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Without clean financial records, you may be at risk of paying settlements or tax penalties for avoidable financial errors. You also may be able to prevent or uncover fraud from customers, vendors, or employees. Bookkeeping also saves you time. Keep in mind that this guide is meant to walk you through the basic terms, actions, and processes for bookkeeping. You should come away with a good understanding of how bookkeeping works, but this post is not a substitute for professional accounting services. And we have recommendations for small-business accounting software and services below.

A key difference between business bookkeeping and personal budgeting is in the handling of accounts. But what is an account, exactly? Rather, an account records all financial transactions of a certain type—for example, sales or payroll. Bookkeeping begins with setting up each necessary account so you can record transactions in the appropriate categories.

The table below shows some frequently used small-business accounts and their types.


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Knowing the accounts you need to track for your business is one thing; setting them up is another. Traditionally, charts of accounts were recorded in a physical book called the general ledger, or just ledger. Today, most businesses use computer software to record accounts, but the file is still referred to as the ledger.

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Here are three methods for creating a general ledger:. Or you can pay a company to manage your accounts and ledger for you. These companies are typically called outsourced accounting service providers or virtual accounting service providers because they do your bookkeeping on your behalf. Likewise, in double-entry accounting, any transaction in one account requires an equal and opposite entry in another account. This makes it challenging to produce important financial documents, such as balance sheets.

Debits and credits are recorded as journal entries in the ledger.

The debit is usually recorded first on the left , followed by the credit on the right. The type of account defines whether a transaction either debits or credits that account. To record a transaction, first determine the accounts that will be debited and credited. The transaction will affect two accounts: cash an asset account and equipment also an asset account. The last step in basic bookkeeping is to balance and close the books. When you tally up account debits and credits—often at the end of the quarter or year—the totals should match.

You have been recording journal entries to accounts as debits and credits. Follow this method to adjust the balances for each account in your ledger.

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Post corrected entries in the journal and ledger, then follow the process again until the accounts are balanced. Creating financial reports is a crucial task of bookkeepers and the bookkeeping process. Summarizing the flows of money in each account creates a picture of the financial health of the company that business owners use to make decisions about the future. Bookkeeping software helps you prepare these financial reports—many in real-time.

This can be a lifeline for small-business owners who need to make quick financial decisions based on the immediate health of their business. Read below for more details about getting help with your bookkeeping by using accounting software.

A Beginner's Tutorial to Bookkeeping

But learning ahead of time how you can make the process easier and avoid common bookkeeping mistakes can set you up for success. Learn what else to avoid—read more about common bookkeeping errors. If you need help with your small-business bookkeeping, you should hire an accountant or bookkeeper, right? Well, although there are plenty of highly trained, professional bookkeepers, the cost to hire one is too high for many small businesses. The high costs of part- and full-time bookkeepers are a key reason that many entrepreneurs turn to small-business accounting software as a solution.

These computer programs do much of the bookkeeping process for you: reconciling bank transactions, adjusting account balances, and generating financial statements. Many small-business accounting applications are super affordable too.

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Some subscriptions cost only a few dollars per month and may provide additional features like payroll processing and tax preparation. For more details, check out our reviews and recommendations for the best accounting software and apps for small business. Even the simplest accounting software requires some time, effort, and a bit of bookkeeping knowledge to manage successfully.

Sometimes called virtual accounting , these providers take on nearly all the legwork in managing your transactions, balancing your books, and creating reports. Whether you take on your small-business bookkeeping yourself or get help from an expert, understanding the basics will help you better manage your finances.

What are your bookkeeping challenges, and how are you going to take better control of your books? At Business. Often small businesses especially new ones can find the first steps of bookkeeping quite overwhelming! But really when you take a closer look its not as bad as one might think, and there are steps you can take to make it more efficient and simplify the process. Bookkeeping in a business firm is the basis of the firm's accounting system. Bookkeepers are responsible for recording and classifying the accounting transactions of the business firm and techniques involving recording those transactions.

If you are a small business owner, you either have to set up your own accounting system or you have to hire someone to set it up for you. If you are self-employed and it is a one-person business, you will do it yourself. If you are hiring staff and anticipate a lot of growth, you may hire a controller to handle your financial management and accounting. If your business is going to grow but you anticipate slow growth, you may simply hire an accountant or bookkeeper to handle the accounting system.

Where the bookkeeper records and classifies the financial transactions of the company, the accountant takes the next steps and analyzes, reviews, reports, and interprets financial information for the company. The controller is actually a company's chief accounting officer. The controller is responsible for financial and managerial accounting; in other words, responding to the firm's accounting data in an appropriate and responsible manner.

This tutorial on bookkeeping teaches you basic bookkeeping without using a computer program. Why do you need to know that since there are so many computer programs out there you can use? Have you ever heard the saying, "Garbage in, garbage out? A later tutorial will deal with using a computer program to handle bookkeeping for your business organization.

Single-Entry bookkeeping is much like keeping your check register. You record transactions as you pay bills and make deposits into your company account. It only works if yours is a small company with a low volume of transactions. If your company is of any size and complexity, you will want to set up a double-entry bookkeeping system.

Two entries, at least, are made for each transaction. A debit is made to one account, and a credit is made to another accounting. That is the key to double-entry accounting. One of the first decisions you have to make when setting up your bookkeeping system is whether or not to use a cash or accrual accounting system.

Learn the basics of accounting and bookkeeping for your small business.

If you are operating a small, one-person business from home or even a larger consulting practice from a one-person office, you might want to stick with cash accounting. If you use cash accounting, you record your transaction when cash changes hands. Cash can be anything from actual money to electronic funds transfer.


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  5. Sometimes firms start their business using cash accounting and switch to accrual accounting as they grow. If you are going to offer your customers credit or if you are going to request credit from your suppliers, then you have to use an accrual accounting system.