You’ve found the Rigits guide to understanding double-entry accounting.

This guide is designed specifically for small business owners, aiming to demystify the principles of double-entry accounting and show how they can be applied to everyday financial management.

This guide is also related to our articles on understanding journal entries in accounting, understanding owner’s equity, and how to read a balance sheet.

educational posters based on double-entry accountingHere’s what we’ll dive into

  • Overview
  • Basic Principles
  • Understanding Debits and Credits
  • Recording Transactions
  • Financial Statements

Let’s walk through the principles!

Overview of Double-Entry Accounting

Double-entry accounting is a method of bookkeeping that records each transaction in at least two accounts, ensuring that the accounting equation (Assets = Liabilities + Equity) always remains balanced. 

This method provides a comprehensive view of a business’s financial transactions by showing how each transaction affects different parts of the business.

The benefits of double-entry accounting are:

  • Accuracy: By recording each transaction in two accounts, double-entry accounting minimizes errors and provides a more accurate picture of a business’s financial health. 
  • Accountability: This system helps in tracking the source of every entry, increasing accountability and transparency in financial transactions. 
  • Compliance: Many legal and tax reporting requirements are based on the principles of double-entry accounting. 
  • Growth Management: As small businesses grow, their financial transactions become more complex. Double-entry accounting scales with the business, providing a robust framework for managing increasingly complex financial activities.

Basic Principles of Double-Entry Accounting

Double-entry accounting is a method used to keep a business’s financial records balanced and accurate. 

At its heart lies the accounting equation

Assets = Liabilities + Equity

This fundamental formula represents the relationship between what your business owns, owes, and the ownership value held by its owners.

Let’s break down these core principles to understand how every financial transaction affects your business’s books.

The Accounting Equation: Assets = Liabilities + Equity

  • Assets are what your business owns. This includes cash, inventory, property, and anything else of value.
  • Liabilities represent what your business owes to others, such as loans, mortgages, or unpaid bills.
  • Equity is the owner’s claim on the business assets after all liabilities have been deducted. It includes investments made into the business and retained earnings (profits that are not distributed to the owners but kept in the business).

This equation ensures that your business’s balance sheet always balances, showing where the business’s resources came from and how they are used.

The Concept of Debits and Credits

In double-entry accounting, every transaction affects at least two accounts: one must be debited and the other credited for the same amount. Here’s the rule of thumb:

  • Debit (Dr) entries increase assets and expenses but decrease liabilities, equity, and revenue.
  • Credit (Cr) entries do the opposite: decrease assets and expenses but increase liabilities, equity, and revenue.

Understanding which accounts to debit and credit can be simplified by remembering that the total amount debited must always equal the total amount credited in every transaction.

How Transactions Affect the Accounting Equation

Every business transaction affects the accounting equation in a way that keeps it balanced. Let’s look at a few examples:

Purchasing Inventory with Cash

Assets (inventory) increase, and assets (cash) decrease. Although this transaction affects only the assets side of the equation, it maintains the balance because one asset is exchanged for another.

Taking Out a Loan

Assets (cash) increase, and liabilities (loan payable) increase. Your business now has more cash (asset), but it also has an obligation to pay back the loan (liability).

Earning Revenue from Sales

Assets (cash or accounts receivable) increase, and equity (through retained earnings) increases. This reflects the business earning money, thus increasing its value.

Paying Off a Loan

Assets (cash) decrease, and liabilities (loan payable) decrease. The business uses cash to reduce what it owes.

In each instance, the total left side (assets) of the accounting equation matches the total right side (liabilities plus equity), keeping the books balanced.

Understanding Debits and Credits

Let’s break down what debits and credits mean and how you can determine when to use them.

Debits and Credits: The Basics

In accounting, every financial transaction affects at least two accounts due to the double-entry bookkeeping system. This system ensures accuracy and accountability by recording the source of a transaction (debit) and its destination (credit).

Debit (Dr): When you debit an account, you are increasing an asset or expense account or decreasing a liability, equity, or revenue account. Think of it as what your business acquires or spends.

Credit (Cr): Crediting an account means you’re increasing a liability, equity, or revenue account or decreasing an asset or expense account. It represents the source of the funding or value.

When to Debit or Credit an Account

  • Assets: When your business purchases an asset (like equipment or inventory), you debit the asset account because it increases. Conversely, when you sell an asset or use up supplies, you credit the asset account to indicate a decrease.
  • Liabilities: If you take out a loan, you credit the loan (liability) account because it increases what you owe. When you make a payment on that loan, you debit the liability account, reducing what you owe.
  • Equity: Contributions of capital to the business are credited because they increase equity. Withdrawals or distributions to owners are debited as they reduce equity.
  • Revenue: When your business earns income, you credit the revenue account since it increases your business’s equity. Returns or allowances will be debited to reflect a decrease in revenue.
  • Expenses: Purchasing services or goods for operations leads to debiting the expense accounts, indicating an increase in what the business consumes. Adjustments or reversals of expenses are credited.

Transactions in Double-Entry Accounting

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to record common transactions such as sales and revenue, expenses, purchases of assets, and loans and repayments, along with examples of journal entries for each.

Sales and Revenue

When you make a sale or earn revenue, you increase your assets (cash or accounts receivable) and your equity (through retained earnings or sales revenue).

Example Entry for a Cash Sale:

  • Debit Cash (Asset increases)
  • Credit Sales Revenue (Equity increases)

Example Entry for a Credit Sale:

  • Debit Accounts Receivable (Asset increases)
  • Credit Sales Revenue (Equity increases)

These entries reflect the inflow of cash or claim to cash from sales activities.


Recording expenses decreases your assets or increases your liabilities and reduces your equity (through increased expenses).

Example Entry for a Cash Expense:

  • Debit Expense Account (Expense increases, reducing Equity)
  • Credit Cash (Asset decreases)

Example Entry for an Accrued Expense:

  • Debit Expense Account (Expense increases, reducing Equity)
  • Credit Accounts Payable (Liability increases)

Each entry tracks the cost of operating activities, such as utilities, rent, or supplies.

Purchases of Assets

When purchasing an asset, you’re either exchanging one asset for another or acquiring an asset by increasing a liability.

Example Entry for Purchasing Equipment with Cash:

  • Debit Equipment (Asset increases)
  • Credit Cash (Asset decreases)

Example Entry for Purchasing Equipment on Credit:

  • Debit Equipment (Asset increases)
  • Credit Accounts Payable (Liability increases)

These entries account for the acquisition of assets that will be used in the business over time.

Loans and Repayments

Taking out a loan increases your assets (through the cash received) and your liabilities. Repaying a loan decreases both your assets and liabilities.

Example Entry for Receiving a Loan:

  • Debit Cash (Asset increases)
  • Credit Loans Payable (Liability increases)

Example Entry for Repaying a Loan:

  • Debit Loans Payable (Liability decreases)
  • Credit Cash (Asset decreases)

The first entry records the inflow of cash from borrowing, while the second tracks the reduction of debt through repayment.

Journal Entries: The Building Blocks

In practice, each of these transactions would be recorded as a journal entry in your accounting software or ledger, detailing the date of the transaction, the accounts involved, and the amounts to be debited and credited. Here’s a simplified example:

Date Account Debited Debit Amount Account Credited Credit Amount
1/3/23 Cash $1,000 Sales Revenue $1,000

Maintaining clear, accurate records of these transactions is crucial for financial reporting, analysis, and ensuring the integrity of your business’s financial statements. 

Ledgers in Double-Entry Accounting

To grasp the importance of ledgers, it’s essential to understand the distinction between journals and ledgers and the maintenance and review of the General Ledger (GL).

Ledgers summarize transactions by account, rather than by date (like journals). The ledger groups all transactions affecting a particular account together, providing a category-wise summary. 

Maintaining and Reviewing the General Ledger (GL)

The General Ledger (GL) is a master ledger that contains a summary of all the transactions recorded in various ledgers of a business. This includes

  • assets
  • liabilities
  • equity
  • revenue
  • expenses

Maintaining the GL involves regularly updating it with transactions posted in different ledgers, ensuring that it accurately reflects the financial activities of the business.

Reconciliation and Trial Balances

Reconciliation and preparing a trial balance are fundamental accounting practices that ensure the accuracy of your financial records. Let’s dive into the purpose and process of each.

Account Reconciliation

Account reconciliation is the process of comparing internal financial records against external records or actual transactions to ensure that every transaction is accounted for and accurate; highlighting any errors, discrepancies, or fraudulent activities.

The reconciliation process involves several steps:

  • Gather Documents: Collect all relevant financial records, including bank statements, receipts, and ledger entries.
  • Compare Records: Match each transaction in your internal records with its corresponding entry in the external records.
  • Identify Discrepancies: Note any differences between the two sets of records. This could be due to timing differences, errors in recording transactions, or unauthorized transactions.
  • Investigate and Resolve: For each discrepancy, investigate to find the reason behind it. Once identified, make the necessary adjustments in your records to correct the error or note the timing difference for future reconciliation.

Regular reconciliation of all accounts helps maintain accurate financial records, crucial for effective financial management and planning.

Preparing a Trial Balance

A trial balance is a report that lists the balances of all ledger accounts at a certain point in time. It verifies that the total debits equal the total credits in the accounting system following the double-entry principle. 

To prepare a trial balance

  • List Accounts: Start by listing all accounts in the ledger, including their account numbers and names.
  • Record Balances: Next to each account, record the balance as of the trial balance date. Debit balances are listed in one column, and credit balances in another.
  • Calculate Totals: Sum both the debit and credit columns.
  • Verify: The total debits should equal the total credits. If they do, it suggests that the ledger accounts are mathematically balanced.

Double-Entry Accounting & Your Financial Statements

Double-entry accounting is the backbone that supports the integrity of your financial statements. Each transaction is recorded in such a way that the total debits equal the total credits, maintaining the balance. 

In essence, double-entry accounting not only keeps your financial records straight but also provides a foundation for your financial statements. Your Balance Sheet, Profit & Loss, Cash Flow Statement and even AR reports are all made up of your ledgers and journals.

Common Errors in Double-Entry Accounting

  1. Misclassification of Accounts: A frequent error is categorizing expenses or revenues incorrectly. For instance, classifying a long-term asset purchase as an expense affects both your income statement and balance sheet inaccurately.
  2. Omitting Transactions: It’s easy to overlook small transactions, but every penny counts. Failing to record a transaction, like a minor expense or a petty cash purchase, can throw off your accounts.
  3. Transposition Errors: Mixing up numbers, such as entering $530 as $350, might seem minor but can lead to significant discrepancies over time.
  4. Double Counting Income or Expenses: Recording the same transaction more than once can inflate your income or expenses, giving a distorted view of your financial health.

Tips for Avoiding These Mistakes

  1. Streamline Transaction Recording: Implement a routine for recording transactions as they occur. Utilize accounting software to automate and simplify this process.
  2. Understand Account Classifications: Spend time learning about different account types and their classifications in your accounting system. 
  3. Reconcile Regularly: Make it a habit to reconcile your accounts regularly with bank statements and other financial documents. 
  4. Use a Checklist: Develop a closing checklist for the end of each month and year. This should include verifying all transactions are recorded, accounts are correctly classified, and balances match your records.
  5. Train Your Team: If you have a team handling financial transactions, ensure they are well-trained in double-entry accounting principles and your business’s accounting software.


Double-entry accounting is the building blocks of your financial statements. When you understand how every transaction creates an equal transaction on either the asset or liability + equity side, your financial statements should be much clearer. 

Kudos to you for expanding your accounting knowledge!

Next, check out our articles on modified cash basis accounting, 10 best peo companies in 2024, and 13 reasons why bookkeeping is important.

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FAQ: Double-Entry Accounting

Here's some answers to commonly asked questions about double-entry accounting.

What is double-entry accounting?

Double-entry accounting is a method of bookkeeping that records each financial transaction twice, once as a debit and once as a credit, to two different accounts. This ensures the accounting equation (Assets = Liabilities + Equity) always remains balanced, providing a comprehensive view of a business’s financial transactions. 

How do debits and credits work?

In double-entry accounting, every transaction affects at least two accounts: one account is debited, and another is credited, for the same amount. Debits and credits maintain the balance of the accounting equation. Debits (Dr) increase assets and expenses but decrease liabilities, equity, and revenue. Credits (Cr), on the other hand, decrease assets and expenses but increase liabilities, equity, and revenue.

What are ledgers?

Ledgers are like the main books for a business’s finances. They keep track of all the money coming in and going out, and they sort this information into different categories, like what the business owns (assets), what it owes (liabilities), its income, and its spending.

There’s a big ledger called the general ledger that has everything in it. There are also smaller ledgers that focus on specific things, like who owes the business money or to whom the business owes money.