The larger the business, the greater the likelihood that that business will have a large volume of transactions that need to be recorded in and processed by the company’s accounting information system. You’ve learned that each transaction is recorded in the general journal, which is a chronological listing of transactions. In other words, transactions are recorded into the general journal as they occur. While this is correct accounting methodology, it also can create a cumbersome general journal with which to work and may make finding specific pieces of information very challenging. For example, assume customer John Smith charged an item for $100 on June 1. In the general journal, the company would record the following.
This journal entry would be followed by a journal entry for every other transaction the company had for the remainder of the period. Suppose, on June 27, Mr. Smith asked, “How much do I owe?” To answer this question, the company would need to review all of the pages of the general journal for nearly an entire month to find all of the sales transactions relating to Mr. Smith. And if Mr. Smith said, “I thought I paid part of that two weeks ago,” the company would have to go through the general journal to find all payment entries for Mr. Smith. Imagine if there were 1,000 similar credit sales transactions for the month, each one would be written in the general journal in a similar fashion, and all other transactions, such as the paying of bills, or the buying of inventory, would also be recorded, in chronological order, in the general journal. Thus, recording all transactions to the general journal makes it difficult to find the particular tidbits of information that are needed for one of our customers, Mr. Smith. The use of special journal and subsidiary ledgers can make the accounting information system more effective and allow for certain types of information to be obtained more easily.
Using General Ledger (Control) Accounts
Here is the information from the accounts payable subsidiary ledger:
What should the total be in the Accounts Payable Control Total?
Here is the information from the accounts receivable subsidiary ledger.
What should the total be in the Accounts Receivable Control Total?
Accounts Payable Control Total is: 1,362 + 4,468 + 8,167 = 13,997
Accounts Receivable Control Total is: 2,250 + 0 + 1,500 + 8,160 = 11,910
Instead of having just one general journal, companies group transactions of the same kind together and record them in special journals rather than in the general journal. This makes it easier and more efficient to find a specific type of transaction and speeds up the process of posting these transactions. In each special journal, all transactions are totaled at the end of the month, and these totals are posted to the general ledger. In addition, instead of one person entering all of the transactions in all of the journals, companies often assign a given special journal’s entries to one person. The relationship between the special journals, the general journal, and the general ledger can be seen in Figure 7.8.
Most companies have four special journals, but there can be more depending on the business needs. The four main special journals are the sales journal, purchases journal, cash disbursements journal, and cash receipts journal. These special journals were designed because some journal entries occur repeatedly. For example, selling goods for cash is always a debit to Cash and a credit to Sales recorded in the cash receipts journal. Likewise, we would record a sale of goods on credit in the sales journal, as a debit to accounts receivable and a credit to sales. Companies using a perpetual inventory system also record a second entry for a sale with a debit to cost of goods sold and a credit to inventory. You can see sample entries in Figure 7.9.
Note there is a column to enter the date the transaction took place; a column to indicate the customer to whom the transaction pertains; an invoice number that should match the number on the invoice given (in paper or electronically) to the customer; a reference box that indicates the transaction has been posted to the customer’s account and can include something as simple as a check mark or a code that links the transaction to other journals and ledgers; and the last two columns that indicate the accounts and amounts debited and credited.
Purchases of inventory on credit would be recorded in the purchases journal (Figure 7.10) with a debit to Merchandise Inventory and a credit to Accounts Payable.
Paying bills is recorded in the cash disbursements journal (Figure 7.11) and is always a debit to Accounts Payable (or another payable or expense) and a credit to Cash.
The receipt of cash from the sale of goods, as payment on accounts receivable or from other transactions, is recorded in a cash receipts journal (Figure 7.12) with a debit to cash and a credit to the source of the cash, whether that is from sales revenue, payment on an account receivable, or some other account.
Table 7.1 summarizes the typical transactions in the special journals previously illustrated.
|Sales on credit
|Accounts Receivable, Cost of Goods Sold
|Purchases on credit
|Cash Disbursements Journal
Accounts Payable, or other accounts
|Cash Receipts Journal
Sales, Accounts Receivable, or other accounts
|Any transaction not covered previously; adjusting and closing entries
How will you remember all of this? Remember, “Cash Is King,” so we consider cash transactions first. If you receive cash, regardless of the source of the transaction, and even if it is only a part of the transaction, it goes in the cash receipts journal. For example, if the company made a sale for $1,000 and the customer gave $300 in cash and promised to pay the remaining balance in the future, the entire transaction would go into the cash receipts journal, because some cash was received, even if it was only part of a transaction. You could not split this journal entry between two journals, because each transaction’s debits must equal the credits or else your journal totals will not balance at the end of the month. You might consider splitting this transaction into two separate transactions and considering it a cash sale for $300 and a sale on account for $700, but that would also be inappropriate. Although the balances in the general ledger accounts would technically be correct if you did that, this is not the right approach. Good internal control dictates that this is a single transaction, associated with one invoice number on a given date, and should be recorded in its entirety in a single journal, which in this case is the cash receipts journal. If any cash is received, even if it is only a part of the transaction, the entire transaction is entered in the cash receipts journal. For this example, the transaction entered in the cash receipts journal would have a debit to cash for $300, a debit to Accounts Receivable for $700, and a credit to Sales for $1,000.
If you pay cash (usually by writing a check), for any reason, even if it is only a part of the transaction, the entire transaction is recorded in the cash disbursements journal. For example, if the company purchased a building for $500,000 and gave a check for $100,000 as a down payment, the entire transaction would be recorded in the cash disbursements journal as a credit to cash for $100,000, a credit to mortgage payable for $400,000, and a debit to buildings for $500,000.
If the transaction does not involve cash, it will be recorded in one of the other special journals. If it is a credit sale (also known as a sale on account), it is recorded in the sales journal. If it is a credit purchase (also known as a purchase on account), it is recorded in the purchases journal. If it is none of the above, it is recorded in the general journal.
Accounting Information Systems
Let’s consider what Gearhead Outfitters’ accounting information system might look like. What information will company management find important? Likewise, what information might external users of Gearhead’s financial reports need? Do regulatory requirements dictate what Gearhead needs to track in its accounting system?
Gearhead will want to know its financial position, results of operations, and cash flows. Such data will help management make decisions about the company. Likewise, external users want this data (balance sheet, income statement, and statement of cash flows) to make decisions such as whether or not to extend credit to Gearhead.
To keep accurate records, company operations must be considered. For example, inventory is purchased, sales are made, customers are billed, cash is collected, employees work and need to be paid, and other expenses are incurred. All of these operations involve different recording processes. Inventory will require a purchases journal. Sales will require a sales journal, cash receipts journal, and accounts receivable subsidiary ledger (discussed later) journal. Payroll and other disbursements will require their own journals to accurately track transactions.
Such journals allow a company to record accounting information and generate financial statements. The data also provides management with the information needed to make sound business decisions. For example, subsidiary ledgers, such as the accounts receivable ledger, provide data about the aging and collectability of receivables. Thus, the proper design, implementation, and maintenance of the accounting information system are vital to a company’s sustainability.
What other questions can be answered through the analysis of information gathered by the accounting information system? Think in terms of the timing of inventory orders and cash flow needs. Is there nonfinancial information to extract from the accounting system? An accounting information system should provide the information needed for a business to meet its goals.
In addition to the four special journals, there are two special ledgers, the accounts receivable subsidiary ledger and the accounts payable subsidiary ledger. The accounts receivable subsidiary ledger gives details about each person who owes the company money, as shown in Figure 7.13. Each colored block represents an individual’s account and shows only the amount that person owes the company. Notice that the subsidiary ledger provides the date of the transaction and a reference column to link the transaction to the same information posted in one of the special journals (or general journal if special journals are not used)—this reference is usually a code that references the special journal such as SJ for the sales special journal, as well as the amounts owed in the debit column and the payments made in the credit column. The amounts owed by all of the individuals, as indicated in the subsidiary ledger, are added together to form the accounts receivable control total, and this should equal the Accounts Receivable balance reported in the general ledger as shown in Figure 7.14. Key points about the accounts receivable subsidiary ledger are:
- Accounts Receivable in the general ledger is the total of all of the individual account totals that are listed in the accounts receivable subsidiary ledger.
- All of the amounts owed to the company in the accounts receivable subsidiary ledger must equal the amounts in the accounts receivable general ledger account.
Subsidiary Ledger Fraud6
Subsidiary ledgers have to balance and agree with the general ledger. Accountants using QuickBooks and other accounting systems may not have to perform this step, because in these systems the subsidiary ledger updates the general ledger automatically. However, a dishonest person might manipulate accounting records by recording a smaller amount of cash receipts in the control account than is recorded on the subsidiary ledger cards. The ethical accountant must be vigilant to ensure that the ledgers remain balanced and that proper internal controls are in place to ensure the soundness of the accounting system.
The accounts payable subsidiary ledger holds the details about all of the amounts a company owes to people and/or companies. In the accounts payable subsidiary ledger, each vendor (the person or company from whom you purchased inventory or other items) has an account that shows the details of all transactions. Similar to the accounts receivable subsidiary ledger, the purchases subsidiary journal indicates the date on which a transaction took place; a reference column used in the same manner as previously described for accounts receivable subsidiary ledgers; and finally, the subsidiary ledger shows the amount charged or the amount paid. Following are the transactions for ABC Inc. and XYZ Inc. The final balance indicated on each subsidiary purchases journal shows the amount the company owes ABC and XYZ.
If the two amounts are added together, the company owes $305 in total to the two companies. The $305 is the amount that will show in the Accounts Payable general ledger account.
Using the Accounts Payable Subsidiary Ledger
Find the balance in each account in the accounts payable subsidiary ledger that follows. Note that each vendor account has a unique account number or AP No.
- 6Joseph R. Dervaes. “Accounts Receivable Fraud, Part Five: Other Accounting Manipulations.” Fraud Magazine. July/August, 2004. http://www.fraud-magazine.com/article.aspx?id=4294967822