Debits and credits
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In double entry bookkeeping, debits and credits (abbreviated Dr and Cr, respectively) are entries made in account ledgers to record changes in value resulting from business transactions. Generally speaking, the source for spending money in a transaction in the account is credit (that is, an entry is made on the right side of the account's ledger), and what the money obtained with the credit is described as a debit (that is, an entry is made on the left side). Credits could be share capital, revenues, etc., while debits could be assets, dividends, and so on. From a technical point of view, the sides refer to the balance sheet placement of accounts. Total debits must equal total credits for each transaction; individual transactions may require multiple debit and credit entries.
The difference between the total debits and total credits in a single account is the account's balance. If debits exceed credits, the account has a debit balance; if credits exceed debits, the account has a credit balance. For the company as a whole, the totals of debit balances and credit balances must be equal as shown in the trial balance report, otherwise an error has occurred.
- 1 History
- 2 Aspects of transactions
- 3 Commercial understanding
- 4 Terminology
- 5 The five accounting elements
- 6 Principle
- 7 T-accounts
- 8 Contra account
- 9 Real, personal, and nominal accounts
- 10 References
- 11 External links
The first known recorded use of the terms is Venetian Luca Pacioli's 1494 work, Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita (translated: Everything That Is Known About Arithmetic, Geometry, Proportions and Proportionality). Pacioli devoted one section of his book to documenting and describing the double-entry bookkeeping system in use during the Renaissance by Venetian merchants, traders and bankers. This system is still the fundamental system in use by modern bookkeepers. Indian merchants had developed a double-entry bookkeeping system, called bahi-khata, predating Pacioli's work by at least many centuries, and which was likely a direct precursor of the European adaptation.
One theory is that in its original Latin, Pacioli's Summa used the Latin words debere (to owe) and credere (to entrust) to describe the two sides of a closed accounting transaction. Assets were owed to the owner and the owners' equity was entrusted to the company. At the time negative numbers were not in use. When his work was translated, the Latin words debere and credere became the English debit and credit. Under this theory, the abbreviations Dr (for debit) and Cr (for credit) derive from the original Latin. However, Sherman casts doubt on this idea because Pacioli uses Per (Latin for "from") for the debtor and A (Latin for "to") for the creditor in the Journal entries. Sherman goes on to say that the earliest text he found that actually uses "Dr." as an abbreviation in this context was an English text, the third edition (1633) of Ralph Handson's book Analysis or Resolution of Merchant Accompts and that Handson uses Dr. as an abbreviation for the English word "debtor." (Sherman could not locate a first edition, but speculates that it too used Dr. for debtor.) The words actually used by Pacioli for the left and right sides of the Ledger are "in dare" and "in havere" (give and receive). Geijsbeek the translator suggests in the preface:
'if we today would abolish the use of the words debit and credit in the ledger and substitute the ancient terms of "shall give" and "shall have" or "shall receive", the personification of accounts in the proper way would not be difficult and, with it, bookkeeping would become more intelligent to the proprietor, the layman and the student.'
As Jackson has noted, "debtor" need not be a person, but can be an abstract operator (cf. "divisor" in math):
"...it became the practice to extend the meanings of the terms ... beyond their original personal connotation and apply them to inanimate objects and abstract conceptions..."
Aspects of transactions
To determine whether one must debit or credit a specific account we use either the accounting equation approach which consists of five accounting rules or the traditional approach based on three rules (for Real accounts, Personal accounts, and Nominal accounts) to determine whether to debit or to credit an account.
- Real accounts are the assets of a firm, which may be tangible (machinery, buildings etc.) or intangible (goodwill, patents etc.)
- Personal accounts relate to individuals, companies, creditors, banks etc.
- Nominal accounts relate to expenses, losses, incomes or gains.
Whether a debit increases or decreases an account depends on what kind of account it is. For instance, an increase in an asset account is a debit. An increase in a liability or an equity account is a credit.
|Kind of account||Debit||Credit|
The complete system is very easy to remember if you focus on Assets, Expenses, Costs, Dividends (highlighted in chart). All those account types increase with debits or left side entries. Conversely, a decrease to any of those accounts is a credit or right side entry. On the other hand, increases in revenue, liability or equity accounts are credits or right side entries, and decreases are left side entries or debits.
Debits and credits occur simultaneously in every financial transaction in double-entry bookkeeping. In the accounting equation, Assets = Liabilities + Equity, so, if an asset account increases (a debit (left)), then either another asset account must decrease (a credit (right)), or a liability or equity account must increase (a credit (right)). Note also that in the extended equation, revenues increase equity and expenses, costs & dividends decrease equity, so their difference is the impact on the equation.
For example, if a company provides a service to a customer who does not pay immediately, the company records an increase in assets, Accounts Receivable with a debit entry, and an increase in Revenue, with a credit entry. When the company receives the cash from the customer, two accounts again change on the company side, the cash account is debited (increased) and the Accounts Receivable account is now decreased (credited). When the cash is deposited to the bank account, two things also change, on the bank side: the bank records an increase in its cash account (debit) and records an increase in its liability to the customer by recording a credit in the customer's account (which is not cash). Note that, technically, the deposit is not a decrease in the cash (asset) of the company and should not be recorded as such. It is just a transfer to a proper bank account of record in the company's books, not affecting the ledger.
To make it more clear, the bank views the transaction from a different perspective but follows the same rules: the bank's vault cash (asset) increases, which is a debit; the increase in the customer's account balance (liability from the bank's perspective) is a credit. A customer's periodic bank statement generally shows transactions from the bank's perspective, with cash deposits characterized as credits (liabilities) and withdrawals as debits (reductions in liabilities) in depositor's accounts. In the company's books the exact opposite entries should be recorded to account for the same cash. This concept is important since this is why so many people misunderstand what debit/credit really means.
In summary, debits are simply transaction entries on the left-hand side of ledger accounts, and credits are entries on the right-hand side.
When dealing with one's own business, one must set up various accounts to record all transactions that may take place. When the owner of a business refers to their bank account, they are referring to the business's account, not to their personal account. In addition, all accounts referred to in bookkeeping belong to the business, not to other businesses, regardless of their title. For instance, if a business expects to receive money from another person or company and the account is labelled "Receivable A", this does not imply that the account in question belongs to "Receivable A". It is merely a recording of a current asset (a receivable) of one's own business. Therefore, when assessing any transaction, the transaction is from the point of view of one's own business or the business in question.
All accounts must first be classified as one of the five types of accounts (accounting elements). To determine how to classify an account into one of the five elements, the definitions of the five account types must be fully understood i.e. the definition of an asset according to IFRS is as follows, "An asset is a resource controlled by the entity as a result of past events from which future economic benefits are expected to flow to the entity". To understand this definition we can break it down into its constituent parts with an example:
- Example: Classify what type of account the business "Bank account" is.
- The bank account of a business is "a resource controlled by the entity" as it belongs to the business. "As a result of past events" such as the opening of the business. "From which future economic benefits are expected to flow to the entity" – a business such as a grocers can expect to make money due to the sale of their goods. This basic analogy can be applied to any asset account.
- All of the five accounting elements have their own definitions (discussed in other articles see: asset, liability, equity, income and expense) that must be fully understood in order to classify an account correctly.
A business will most often have more than one asset account. An essential asset account in any business is the business's bank account (see: "Accounts pertaining to the five accounting elements" below for more examples) The same applies to liability accounts i.e. if I have borrowed money from two sources (called creditors or payables), then I must open two accounts to represent this present liability, called 'Creditor/Payable A' and 'Creditor/Payable B'. In this manner I may have multiple, different accounts. However all these accounts are all classified as one of the five types of accounts, therefore my entire business can be described in terms of its assets, expenses, liabilities, income and equity/capital (see extended accounting equation). This is the extent of "my" business in relation to accounts, regardless of the business' practices (the business may be a retail franchise, furniture shop, restaurant, etc.). With respect to my business, each of the five accounting elements will have a monetary value, and this can be used to assess the financial position of my business at any time (my success, failure, or any other attributes that I might need to know).
Traditionally, transactions are recorded in two separate columns of numbers (known as a ledger or "T-account"): debit transactions in the left hand column and credit transactions in the right hand column. Keeping the debits and credits in separate columns allows each column to be recorded and totaled independently. Accounts within the general ledger are known colloquially as "T-accounts" due to the "T" shape that the table resembles. Each column of a ledger account lists transactions affecting that account.
The words debit and credit are both used differently depending on whether they are used in a bookkeeping (accounting) sense, or non-accounting sense.
In an accounting sense, assets are recorded on the left-hand side (debit) of asset accounts, because they are typically shown on the left-hand side of the accounting equation (A=L+SE). Likewise, an increase in liabilities and shareholder’s equity are recorded on the right-hand side (credit) of those accounts, thus they also maintain the balance of the accounting equation. In other words, if "assets are increased with left-hand entries, the accounting equation is balanced only if increases in liabilities and shareholder’s equity are recorded on the opposite or right-hand side. Conversely, decreases in assets are recorded on the right-hand side of asset accounts, and decreases in liabilities and equities are recorded on the left-hand side". Similar is the case with revenues and expenses, what increases shareholder's equity is recorded as credit because they are in the right side of equation and vice versa.
In a non-accounting sense, "debit" is:
- a sum of money taken from a bank account.
In a non-accounting sense, "credit" is
- a sum of money placed into a bank account.
- money available to spend.
- money available to borrow.
The reason why individuals see debits and credits in the above manner, is that the bank statement presented by the bank to the customer is the bank's view of the account. The bank views money in a chequing account as money the bank owes to the customer, i.e. a liability, and in the rules of accounting, an increase to a liability account is a credit. Likewise, when a bank lends money to a customer and places the money into the customer's chequing account, the bank has increased its obligation to pay that money, which is a liability, and this increase is a credit and appears in the credit column of a bank statement.
When recording numbers in accounting, a debit value is placed on the left side of a ledger for a debited account and a credit value is placed on the right side of a ledger for a credited account. A debit or a credit either increases or decreases the total balance in each account, depending on what kind of accounts they are.
Each transaction (say, of value £100) is recorded by a debit entry of £100 in one account and a credit entry of £100 in another account. When people say, "debits must equal credits" they do not mean that the two columns of any ledger account must be equal. If that were the case, every account would have a zero balance (no difference between the columns) which is often not the case. The rule that total debits equal the total credits applies when all accounts are totaled.
More than two accounts may be affected by the same transaction. A transaction for £100 can be recorded as a £100 debit in one account and as multiple credits that total £100 in other accounts.
I owe creditors A and B £100 each. Thus my liability account for Creditor A has a credit balance of £100 and the same for Creditor B.
- Cr: Creditor A (100)
- Cr: Creditor B (100)
I pay them off from my bank chequing account, which from my point of view is an asset. I withdraw £200 from my bank account and split it to pay off the two liabilities. In my records, "Creditor A" is one account, "Creditor B" is another account, and "Bank" is a third account. The following transactions affect all three-ledger accounts:
- Dr: Creditor A (100)
- Dr: Creditor B (100)
- Cr: Bank (200)
When I write two £100 cheques for a total of £200, the balance in my bank account is reduced by £200. Based on the law of accounting, a decrease in my cash asset is a credit. The total credit for my asset balance is greater than the total debit. Thus, in my records, my "Bank" ledger account has an asset credit balance, which is reduced by the credit for £200. Amounts in my records for the two creditors are liabilities, which are reduced by the two debits totaling £200.
Therefore, for this transaction, the total amount debited = 200 and the total amount credited = 200. When all three accounts are totaled, the total debits equal the total credits.
At the end of any financial period (say at the end of the quarter or the year), the total debits and the total credits for each account may be different and this difference of the two sides is called the balance. If the sum of the debit side is greater than the sum of the credit side, then the account has a "debit balance". If the sum of the credit side is greater, then the account has a "credit balance". If the two sides do equal each other (this would be a coincidence, not as a result of the laws of accounting), then we say we have a "zero balance".
Debit cards and credit cards
Debit cards and credit cards are creative terms used by the banking industry to market and identify each card. From the cardholder's point of view, a credit card account normally contains a credit balance, a debit card account normally contains a debit balance. A debit card is used to make a purchase with one's own money. A credit card is used to make a purchase by borrowing money.
From the bank's point of view, when a debit card is used to pay a merchant, the payment causes a decrease in the amount of money the bank owes to the cardholder. From the bank's point of view, your debit card account is the bank's liability. A decrease to the bank's liability account is a debit. From the bank's point of view, when a credit card is used to pay a merchant, the payment causes an increase in the amount of money the bank is owed by the cardholder. From the bank's point of view, your credit card account is the bank's asset. An increase to the bank's asset account is a debit. Hence, using a debit card or credit card causes a debit to the cardholder's account in either situation when viewed from the bank's perspective.
General ledger is the term for the comprehensive collection of T-accounts (so called because there was a pre-printed vertical line in the middle of each ledger page and a horizontal line at the top of each ledger page, like a large letter T). Before the advent of computerised accounting, manual accounting procedure used a book (known as a ledger) for each T-account. The collection of all these books was called the general ledger.
"Day Books" or journals are used to list every single transaction that took place during the day, and the list is totalled at the end of the day. These daybooks are not part of the double-entry bookkeeping system. The information recorded in these daybooks is then transferred to the general ledgers. Modern computer software now allows for the instant update of each ledger account – for example, when recording a cash receipt in a cash receipts journal a debit is posted to a cash ledger account with a corresponding credit in the ledger account for which the cash was received. Not every single transaction need be entered into a T-account. Usually only the sum of the book transactions (a batch total) for the day is entered in the general ledger.
The five accounting elements
There are five fundamental elements within accounting. These elements are as follows: Assets, Liabilities, Equity (or Capital), Income (or Revenue) and Expenses. The five accounting elements are all affected in either a positive or negative way. A credit transaction does not always dictate a positive value or increase in a transaction and similarly, a debit does not always indicate a negative value or decrease in a transaction. An asset account is often referred to as a "debit account" due to the account's standard increasing attribute on the debit side. When an asset (e.g. an espresso machine) has been acquired in a business, the transaction will affect the debit side of that asset account illustrated below:
|Debits (Dr)||Credits (Cr)|
The "X" in the debit column denotes the increasing effect of a transaction on the asset account balance (total debits less total credits), because a debit to an asset account is an increase. The asset account above has been added to by a debit value X, i.e. the balance has increased by £X or $X. Likewise, in the liability account below, the X in the credit column denotes the increasing effect on the liability account balance (total credits less total debits), because a credit to a liability account is an increase.
All "mini-ledgers" in this section show standard increasing attributes for the five elements of accounting.
|Debits (Dr)||Credits (Cr)|
|Debits (Dr)||Credits (Cr)|
|Debits (Dr)||Credits (Cr)|
|Debits (Dr)||Credits (Cr)|
Summary table of standard increasing and decreasing attributes for the five accounting elements:
Each transaction that takes place within the business will consist of at least one debit to a specific account and at least one credit to another specific account. A debit to one account can be balanced by more than one credit to other accounts, and vice versa. For all transactions, the total debits must be equal to the total credits and therefore balance.
The general accounting equation is as follows:
- Assets = Equity + Liabilities,
- A = E + L.
The equation thus becomes A – L – E = 0 (zero). When the total debts equals the total credits for each account, then the equation balances.
The extended accounting equation is as follows:
- Assets + Expenses = Equity/Capital + Liabilities + Income,
- A + Ex = E + L + I.
In this form, increases to the amount of accounts on the left-hand side of the equation are recorded as debits, and decreases as credits. Conversely for accounts on the right-hand side, increases to the amount of accounts are recorded as credits to the account, and decreases as debits.
This can also be rewritten in the equivalent form:
- Assets = Liabilities + Equity/Capital + (Income − Expenses),
- A = L + E + (I − Ex),
where the relationship of the Income and Expenses accounts to Equity and profit is a bit clearer. Here Income and Expenses are regarded as temporary or nominal accounts which pertain only to the current accounting period whereas Asset, Liability, and Equity accounts are permanent or real accounts pertaining to the lifetime of the business. The temporary accounts are closed to the Equity account at the end of the accounting period to record profit/loss for the period. Both sides of these equations must be equal (balance).
Each transaction is recorded in a ledger or "T" account, e.g. a ledger account named "Bank" that can be changed with either a debit or credit transaction.
In accounting it is acceptable to draw-up a ledger account in the following manner for representation purposes:
|Debits (Dr)||Credits (Cr)|
Accounts pertaining to the five accounting elements
Accounts are created/opened when the need arises for whatever purpose or situation the entity may have. For example, if your business is an airline company they will have to purchase airplanes, therefore even if an account is not listed below, a bookkeeper or accountant can create an account for a specific item, such as an asset account for airplanes. In order to understand how to classify an account into one of the five elements, a good understanding of the definitions of these accounts is required. Below are examples of some of the more common accounts that pertain to the five accounting elements:
Asset accounts are economic resources which benefit the business/entity and will continue to do so. They are Cash, bank, accounts receivable, inventory, land, buildings/plant, machinery, furniture, equipment, supplies, vehicles, trademarks and patents, goodwill, prepaid expenses, prepaid insurance, debtors (people who owe us money, due within one year), VAT input etc.
Two types of basic asset classification:
- Current assets: Assets which operate in a financial year or assets that can be used up, or converted within one year or less is called current assets. For example, Cash, bank, accounts receivable, inventory (people who owe us money, due within one year), prepaid expenses, prepaid insurance, VAT input and many more.
- Non-current assets: Assets that are not recorded in transactions or hold for more than one year or in an accounting period is called Non-current assets. For example, land, buildings/plant, machinery, furniture, equipment, vehicles, trademarks and patents, goodwill etc.
Liability accounts record debts or future obligations the business/entity owes to others. When an institution borrows from an institution for a period of time, in the ledger of the institution that borrows calls the argument as liability accounts.
Basic classification of liability accounts are:
- Current Liability: A person or an organization owe for the accounting period or periodical this is called current liability; such as Accounts payable, salaries and wages payable, income taxes, bank overdrafts, accrued expenses, sales taxes, advance payments (unearned revenue), debt and accrued interest on debt, customer deposits, VAT output etc.
- Long-term liability: When an organization or person may owe money for more than one year is called long-term liability. long-term liability is trust accounts, debenture, mortgage loan and many more.
Income accounts record all increases in Equity other than that contributed by the owner/s of the business/entity. Services rendered, sales, interest income, membership fees, rent income, interest from investment, recurring receivables,donation etc.
Expense accounts record all decreases in the owners' equity which occur from using the assets or increasing liabilities in delivering goods or services to a customer - the costs of doing business. Telephone, water, electricity, repairs, salaries, wages, depreciation, bad debts, stationery, entertainment, honorarium, rent, fuel, utility, interest etc.
Quick Services business purchases a computer for £500, on credit, from ABC Computers. Recognize the following transaction for Quick Services in a ledger account (T-account):
Quick Services has acquired a new computer which is classified as an asset within the business. According to the accrual basis of accounting, even though the computer has been purchased on credit, the computer is already the property of Quick Services and must be recognised as such. Therefore, the equipment account of Quick Services increases and is debited:
As the transaction for the new computer is made on credit, the payable "ABC Computers" has not yet been paid. As a result, a liability is created within the entity's records. Therefore, to balance the accounting equation the corresponding liability account is credited:
|Payable ABC Computers (Liability)|
The above example can be written in journal form:
|ABC Computers (Payable)||500|
The journal entry "ABC Computers" is indented to indicate that this is the credit transaction. It is accepted accounting practice to indent credit transactions recorded within a journal.
In the accounting equation form:
- A = E + L,
- 500 = 0 + 500 (the accounting equation is therefore balanced).
- A business pays rent with cash: You increase rent (expense) by recording a debit transaction, and decrease cash (asset) by recording a credit transaction.
- A business receives cash for a sale: You increase cash (asset) by recording a debit transaction, and increase sales (income) by recording a credit transaction.
- A business buys equipment with cash: You increase equipment (asset) by recording a debit transaction, and decrease cash (asset) by recording a credit transaction.
- A business borrows with a cash loan: You increase cash (asset) by recording a debit transaction, and increase loan (liability) by recording a credit transaction.
- A business pays salaries with cash: You increase salary (expenses) by recording a debit transaction, and decrease cash (asset) by recording a credit transaction.
- The totals show the net effect on the accounting equation and the double-entry principle, where the transactions are balanced.
|Account||Debit (Dr)||Credit (Cr)|
The process of using debits and credits creates a ledger format that resembles the letter "T". The term "T-account" is accounting jargon for a "ledger account" and is often used when discussing bookkeeping. The reason that a ledger account is often referred to as a T-account is due to the way the account is physically drawn on paper (representing a "T"). The left side (column) of the "T" for Debit (Dr) transactions and the right side (column) of the "T" for Credit (Cr) transactions.
|Debits (Dr)||Credits (Cr)|
All accounts have corresponding contra accounts depending on what transaction has taken place e.g., when a vehicle is purchased using cash, the asset account "Vehicles" is debited as the vehicle account increases, and simultaneously the asset account "Bank" is credited due to the payment for the vehicle using cash. 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 (also known as allowance for doubtful accounts) against accounts receivable. United States GAAP utilizes the term contra for specific accounts only and doesn't recognize the second half of a transaction as a contra, thus the term is restricted to accounts that are related. For example, sales returns and allowance and sales discounts are contra revenues with respect to sales, as the balance of each contra (a debit) is the opposite of sales (a credit). To understand the actual value of sales, one must net the contras against sales, which gives rise to the term net sales (meaning net of the contras).
A more specific definition in common use is an account with a balance that is the opposite of the normal balance (Dr/Cr) for that section of the general ledger. An example is an office coffee fund: Expense "Coffee" (Dr) may be immediately followed by "Coffee - employee contributions" (Cr). Such an account is used for clarity rather than being a necessary part of GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles).
Real, personal, and nominal accounts
Real accounts are assets. Personal accounts are liabilities and owners' equity and represent people and entities that have invested in the business. Nominal accounts are revenue, expenses, gains, and losses. Accountants close nominal accounts at the end of each accounting period. This method is used in the United Kingdom, where it is simply known as the Traditional approach.
Transactions are recorded by a debit to one account and a credit to another account using these three "golden rules of accounting":
- Real account: Debit what comes in and credit what goes out
- Personal account: Debit who receives and Credit who gives.
- Nominal account: Debit all expenses & losses and Credit all incomes & gains
|Personal (owner's equity)||Decrease||Increase|
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