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What is retained earnings?

Author:
Harold Averkamp, CPA, MBA

Definition of Retained Earnings

Retained earnings is the cumulative amount of earnings since the corporation was formed minus the cumulative amount of dividends that were declared. Retained earnings is the corporation’s past earnings that have not been distributed as dividends to its stockholders.

Are Retained Earnings an Asset?

The amount of a corporation’s retained earnings is reported as a separate line within the stockholders’ equity section of the balance sheet. However, the past earnings that have not been distributed as dividends to the stockholders will likely be reinvested in additional income-producing assets or used to reduce the corporation’s liabilities.

Where do Retained Earnings Come From?

At the end of an accounting year, the balances in a corporation’s revenue, gain, expense, and loss accounts are used to compute the year’s net income. Those account balances are then transferred to the Retained Earnings account. When the year’s revenues and gains exceed the expenses and losses, the corporation will have a positive net income which causes the balance in the Retained Earnings account to increase. (If the corporation’s revenues and gains for the year are less than the expenses and losses, the result is a net loss that reduces the normal credit balance in the Retained Earnings account.) The balance in the Retained Earnings account is also decreased when the corporation declares a cash dividend.

What is the Normal Balance in the Retained Earnings Account?

The normal balance in a profitable corporation’s Retained Earnings account is a credit balance. This is logical since the revenue accounts have credit balances and expense accounts have debit balances. If the balance in the Retained Earnings account has a debit balance, this negative amount of retained earnings may be described as deficit or accumulated deficit.

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About the Author

Harold Averkamp

For the past 52 years, Harold Averkamp (CPA, MBA) has
worked as an accounting supervisor, manager, consultant, university instructor, and innovator in teaching accounting online. He is the sole author of all the materials on AccountingCoach.com.

Learn More About Harold

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