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Cash Basis Accounting vs. Accrual Accounting

  • By Lauri Paxton
  • 20 Sep, 2013
You might have heard the terms “cash basis accounting” or “accrual accounting.”  Your net income number can change depending on which method your books are set up for.  Here’s a simple explanation of the difference.
It’s All in the Timing
Here’s how it would be done for a printer on cash basis Cash basis recording a printing purchase   both the sale and the receipt of cash would be recorded on the day it occurred.  Companies on cash basis only record the transaction when the cash is received.  But, if the printer’s books were on the accrual basis, it would be a different story:
Accrual basis recording of a printing purchase   the printing sale would be recorded on the day the customer ordered the printing.  The receipt would then be recorded on the day the customer agreed to pay for his printing.
You might be asking why a few days is such a big deal?    It can be far more than a few days from the time you do the work to the time you get paid for it.  And often, these dates span different months and even years, affecting the amount you have to pay in taxes to various agencies.  Manipulating these dates (legally, of course) is one of many tax planning strategies that we can help you with.
Choosing for Your Business
In many cases, the government has chosen which method you must use when it comes to sales tax, payroll taxes, and income tax.  That’s part of the reason we make the required adjustments to your books at year end.
To help you run your business in a forward-thinking way, the accrual method is best.  You can record invoices for work you’ve done even though you haven’t received payment yet.  You can enter bills you need to pay before you pay them to forecast cash requirements.  Using accrual accounting, you can budget for cash flow needs as well as see more accurately what your revenue and income is looking like.
For clients who remain behind in their bookkeeping and just want to catch everything up once a year, the cash basis is adequate.  However they lose out on all the good information they could have had throughout the year to run their business better.
For other businesses, a hybrid approach between cash and accrual accounting can be the most cost effective.  Regular monitoring of the balance sheet and cash flow can help businesses make informed decisions on pricing, purchasing and other day to day operating decisions.
 
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