Definition of Accounts Receivable
Accounts receivable is the amount owed to a company resulting from the company providing goods and/or services on credit. The term trade receivable is also used in place of accounts receivable.
The amount that the company is owed is recorded in its general ledger account entitled Accounts Receivable. The unpaid balance in this account is reported as part of the current assets listed on the company's balance sheet.
When goods are sold on credit, the seller is likely to be an unsecured creditor of its customer. Therefore, the seller should be cautious when selling goods on credit.
Good accounting requires that an estimate should be made for any amount in Accounts Receivable that is unlikely to be collected. The estimated amount is reported as a credit balance in a contra-receivable account such as Allowance for Doubtful Accounts. This credit balance will cause the amount of accounts receivable reported on the balance sheet to be reduced. Any adjustment to the Allowance account will also affect Uncollectible Accounts Expense, which is reported on the income statement.
Example of Accounts Receivable
A manufacturer will record an account receivable when it delivers a truckload of goods to a customer on June 1 and the customer is allowed to pay in 30 days. From June 1 until the company receives the money, the company will have an account receivable (and the customer will have an account payable).