When you start a small business, one of your first financial decisions has to be whether you are going to use single or double-entry bookkeeping. If finance isn't your strong point, you're likely not looking forward to dealing with the accounting side of the business.
However, businesses have to keep a detailed accounting of their financial transactions. This process is known as bookkeeping. The survival of the business depends on the owner’s ability to establish good accounting practices.
Single-entry bookkeeping is probably only going to work for you if your business is very small and simple, with a low volume of activity. It is actually similar to keeping your own personal checkbook. You keep a record of transactions like cash, tax-deductible expenses, and taxable income when you use single-entry bookkeeping.
Single-entry bookkeeping is characterized by the fact that only one entry is made for each transaction, just like in your check register. In one column, entries are recorded as a positive or negative amount. In single-entry bookkeeping, you can actually keep a two-column ledger, one column for revenue and one for expenses. It’s still considered single-entry because there is just one line for each transaction.
This type of bookkeeping is not for large, complex companies. It does not track accounts like inventory, accounts payable, and accounts receivable. You can use single-entry bookkeeping to calculate net income, but you can’t use it to develop a balance sheet and track the asset and liability accounts. Transactions are a single entry, rather than a debit and credit made to a set of books like in double-entry bookkeeping.
Most businesses, even most small businesses, use double-entry bookkeeping for their accounting needs. Two characteristics of double-entry bookkeeping are that each account has two columns and that each transaction is located in two accounts. Two entries are made for each transaction – a debit in one account and a credit in another.
An example of a double-entry transaction would be if the company wants to pay off a creditor. The cash account would be reduced by the amount the company owes the creditor. That would be the debit. Then, the double-entry reduces the amount the business now owes to the creditor account as it has received the amount of the credit the business is extending. That is the credit.
If you want to keep track of asset and liability accounts, you want to use double-entry bookkeeping instead of single-entry. Other advantages that double-entry bookkeeping has over single-entry bookkeeping are that the owner can accurately calculate profit and loss in complex organizations, financial statements can be prepared directly from the books, and errors or fraud are easy to detect.