Introduction to Accounting Basics

This explanation of accounting basics will introduce you to some basic accounting principles, accounting concepts, and accounting terminology. Once you become familiar with some of these terms and concepts, you will feel comfortable navigating through the explanations, quizzes, puzzles, and other features of AccountingCoach.com. (In AccountingCoach PRO you will also find videos, visual tutorials, exam questions, and forms to assist you.)

Some of the basic accounting terms that you will learn include revenues, expenses, assets, liabilities, income statement, balance sheet, and statement of cash flows. You will become familiar with accounting debits and credits as we show you how to record transactions. You will also see why two basic accounting principles, the revenue recognition principle and the matching principle, assure that a company's income statement reports a company's profitability.

In this explanation of accounting basics, and throughout all of the free materials and the PRO materials—we will often omit some accounting details and complexities in order to present clear and concise explanations. This means that you should always seek professional advice for your specific circumstances.

A Story for Relating to Accounting Basics

We will present the basics of accounting through a story of a person starting a new business. The person is Joe Perez–a savvy man who sees the need for a parcel delivery service in his community. Joe has researched his idea and has prepared a business plan that documents the viability of his new business.

Joe has also met with an attorney to discuss the form of business he should use. Given his specific situation, they concluded that a corporation will be best. Joe decides that the name for his corporation will be Direct Delivery, Inc. The attorney also advises Joe on the various permits and government identification numbers that will be needed for the new corporation.

Joe is a hard worker and a smart man, but admits he is not comfortable with matters of accounting. He assumes he will use some accounting software, but wants to meet with a professional accountant before making his selection. He asks his banker to recommend a professional accountant who is also skilled in explaining accounting to someone without an accounting background. Joe wants to understand the financial statements and wants to keep on top of his new business. His banker recommends Marilyn, an accountant who has helped many of the bank's small business customers.

Note: To learn about the roles of accountants and CPAs visit our free Accounting Career Center.

At his first meeting with Marilyn, Joe asks her for an overview of accounting, financial statements, and the need for accounting software. Based on Joe's business plan, Marilyn sees that there will likely be thousands of transactions each year. She states that accounting software will allow for the electronic recording, storing, and retrieval of those many transactions. Accounting software will permit Joe to generate the financial statements and other reports that he will need for running his business.

Joe seems puzzled by the term transaction, so Marilyn gives him five examples of transactions that Direct Delivery, Inc. will need to record:

  1. Joe will no doubt start his business by putting some of his own personal money into it. In effect, he is buying shares of Direct Delivery's common stock.
  2. Direct Delivery will need to buy a sturdy, dependable delivery vehicle.
  3. The business will begin earning fees and billing clients for delivering their parcels.
  4. The business will be collecting the fees that were earned.
  5. The business will incur expenses in operating the business, such as a salary for Joe, expenses associated with the delivery vehicle, advertising, etc.

With thousands of such transactions in a given year, Joe is smart to start using accounting software right from the beginning. Accounting software will generate sales invoices and accounting entries simultaneously, prepare statements for customers with no additional work, write checks, automatically update accounting records, etc.

By getting into the habit of entering all of the day's business transactions into his computer, Joe will be rewarded with fast and easy access to the specific information he will need to make sound business decisions. Marilyn tells Joe that accounting's "transaction approach" is useful, reliable, and informative. She has worked with other small business owners who think it is enough to simply "know" their company made $30,000 during the year (based only on the fact that it owns $30,000 more than it did on January 1). Those are the people who start off on the wrong foot and end up in Marilyn's office looking for financial advice.

If Joe enters all of Direct Delivery's transactions into his computer, good accounting software will allow Joe to print out his financial statements with a click of a button. In Parts 2 through 7 Marilyn will explain the content and purpose of the three main financial statements:

  1. Income Statement
  2. Balance Sheet
  3. Statement of Cash Flows