Bookkeeping is the task of recording all business transactions—amounts, dates, and sources of all business revenue, gain, expense, and loss transactions. Bookkeeping is the starting point of the accounting process. Having accurate financial records helps managers and business owners answer important questions. Is the business making money, or losing it? How much? Is the business on sound financial ground, or are troubling trends in cash flow pointing to an instability of some kind? A sound bookkeeping system is the foundation for gathering the information necessary to answer these questions.
Bookkeeping involves keeping track of a business's financial transactions and making entries to specific accounts using the debit and credit system. Each entry represents a different business transaction. Every accounting system has a chart of accounts that lists actual accounts as well as account categories. There is usually at least one account for every item on a company's balance sheet and income statement. In theory, there is no limit to the number of accounts that can be created, although the total number of accounts is usually determined by management's need for information.
The process of bookkeeping involves four basic steps: 1) analyzing financial transactions and assigning them to specific accounts; 2) writing original journal entries that credit and debit the appropriate accounts; 3) posting entries to ledger accounts; and 4) adjusting entries at the end of each accounting period. Bookkeeping is based on two basic principles. One is that every debit must have an equal credit. The second, that all accounts must balance, follows from the first.
A chronological record of all transactions is kept in a journal used to track all bookkeeping entries. Journal entries are typically made into a computer from paper documents that contain information about the transaction to be recorded. Journal entries can be made from invoices, purchase orders, sales receipts, and similar documents, which are usually kept on file for a specified length of time. For example, the journal entry for a transaction involving a cash payment for a new stapler might debit the cash account by the amount paid and credit the office supplies account for the value of the stapler.
Journal entries assign each transaction to a specific account and record changes in those accounts using debits and credits. Information contained in the journal entries is then posted to ledger accounts. A ledger is a collection of related accounts and may be called an Accounts Payable Ledger, Accounts Receivable Ledger, or a General Ledger, for example. Posting is the process by which account balances in the appropriate ledger are changed. While account balances may be recorded and computed periodically, the only time account balances are changed in the ledger is when a journal entry indicates such a change is necessary. Information that appears chronologically in the journal becomes reclassified and summarized in the ledger on an account-by-account basis.
Bookkeepers may take trial balances occasionally to ensure that the journal entries have been posted accurately to every account. A trial balance simply means that totals are taken of all of the debit balances and credit balances in the ledger accounts. The debit and credit balances should match; if they do not, then one or more errors have been made and must be found.
Reconciling bank statements on a monthly basis, of crucial importance in the management of cash flow, is another important task for the bookkeeper. Other aspects of bookkeeping include making adjusting entries that modify account balances so that they more accurately reflect the actual situation at the end of an accounting period. Adjusting entries usually involves unrecorded costs and revenues associated with continuous transactions, or costs and revenues that must be apportioned among two or more accounting periods.
Another bookkeeping procedure involves closing accounts. Most companies have temporary revenue and expense accounts that are used to provide information for the company's income statement. These accounts are periodically closed to owners' equity to determine the profit or loss associated with all revenue and expense transactions. An account called Income Summary (or Profit and Loss) is created to show the net income or loss for a particular accounting period. Closing entries means reducing the balance of the temporary accounts to zero, while debiting or crediting the income summary account.
Good bookkeeping is an essential part of good business management. Bookkeeping enables the small business owner to support expenditures made for the business in order to claim all available tax credits and deductions. It also provides detailed, accurate, and timely records that can prove invaluable to management decision-making, or in the event of an audit.
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Pinson, Linda. Keeping the Books. Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2004.
Ragan, Robert C. Step-By-Step Bookkeeping. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2001.
Rohr, Ellen. "The Best Beekkeeper." Reefing Contractor. March 2005.
Taylor, Peter. Book-Keeping and Accounting for the Small Business. How To Books, Ltd., 2003.
Hillstrom, Northern Lights
updated by Magee, ECDI
bookkeeping, maintenance of systematic and convenient records of money transactions in order to show the condition of a business enterprise. The essential purpose of bookkeeping is to reveal the amounts and sources of the losses and profits for any given period. Proper bookkeeping should also reveal the nature and value of the assets and liabilities of a firm, as well as its net worth at the close of that period.
Bookkeeping records are kept in columnar form, using separate columns for the date of transaction, an explanation of the nature of the transaction, and its value. Other columns may be added. In general, two sets of columns are used, assets being placed in one set of columns and liabilities in the other set (a money value having been assigned to all assets and all liabilities of the business). Such an arrangement is called double entry. A balance sheet may be compiled at any time by totaling each column and subtracting the smaller total from the greater to give either a surplus or a deficit. The result is called the net worth, and it gives an indication of the financial state of a firm. A detailed balance for a period between two balance sheets is called a profit and loss statement.
The process of deciding whether to enter items into one set of columns or the other, i.e., into the debit side or the credit side, is called journalizing, since the analyzed items are placed in a journal, or daybook, soon after the transactions occur. Separate accounts of persons or sections are kept in a book called a ledger; the ledger is now often a computer file (created in "spreadsheet" software) rather than a physical book. The transfer of items from the journal to the ledger is called posting. In large businesses, the journal is broken into many sections, each concerning a separate function of the business, such as sales, purchases, accounts receivable, accounts payable, sales return, purchases return, and cash on hand. The journal also has sections for invoices, inventory, orders, cash, sales, bills, and checks.
Single-entry bookkeeping enters all debits and credits in a single set of columns in a journal and labels each entry Dr. (debit) or Cr. (credit). Thus in a single entry only one element of a transaction is entered. Single-entry bookkeeping fails to give detailed information as to the sources of gain or loss.
There are two main methods of accounting for money in a business. The cash method reports income in the year it is received and deducts expenses in the year they are paid. The accrual method reports income when it is earned and deducts expenses as they are incurred, regardless of whether the money has actually entered or left the business yet.
Any bookkeeping system must also account for all canceled checks, paid bills, duplicate deposit slips from banks, and other records of transactions. These records act as proof of the posted entries; they are usually organized chronologically or by type and are kept in filing cabinets. Bookkeeping machines, ranging from the simple adding machine to the computer, help in maintaining properly organized books. Computers revolutionized bookkeeping and accounting systems, both for entering ledger items and for such operations as year-end profit-and-loss calculations.
The Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans kept business records. Double entry seems to have been first developed by the people of N Italy during the great commercial expansion of the 14th and 15th cents. and has consequently been called the Italian method. The system then spread to the Netherlands, England, and elsewhere. Single entry developed later.
See also accounting; auditing.
book·keep·ing / ˈboŏkˌkēping/ • n. the activity or occupation of keeping records of the financial affairs of a business. DERIVATIVES: book·keep·er n.
The process of systematically and methodically recording the financial accounts and transactions of an entity.
Double-entry bookkeeping is an accounting system that requires that for every financial transaction there must be a debit and a credit. When merchandise is sold for cost, there is a debit to cash and a credit to sales.