What Is a Chart of Accounts?

You know what they say, “For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” And when it comes to accounting, taking time to get organized can save you a number of hours later … not to mention, money. That’s why you need your trusted organizational accounting tool, aka your chart of accounts (COA). What is a chart of accounts?

What is a chart of accounts?

A chart of accounts (COA) is a bookkeeping tool that lists all the accounts you record transactions in. These are also the accounts included in your general ledger. By providing an easy-to-read overview of all your business accounts, the chart of accounts shows where money is going, which can help with forecasting and cutting expenses. 

Your COA breaks down your business’s transactions into five main accounts and as many sub-accounts as you need for budgeting and tax purposes.

The five types of accounts in accounting are:

Asset accounts Liability accounts Equity accounts Income (Revenue) accounts Expense accounts Asset accounts

So, what are assets? Your assets are the tangible and intangible things you own that add value to your business. A business bank account (e.g., checking) is an example of an asset. 

You can have both current and non-current assets. Current assets are items of value you can convert to cash within one year, like accounts receivable. On the other hand, a non-current asset is a long-term asset that generally doesn’t convert into cash within one year, like a car. 

Recording transactions: Debits increase assets and credits decrease them

Liability accounts

Liability accounts reflect the debts your business owes. Loans and accounts payable are examples of liabilities you might incur. 

Your liabilities can be short-term or long-term. Short-term, or current, liabilities are debts that you expect to pay within one year, like accounts payable. Long-term, or non-current liabilities, are debts that take more than one year to pay off, like a business loan. 

Recording transactions: Credits increase liabilities and debits decrease them

Equity accounts

Your equity shows you how much your business is worth. You can find business equity by subtracting your liabilities from your assets. The more liabilities you incur, the more your equity decreases.

Recording transactions: Credits increase equity and debits decrease them

Income accounts

Business income, or revenue, is the money your business generates, either from operations (e.g., product sales) or non-operations (e.g., interest). So when your business earns money, record the transactions in your income accounts. 

Recording transactions: Credits increase income and debits decrease them

Expense accounts

Last but not least, your expense accounts are where you record your business’s expenses. Expenses are the costs you incur during operations, like advertising and payroll costs. 

Recording transactions: Debits increase expenses and credits decrease them

Chart of accounts list

Now that you know chart of accounts definition, it’s time to see how it works. When you record transactions, you add them to sub-accounts. The sub-accounts are then categorized in the five main accounts (e.g., asset account). The sub-accounts you use depend on your business. 

So, how exactly should your accounting chart of accounts look? Although the sub-accounts you use may vary, here’s an example of how you might organize your COA:

Asset accounts Checking  Savings Petty Cash Accounts Receivable Liability accounts Accounts Payable Sales Tax Collected Payroll Tax Liability  Equity account Owner’s

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