What is a contra expense account?

Definition of Contra Expense Account

A contra expense account is a general ledger expense account that will intentionally have a credit balance (instead of the debit balance that is typical for an expense account). In other words, this account's credit balance is contrary to (or opposite of) the usual debit balance for an expense account.

Another description of a contra expense account is an account that reduces or offsets the amounts reported in another general ledger expense account(s).

Example of Contra Expense Account

Assume that a company uses a contra expense account to record the amounts that employees paid toward the company's health insurance costs. For instance, the company might debit its expense account 4210 Employee Health Insurance Expense when recording the insurance company's invoice of $10,000. If the company withholds $2,000 from its employees' wages to pay part of the cost of the insurance, the company will credit its contra expense account 4211 Employee Withholdings for Health Ins.

The benefit of using the contra expense account is that the company's managers can see in account 4210 the total amount that the company paid to the health insurance company. Then in account 4211 they can see the portion of the cost that was paid by the employees. The company's income statement will report the combination of the amounts in accounts 4210 and 4211 in order to show the company's actual expense of $8,000 ($10,000 minus $2,000).

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