Bookkeeping 102 - Understanding and Using Debits and Credits

1
Debits and Credits - Why Are They Important?

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Every business transaction has two sides -- a buyer and a seller. The business sells a product or service to a customer or client. Most companies use a system of double-entry bookkeeping to keep track of their transactions. Double-entry bookkeeping requires a recording system using debits and credits.

Debits and credits are traditionally hard to understand because they're not very intuitive. The first and most important rule is that debits are always shown on the left of a T-account and credits are always shown on the right. When you understand that, you've come a long way toward understanding debits and credits. The challenge becomes knowing when to debit an account and when to credit it.

Next step: How to record debits and credits as journal entries

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How to Record Debits and Credits As Journal Entries

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T-accounts are used by accounting instructors to teach how to do accounting transactions. They show which side of the ledger debits and credits go on for a particular business transaction. But in actuality, accounting transactions are recorded by making accounting journal entries. Just like everything else in accounting, there is a particular way to make an accounting journal entry when recording debits and credits.

Debits are recorded on the first line, flush with the margin. Credits are recorded on the second line and are indented a couple of spaces. It's as simple as that.

Next step: How debits and credits are recorded for an asset account.

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How to Record Debits and Credits for Asset Accounts

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Assets are items owned by a company, such as inventory, accounts receivable, fixed assets like plant and equipment, and any other account under either current assets or fixed assets on the balance sheet.

Remember that debits are recorded on the left side of the T-account and credits are recorded on the right. Debits are increases in asset accounts. Credits are decreases in asset accounts. Here's the rule for assets:

Increases in assets are recorded as debits. This means they're recorded on the left side of the ledger. Decreases in assets are recorded as credits and are recorded on the right side of the ledger. 

Here is an example. Let's say a company wants to buy inventory to gear up for holiday sales. Inventory is a current asset. The company is going to pay for the inventory with cash. The amount of inventory to be purchased is $10,000. The journal entry would look like this:

Inventory $10,000

Cash $10,000

Inventory has increased so it is a debit and cash is a credit because it decreased.

If the company decided to sell a building for $250,000 and it received cash for the property, the journal entry would look like this:

Cash $250,000

Fixed Assets $250,000

Cash -- an asset -- increased so it would be debited. Fixed assets would be credited because they decreased.

Next step: How to record debits and credits for liability accounts

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How to Record Debits and Credits for Liability and Owner's Equity Accounts

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Liabilities are items on a balance sheet that are owed by the company to vendors or financial institutions. They can be current liabilities, such as accounts payable and accruals, or long-term liabilities, such as bonds payable or mortgages payable.

Owner's equity are accounts on the right side of the balance sheet, such as common stock and retained earnings. They are treated exactly the same as liability accounts when it comes to journal entries.

Debits are decreases in liability accounts. Credits are ​increases in liability accounts. ​Here's the rule for liability accounts: 

Increases in liabilities are recorded as credits. They're recorded on the right side of the ledger. Decreases in liabilities are recorded as debits and are recorded on the left side of the ledger. 

Let's say a company owes one of its suppliers $1,000 and that bill is now due. What companies owe their suppliers are typically accounts payable and a liability on the balance sheet. Here is how the journal entry would look:

Accounts Payable $1,000

Cash $1,000

Accounts payable is debited because that bill is paid and the account is decreased and cash is credited because cash is an asset account that decreased because cash was used to pay the bill. If this company decided to purchase $15,000 in inventory from a supplier and do it on credit (accounts payable), here is what the journal entry would look like:

Inventory $15,000

Accounts Payable $15,000

Inventory is debited because it is an asset account that increases in this transaction and accounts payable are credited as a liability account that increases because the transaction was on credit.

Let's look at a journal entry for the owner's equity account. Say a business has two owners and one owner wants to invest an additional $50,000 in the business. Here's the resulting journal entry:

Cash $50,000

Owner's Equity $50,000

Cash increases when the investment is made. It's an asset account, so an increase is shown as a debit and an increase in the owner's equity account is shown as a credit.

Next step: How to record debits and credits for expenses

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How to Record Debits and Credits for Expense Accounts

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Expense accounts are items on an income statement that cannot be tied to the sale of an individual product. Of all the accounts in your chart of accounts, your list of expense accounts will likely be the longest. Expense accounts run the gamut from advertising expenses to payroll taxes to office supplies. It's imperative that you learn how to record correct journal entries for them because you'll have so many.  

Debits are increases in expense accounts. Credits are decreases in expense accounts. Increases in expenses are recorded as debits on the right side of the ledger. Decreases in expenses are recorded as credits and are recorded on the left side of the ledger.

Here's an example of a business transaction involving an expense account and the resulting journal transaction. Let's say a company needs to stock up on office supplies. It purchases $750 in office supplies using cash. Here's the resulting journal entry:

Office Supplies $750

Cash $750

"Office supplies" is an expense account off the income statement, so you would debit it for $750. Cash is an asset account. You credit an asset account -- in this case cash -- when you use it to purchase something.

Next step: How to record debits and credits for revenue (income) accounts

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How to Record Debits and Credits for Revenue or Income Accounts

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Revenue accounts come from a company's income statement. A company's revenue usually includes income from both cash and credit sales. A company can also have investment income. Larger companies sometimes invest in other companies. Smaller firms invest excess cash in marketable securities which are short-term investments.

Debits are decreases in revenue accounts. Credits are ​increases in revenue accounts. Increases in revenue or income are recorded as credit on the left side of the ledger. Decreases in revenue or income accounts are recorded as debits on the right side of the ledger.

Let's look at a sample journal entry for a revenue transaction. A small business has $5,000 in cash sales on a given day. Here's how those sales -- revenue for the firm -- would be recorded:

Cash $5,000

Cash Sales Revenue $5,000

Sales revenue is posted as a credit. Increases in revenue accounts -- the cash sales -- are recorded as credits. Cash, an asset account, is debited for the same amount. An asset account is debited when there is an increase, as there is in this case.

These steps are the basic rules for recording debits and credits for the five accounts that are part of the expanded accounting equation.