Accounting Unplugged

Accounting Structure – Quick Reference

Posted in 1. Accounting Overview by Erin Lawlor on the September 23rd, 2008

<< Accounting Journals and Ledgers How to Use Financials and Ratios >>

This post is a quick overview of subjects covered in more detail in other posts. I usually like to see a quick version so I am trying to present that option to others as well.

The Double Entry Accounting System collects, organizes, summarizes and reports on Financial Transaction data.

Financial Transactions: Exchanges of things of value.

There are three basic questions that must be answered for each financial transaction, they are:

  • Question 1. How much money changed hands? What is the value of this exchange?
  • Question 2: How was the money used?  What was either gained or paid for by this exchange?
  • Question 3: Where did the money come from? What is the source of funds in this exchange?


  • Answer 1: 3,000.00
  • Answer 2: Rent
  • Answer 3: Checking Account

The answers for each of the financial transaction questions are recorded in Journals.   Journals have a grid format with a varying number of columns but to start, we’ll use three columns.

The descriptions that answer questions 2 and 3 are always entered on separate lines to the left of the two numeric columns.

The amount associated with question 2 is entered on the same line as its description and it is always answered in the left (debit) numeric column. The amount associated with question 3 is entered on the same line as its description and it is always answered in the right (credit) numeric column.

General Journal Example:

Description Debit Credit
Rent $3,000
Checking Account $3,000

To ensure that both sides of the transactions are recorded, Total Debits must always equal Total Credits.

Chart of Accounts: The Chart of Accounts is basically a list of the descriptions used to answer Transaction Questions 2 and 3.   Each unique description is called an account.  One of the best features of the Chart of Accounts is that when you have a new type of transaction you can just add a new description (account).

To keep the Chart of Accounts manageable and meaningful, it is important to strike a balance between having a long specific list and a short general list.  To accomplish this objective, the Chart of Accounts should have descriptions for types of things, and not for specific things.  You want the Accounts to be specific enough to be useful but not too specific because the fewer accounts you have the better overall picture you can have.

Chart of Accounts Organization: The Chart of Accounts is organized using three different methods.

  • First:  Accounting Types
  • Second:  Order of Liquidity – the ease of converting to cash
  • Third: Account Numbers

The listing below shows the Chart of Accounts organization along with sample Account Number Ranges.

  • Assets: 1000’s
    • Current Assets 1000 – 1499
    • Fixed Assets 1500 -1999
  • Liabilities: 2000’s
    • Current Liabilities 2000 – 2499
    • Long Term Liabilities 2500 – 2999
  • Equity: 3000’s
  • Revenue: 4000’s
  • Costs of Goods Sold: 5000’s
  • I leave the 6000’s open to allow for a Cost of Goods Sold Subtype
  • Expenses: 7000’s
  • Other Revenue: 8000’s
  • Other Expenses: 9000’s

Journals and Ledgers:

There are two types of Ledgers and Journals in the system, General and Subsidiary.   If you recall from above, I said that Accounts should only be created in the Chart of Accounts/General Ledger to describe types of things not individual things themselves. Well, in some cases especially in the case of cash substitutes like Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable more detail is required. So, to maintain the summary nature of the Chart of Accounts/General Ledger and to provide more detail, a Subsidiary System of Journals and Ledgers was developed.

General Ledger: The General Ledger is the combination of the Chart of Accounts, Account Balances and Accounting Periods.  The General Ledger maintains the summary balances of ALL financial transactions.

The General Ledger adds the essential organizational element of Time (Accounting Periods) to the Accounting System, so in addition to the original three organizational methods of the Chart of Accounts, the General Ledger is organized in four ways.

  • 1. Accounting Type
  • 2. Order of Liquidity
  • 3. Account Number
  • 4. Accounting Periods

Accounting Periods are generally date/time intervals of Months, Quarters and Years. The element of time is essential to accounting.  It provides the ability to report balances for any given accounting period as well as the ability to compare the results of different accounting periods against each other.

If the system is going to organize around accounting periods, then we need to add dates to the data we gather with transactions.  There can be a variety of dates that are relevant to a transaction, the transaction date, the invoice date, the due date, the expiration date etc. but for purposes of this post, the date we’ll focus on is the transaction date.

The Journal transaction grid introduced in the previous section needs to be expanded to 5 columns to accommodate the new data requirements of date and account number.

General Journal Example:

Transaction Date Account Description Debit Credit
9/01/08 7000 Rent $3,000
1000 Checking Account $3,000

Subsidiary Journals and Ledgers: The two most common Subsidiary Systems are:

  • Accounts Payable
  • Accounts Receivable

All financial transactions that involve a general ledger account with an associated subsidiary ledger must be recorded in that subsidiary ledger first.

Subsidiary Journal:

Accounts Payable Journal
Subledger Account Invoice # Transaction Date Ref GL Account Description Debit Credit
ACEC 123_908 9/01/08 55 2000 Ace Credit Card Corp. $1,700
1520 Chair $750
1520 Desk $900
7300 Credit Card Interest & Fees $50

Notice that the Subsidiary Journal uses more columns than the General Journal.  It uses the extra columns to track data that is specific to the Subsidiary Ledger as well as to the General Ledger.

General Journal:

The system requires that all financial transactions have an entry in the General Journal as well as in the General Ledger.  So, once the entries are posted to the Subledger Journals, they are then summarized and posted to the General Journal.

General Journal
Transaction Date Jrnl Ref Account Description Debit Credit
9/01/08 AP 55 1520 Furniture & Fixtures $1,650
9/01/08 AP 55 7300 Credit Card Interest & Fees $50
9/01/08 AP 55 2000 Accounts Payable $1,700

Notice the new columns in this General Journal example, they are cross referencing entries to show where the transaction was originally recorded.  The Jrnl in this example says AP = Accounts Payable and the Ref (55) is the same as in the AP Journal example above.  The Ref is the transaction reference number and will increment for each transaction.

Ledger Examples:

Each financial transaction is recorded in the appropriate Journals and then summarized and posted to the Ledger Accounts.

Accounts Payable Subledger Account: ACEC
Transaction Date Jrnl Ref Description Debit Credit Balance
Beginning Balance $0
8/01/08 AP 23 123_0808 (invoice) $2,500 $2,500
8/31/08 CD 37 123_0808 (payment) $2,500 $0
9/01/08 AP 55 123_0908 (invoice) $1,700 $1,700
General Ledger Account: 2000
Transaction Date Jrnl Ref Description Debit Credit Balance
Beginning Balance $0
8/01/08 AP 23 Accounts Payable Invoices $2,500 $2,500
8/31/08 CD 37 Cash Disbursements $2,500 $0
9/01/08 AP 55 Accounts Payable Invoices $1,700 $1,700

The Subsidiary Ledger (Subledger) is like the General Ledger/Chart of Accounts in that it contains a list of Accounts specific to its purpose.  The Accounts Payable SubLedger contains a list of AP Accounts and their balances.

General Ledger
Account Description Debits Credits
1000 Checking Account $44,350
1200 Accounts Receivable $0
1500 Office Equipment $1,300
1520 Office Furniture $1,650
2000 Accounts Payable $1,700
4000 Sales $50,000
7000 Rent $3,000
7020 Office Supplies $150
7040 Subscriptions $300
7060 Utilities $125
7100 Fuel $275
7200 Repairs and Maintenance $500
7300 Credit Card Interest and Fees $50
Totals $51,700 $51,700
Accounts Payable Subledger
Account Description Balance
ACEC Ace Credit Card Corp. $1,700
JOHN Johnson Management $0
SHEL Shelton Oil $0
Totals (see GL Account 2000) $1,700

The Total Balance of each Subledger must equal the balance of its related General Ledger Account Balance.  All financial transactions are recorded in the General Journal and the General Ledger and only the transactions with a gl account that has a related Subledger are posted to a Subsidiary Journal and Ledger.

If the Subledger does not Balance with its related account on the General Ledger, it means that there may be entries in either the Subledger or the General Ledger that are not in the other.  They should each have matching entries and there should be no entries made to the General Ledger for an Account with a related Subledger that are not also made to the Subledger and vice verse.

© 2008-2010 Erin Lawlor

Next: How to Use Financial Statements and Ratios >>

<< Accounting Journals and Ledgers

**disclaimer:  All information posted on this blog is from my own experience and training.  The guidelines I present are general and in my experience, standard practice.  I do not write with authority from any Accounting Standards Boards.

Accounting System Overview

Posted in 1. Accounting Overview by Erin Lawlor on the August 30th, 2008

>>Double Entry Accounting Basics

The Accounting System we use today, The Double Entry System, was first published in Venice, Italy in 1494 by a mathematician named Luca Pacioli but it has been traced back at least as far as the 12th century and there is a good reason why it has endured.  It is based on the idea of a balanced financial picture.  That is, we should not only know how money has been spent, we should also know where it came from.

The basic rules and structure of the system are standard and simple, they do not attempt to predict the details of any given set of books, instead they provide the structure and functionality around which any set of books can be constructed.  Because of that, the double entry accounting system is universally relevant and successful as a Financial Accounting System.

Accounting is a valuable resource that is relevant to individuals as well as to business. It provides the feedback that can make all the difference in securing and managing your own finances and investments as well as those of businesses.

The One reason to use the Accounting System is for the Feedback in the form of Financial Reports and the One reason to learn the Accounting System is to learn how to put those Financial Reports to work for You and your Business. Having said that, let’s start with the basics of the system.

Two Functions of the Accounting System are:

  • To Collect Financial Transaction Data
    • Financial transactions are exchanges of things of value.  Transaction data is collected using the Double Entry principle of describing and recording both the use and source of money.
  • To Organize and Summarize Financial Transaction Data
    • Financial data is organized and summarized using The Chart of Accounts which is essentially a list of the descriptions used in recording transactions and is organized around the principles of Double Entry Accounting.

Once you understand the basic structure and principles of accounting, you will have a good, functional knowledge and be able to understand financial statements and reports.  Basic Accounting concepts and principles are universal.  Specific industries have their own unique differences and rules but with a basic understanding, the differences are easier to navigate.

Note:  There are two different aspects of the Accounting System, the two aspects are Structural and Content.  The aspect of the Accounting System that I address in the blog is Structural.  I will add Content for demonstration but the purpose of the information in the blog is related to Structure, not Content.

****My posts are written for the Accrual Method of Accounting.

Accrual accounting is the most common system used in business and the greatest difference between Accrual Based Accounting and its alternative, Cash Based Accounting relates to time.  At this point, I will not be presenting Cash Based Accounting alternatives in my posts except to say that in Cash accounting, accounts such as Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable are not used because the related Sales and Expense transactions are not posted until Cash changes hands.

In accrual accounting, transactions are posted when goods have been received (or ownership of the goods has transferred) or services have been performed.  That concept works in both cases of being the recipient or the provider of goods and services.  If cash is neither disbursed nor received at the time of the exchange, a substitute such as an invoice or note (payable or receivable) is posted in place of cash.

The first post in my series explains the Double Entry Transaction system.

**disclaimer:  All information posted on this blog is from my own experience and training.  The guidelines I present are general and in my experience, standard practice.  I do not write with authority from any Accounting Standards Boards.

© 2008 – 2010 Erin Lawlor