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Single entry accounting


Elsewhere on my blog, I have written a post of the basics of the double entry accounting system. I had a comment on this post asking for some more information on single entry accounting – so here it is.

The basic idea of the double entry accounting system is that information is recorded twice. The system allows any business or organisation to get a picture of its incomes, expenditures, assets, liabilities and capital at any point in time. The double entry system is encoded into all accounting software and is the basis of all financial reports of businesses.

In the double entry system, any transaction is recorded from its source all the way through to the financial statements. For example, if a supplier is paid the following happens:

  • the cheque is recorded in a “day book” – normally a cash/cheque payments book
  • the suppliers balance is updated – in a personal ledger account
  • the bank balance is updated
  • by virtue of the previous two items, the assets (bank) and liabilities (trade payables) are updated
  • the financial statements (income statement and balance sheet) are updated.

In a single entry system, some of the above is not done. The best way to explain this is by an example. When I worked in small accounting firm some years ago, most sole traders kept what were single entry records. At that time (the early 1990’s) most small sole traders kept records in a manual form –  most had no computer anyway. The records would typically comprise  a book where all purchases/expenses were recorded, a book where all payment in and out of the bank were recorded and a book where all sales were recorded. Records of things like assets – how much was owed by customers or records of vehicles for example – and liabilities – how much was owed to suppliers for example – were not kept. Using these books, it is only possible to prepare an income statement. Thus, as the double entry system is not applied in full, i.e. transactions are not recorded through ledgers in this example, then the single entry system applies.

It is not possible to say that the single entry system means that only certain specific records are kept. It’s probably better to think of the single entry system of accounting as one which does not fully use the principles of double entry, but does allow profit to be calculated. In the example above, what we did was to build up a list of the assets and liabilities, as well as the capital of the business, to allow us to prepare an income statement (profit and loss account) and statement of financial position (balance sheet).

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About martinjquinn

I am an accounting academic, accountant and author based near Dublin, Ireland.

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