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Accounts receivable is money owed to a business by its clients (customers or debtors) and shown on its balance sheet as an asset. It is one of a series of accounting transactions dealing with the billing of a customer for goods and services that the customer has ordered. These may be distinguished from notes receivable, which are debts created through formal legal instruments called promissory notes.
Accounts receivable represents money owed by entities to the firm on the sale of products or services on credit. In most business entities, accounts receivable is typically executed by generating an invoice and either mailing or electronically delivering it to the customer, who, in turn, must pay it within an established timeframe, called credit terms or payment terms.
The accounts receivable departments use the sales ledger, because a sales ledger normally records:
- The sales a business has made.
- The amount of money received for goods or services.
- The amount of money owed at the end of each month varies (debtors).
The accounts receivable team is in charge of receiving funds on behalf of a company and applying it towards their current pending balances.
Collections and cashiering teams are part of the accounts receivable department. While the collections department seeks the debtor, the cashiering team applies the monies received.
An example of a common payment term is Net 30 days, which means that payment is due at the end of 30 days from the date of invoice. The debtor is free to pay before the due date; businesses can offer a discount for early payment. Other common payment terms include Net 45, Net 60 and 30 days end of month. The creditor may be able to charge late fees or interest if the amount is not paid by the due date.
Booking a receivable is accomplished by a simple accounting transaction; however, the process of maintaining and collecting payments on the accounts receivable subsidiary account balances can be a full-time proposition. Depending on the industry in practice, accounts receivable payments can be received up to 10 – 15 days after the due date has been reached. These types of payment practices are sometimes developed by industry standards, corporate policy, or because of the financial condition of the client.
Since not all customer debts will be collected, businesses typically estimate the amount of and then record an allowance for doubtful accounts which appears on the balance sheet as a contra account that offsets total accounts receivable. When accounts receivable are not paid, some companies turn them over to third party collection agencies or collection attorneys who will attempt to recover the debt via negotiating payment plans, settlement offers or pursuing other legal action.
Outstanding advances are part of accounts receivable if a company gets an order from its customers with payment terms agreed upon in advance. Since billing is done to claim the advances several times, this area of collectible is not reflected in accounts receivables. Ideally, since advance payment occurs within a mutually agreed-upon term, it is the responsibility of the accounts department to periodically take out the statement showing advance collectible and should be provided to sales & marketing for collection of advances. The payment of accounts receivable can be protected either by a letter of credit or by Trade Credit Insurance
Accounts Receivable Age Analysis
The Accounts Receivable Age Analysis Printout, also known as the Debtors Book is divided in categories for current, 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 120 days, 150 days and 180 days and over due that are produced in Modern Accounting Systems. The printout is mostly known as an Aged Trial Balance or ATB for short. The printout is done in the order of the Chart of Accounts for the Accounts Receivable and/or Debtors Book. The option to include Zero Balances outstanding or to specifically leave it out is also possible in the printout features.
On a company's balance sheet, accounts receivable are the money owed to that company by entities outside of the company. The receivables owed by the company's customers are called trade receivables. Account receivables are classified as current assets assuming that they are due within one calendar year or fiscal year. To record a journal entry for a sale on account, one must debit a receivable and credit a revenue account. When the customer pays off their accounts, one debits cash and credits the receivable in the journal entry. The ending balance on the trial balance sheet for accounts receivable is usually a debit.
Business organizations which have become too large to perform such tasks by hand (or small ones that could but prefer not to do them by hand) will generally use accounting software on a computer to perform this task.
Companies have two methods available to them for measuring the net value of accounts receivable, which is generally computed by subtracting the balance of an allowance account from the accounts receivable account.
The first method is the allowance method, which establishes a contra-asset account, allowance for doubtful accounts, or bad debt provision, that has the effect of reducing the balance for accounts receivable. The amount of the bad debt provision can be computed in two ways, either (1) by reviewing each individual debt and deciding whether it is doubtful (a specific provision); or (2) by providing for a fixed percentage (e.g. 2%) of total debtors (a general provision). The change in the bad debt provision from year to year is posted to the bad debt expense account in the income statement.
The second method is the direct write-off method. It is simpler than the allowance method in that it allows for one simple entry to reduce accounts receivable to its net realizable value. The entry would consist of debiting a bad debt expense account and crediting the respective accounts receivable in the sales ledger.
The two methods are not mutually exclusive, and some businesses will have a provision for doubtful debts, writing off specific debts that they know to be bad (for example, if the debtor has gone into liquidation.)
Companies can use their accounts receivable as collateral when obtaining a loan (asset-based lending). They may also sell them through factoring or on an exchange. Pools or portfolios of accounts receivable can be sold in capital markets through securitization.
For tax reporting purposes, a general provision for bad debts is not an allowable deduction from profit - a business can only get relief for specific debtors that have gone bad. However, for financial reporting purposes, companies may choose to have a general provision against bad debts consistent with their past experience of customer payments, in order to avoid over-stating debtors in the balance sheet.
Related accounting topics
Associated accounting issues include recognizing accounts receivable, valuing accounts receivable, and disposing of accounts receivable.
In the UK, most companies have a credit control department.
Notes and references
- Longman Business English Dictionary
- Belverd E. Needles, Marian Powers, Susan V. Crosson. (2010) Financial and Managerial Accounting, p. 373.
- HM Revenue & Customs. "Company Taxation Manual". Retrieved 2008-11-01.