank of $300. This transaction will involve the following accounts: Cash, Notes Payable, and Interest Expense.
If you use accounting software you may not actually see that two or more accounts are being affected due to the user-friendly nature of the software. For example, let's say that you write a company check by means of your accounting software. Your software automatically reduces your Cash account and prompts you only for the other accounts affected.

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