Basic Bookkeeping Terms and Phrases
3 of 12 in Series: The Essentials of Accounting Basics
Get a firm understanding of key bookkeeping and accounting terms and phrases before you begin work as a bookkeeper. Bookkeepers use specific terms and phrases everyday as they track and record financial transactions — from balance sheets and income statements to accounts payable and receivable. The following sections list bookkeeping terms that you'll use on a daily basis.
Balance sheet terminology
Here are a few terms you’ll want to know when working with balance sheets:
Balance sheet: The financial statement that presents a snapshot of the company’s financial position as of a particular date in time. It’s called a balance sheet because the things owned by the company (assets) must equal the claims against those assets (liabilities and equity).
Assets: All the things a company owns in order to successfully run its business, such as cash, buildings, land, tools, equipment, vehicles, and furniture.
Liabilities: All the debts the company owes, such as bonds, loans, and unpaid bills.
Equity: All the money invested in the company by its owners. In a small business owned by one person or a group of people, the owner’s equity is shown in a Capital account. In a larger business that’s incorporated, owner’s equity is shown in shares of stock.
Another key Equity account is Retained Earnings, which tracks all company profits that have been reinvested in the company rather than paid out to the company’s owners. Small businesses track money paid out to owners in a Drawing account, whereas incorporated businesses dole out money to owners by paying dividends.
Income statement terminology
Here are a few terms related to the income statement that you’ll want to know:
Income statement: The financial statement that presents a summary of the company’s financial activity over a certain period of time, such as a month, quarter, or year. The statement starts with Revenue earned, subtracts the Costs of Goods Sold and the Expenses, and ends with the bottom line — Net Profit or Loss.
Revenue: All money collected in the process of selling the company’s goods and services. Some companies also collect revenue through other means, such as selling assets the business no longer needs or earning interest by offering short-term loans to employees or other businesses.
Costs of goods sold: All money spent to purchase or make the products or services a company plans to sell to its customers.
Expenses: All money spent to operate the company that’s not directly related to the sale of individual goods or services.
Other common bookkeeping terms
Some other common terms used in bookkeeping include the following:
Accounting period: The time period for which financial information is being tracked. Most businesses track their financial results on a monthly basis, so each accounting period equals one month. Some businesses choose to do financial reports on a quarterly or annual basis. Businesses that track their financial activities monthly usually also create quarterly and annual reports.
Accounts payable: The account used to track all outstanding bills from vendors, contractors, consultants, and any other companies or individuals from whom the company buys goods or services.
Accounts receivable: The account used to track all customer sales that are made by store credit. Store credit refers not to credit card sales but rather to sales in which the customer is given credit directly by the store and the store needs to collect payment from the customer at a later date.
Depreciation: An accounting method used to track the aging and use of assets. For example, if you own a car, you know that each year you use the car its value is reduced (unless you own one of those classic cars that goes up in value). Every major asset a business owns ages and eventually needs replacement, including buildings, factories, equipment, and other key assets.
General Ledger: Where all the company’s accounts are summarized. The General Ledger is the granddaddy of the bookkeeping system.
Interest: The money a company needs to pay if it borrows money from a bank or other company. For example, when you buy a car using a car loan, you must pay not only the amount you borrowed but also interest, based on a percent of the amount you borrowed.
Inventory: The account that tracks all products that will be sold to customers.
Journals: Where bookkeepers keep records (in chronological order) of daily company transactions. Each of the most active accounts — including cash, Accounts Payable, and Accounts Receivable — has its own journal.
Payroll: The way a company pays its employees. Managing payroll is a key function of the bookkeeper and involves reporting many aspects of payroll to the government, including taxes to be paid on behalf of the employee, unemployment taxes, and workman’s compensation.
Trial balance: How you test to be sure the books are in balance before pulling together information for the financial reports and closing the books for the accounting period.