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.
Bannester, Anthony. Bookkeeping and Accounting for Small Business. Straighforward Co. Ltd., April 2004.
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.