What’s Accrual Accounting and Why You Care

Your business bookkeeping is going to be either cash basis or accrual. Too bad “cash basis” sounds so simple and attractive, because accrual is way better, and easier to manage too. Cash basis accounting only works right if you absolutely always pay immediately for every business purchase, and you never buy something before you sell it, and all of your customers pay you in full whenever they buy something from you. That case is extremely rare. So accrual is better.

Here’s why, in a few obvious examples.

  1. You make a sale when you deliver the goods. If the customer doesn’t pay you immediately, in cash basis nothing is recorded. The sale doesn’t even show up in your books until the customer pays. In accrual, you record the accrued amount as Accounts Receivable, so you keep track of the amount, the date, and the customer who owes it to you. It’s obvious that unless you never sell without immediate payment, accrual basis is better.
  2. You order some goods. When you receive them, you don’t pay for them. You owe the money. You have an invoice to pay. In cash basis, nothing happens until you pay up. In accrual basis, you record the accrued amount as Accounts Payable, along with the date, a record of what you bought, and who and when you are supposed to pay. So cash basis is better only if you pay everything immediately; all normal businesses need accrual.

I’m so sorry that the accounting standards that were set a few generations ago chose to call it “cash basis” when you don’t record money owed into your books until it’s paid; or money you owe until you pay it. It’s a terrible idea to keep that information in your head instead of in your bookkeeping. That causes many mistakes as we business owners fail to keep track and remind ourselves of these outstanding obligations. And yet, ironically, they call that “cash basis” accounting. I do wish that the right way to do it, which is accrual accounting, didn’t have such an off-putting name.

One thought on “What’s Accrual Accounting and Why You Care

  1. Jamiel

    Ugh.

    Thanks for explaining this.

    I always have sort of leaned towards cash based accounting because of its name, yet, still was finding it difficult.

    Reply

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