Chart of accounts

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A chart of accounts (COA) is a created list of the accounts used by an organization to define each class of items for which money or the equivalent is spent or received. It is used to organize the finances of the entity and to segregate expenditures, revenue, assets and liabilities in order to give interested parties a better understanding of the financial health of the entity.

Normally defined by an identifier and a heading explaining text title and coded by account type. In computerized accounting systems with computable quantity accounting, the accounts can have a quantity measure definition.

The charts of accounts can, as in Sweden and Norway, be picked from a standard chart of accounts, a list of predefined accounts, like the BAS in Sweden. In some countries defined by the accountant from a standard charts of accounts general layout, in some regulated by law. But in most countries it is entirely up to each accountant to make and design.

The list can be numerical, alphabetic, or alpha-numeric identifiers. However in many computerized environments like the SIE format only numerical are allowed. The structure and headings of accounts should assist in consistent posting of transactions. Each nominal ledger account is unique to allow its ledger to be located. The list is typically arranged in the order of the customary appearance of accounts in the financial statements, balance sheet accounts followed by profit and loss accounts.

Nomenclature, classification and codification[edit]

Each account in the chart of accounts is typically assigned a name and a unique number by which it can be identified. (Software for some small businesses may not require account numbers.) Account numbers are often five or more digits in length with each digit representing a division of the company, the department, the type of account, etc.

As you will see, the first digit might signify if the account is an asset, liability, etc. For example, if the first digit is a "1" it is an asset. If the first digit is a "6" it is an operating expense.

A gap between account numbers allows for adding accounts in the future. The following is a partial listing of a sample chart of accounts.

International aspects and accounting information interchange - Charts of accounts and tax harmonisation issues[edit]

Most countries have no national standard charts of accounts, public or privately organized, and improvisation is the case. In many countries there are general guidelines, and in France the guidelines have been codified in law. Sweden has a very well developed standard chart of accounts, the branch organisat The EU commission has spent a great deal of effort on administrative tax harmonisation, and this harmonization is the main focus of the latest version of the EU VAT directive, which aims to achieve better harmonization and support electronic trade documents, such as electronic invoices used in cross border trade, especially within the European Union Value Added Tax Area. However, there is still a great deal to be done to realize a standard chart of accounts and international accounting information interchange structure.

Trial Balance[edit]

The trial balance is a list of the active general ledger accounts with debit and credit balances. A balanced trial balance does not guarantee that there are no errors in the nominal ledger entries.

Types of accounts[edit]

  1. Asset accounts: represent the different types of economic resources owned or controlled by business, common examples of Asset accounts are cash, cash in bank, building, inventory, prepaid rent, goodwill, accounts receivable[1]
  2. Liability accounts: represent the different types of economic obligations by a business, such as accounts payable, bank loan, bonds payable, accrued interest.[citation needed]
  3. Equity accounts: represent the residual equity of a business (after deducting from Assets all the liabilities) including Retained Earnings and Appropriations.[citation needed]
  4. Revenue accounts or income: represent the company's gross earnings and common examples include Sales, Service revenue and Interest Income.[citation needed]
  5. Expense accounts: represent the company's expenditures to enable itself to operate. Common examples are electricity and water, rentals, depreciation, doubtful accounts, interest, insurance.[citation needed]
  6. Contra-accounts: Some balance sheet items have corresponding contra accounts, with negative balances, that offset them. Examples are accumulated depreciation against equipment, and allowance for bad debts against long-term notes receivable.

Example[edit]

Simple Chart of Accounts[edit]

Group headings[edit]

  • Revenue Rental Income Establishment Expenses
  • Interest Expenses
  • Administration Expenses

Within each of these headings will be the individual nominal ledger accounts that make up the chart of accounts. E.g. establishment expenses may consist of rent, rates, repairs, and so on.

Balance Sheet Accounts[edit]