Understanding debits and credits helps you keep track of every money move in two ways: one account gets debited and another gets credited. This helps you catch mistakes, keep your financial records straight, and understand where your money is going.

This guide will help you understand the basics of debits and credits, which accounts a debit or credit balance applies to, and practical uses of the principle in accounting.

This guide is also related to our articles on understanding journal entries in accounting, double-entry accounting: the basics, and 14 common accounting errors and how to avoid them

The concept of debits and credits.This list includes:

  • Double-entry accounting system
  • Debits and credits in accounting
  • Balancing the accounting equation
  • Debits and credits examples
  • Debits and credits on financial statements

Let’s dive in!

The basics of debits and credits

Following are the basic concepts of debits and credits in accounting:

Definition of debits and credits

Debits and credits are essential tools in accounting that track the movement of money within a business. Debits represent increases in assets or expenses and decreases in liabilities or equity, like when you buy inventory or pay for services. Credits indicate increases in liabilities or equity and decreases in assets or expenses, such as taking out a loan or receiving payment from a customer. Together, debits and credits ensure that financial transactions are accurately recorded and balanced.

The double-entry accounting system

This two-sided approach is what we call the double-entry accounting system. This system ensures that every dollar going out has a corresponding dollar coming in, keeping the books in balance. The double-entry system provides a clear and structured way to track financial transactions.

Visual representation: T-accounts

To visualize how debits and credits work, accountants use T-accounts. Named for their T shape, debits are entered on the left side and credits on the right side. T-accounts are used for illustrative purposes and help accountants and business owners understand the impact of transactions on individual accounts within the double-entry accounting system.

Understanding the accounting equation

The accounting equation is a simple but powerful tool that represents the relationship between your business assets, liabilities, and equity. Assets are what your business owns, liabilities are what it owes, and equity is the owner’s share in the business. The equation keeps everything in balance: Assets = Liabilities + Equity.

Examples of common transactions and their impact on the accounting equation

  • Purchasing inventory with cash: When you buy inventory, your assets (inventory) increase, but your assets (cash) decrease. The total assets don’t change, keeping the equation balanced.
  • Taking out a loan to purchase equipment: This transaction increases both your assets (equipment) and your liabilities (loan). Your total assets go up, but so do your liabilities.
  • Earning revenue from sales: Earning revenue increases your assets (cash or accounts receivable) and your equity (through retained earnings). Both sides of the equation increase.
  • Paying off a loan: Paying off a loan decreases your liabilities (the loan) and your assets (cash).
  • Investing more cash into the business: When you, as the owner, invest more cash, your assets (cash) increase, and your equity (owner’s equity) also increases.

By understanding the flow of debits and credits through these transactions you’re ensuring that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction in your books.

Debits and credits in practice

Here’s a breakdown of how these entries affect various accounts:

Asset accounts

  • Debits: Increase asset accounts. When you buy equipment or stock up on inventory, you’re adding value to your business.
  • Credits: Decrease asset accounts. Paying bills or buying something on credit reduces your assets.

Liability accounts

  • Debits: Decrease liability accounts. Paying down a loan reduces what you owe.
  • Credits: Increase liability accounts. Taking out a new loan or purchasing with a credit card increases your liabilities.

Equity accounts

  • Debits: Decrease equity accounts. Drawing funds for personal use decreases your ownership value.
  • Credits: Increase equity accounts. Investing more money or earning profits boosts your stake in the business.

Expense accounts

  • Debits: Increase expense accounts. Buying supplies or paying rent for your office space increases your expenses.
  • Credits: Decrease expense accounts. Returns or refunds on things you’ve bought for the business lower your expenses.

Revenue accounts

  • Debits: Decrease revenue accounts. Issuing a refund to a customer lowers your revenue.
  • Credits: Increase revenue accounts. Making a sale or earning a fee for services increases your business income.

Practical examples: Recording common business transactions

  • Purchasing inventory: Debit your inventory account to show an increase in assets, and credit your cash or bank account to reflect the payment.
  • Paying off a loan: Debit your loan account to decrease your liabilities, and credit your bank account to show the outflow of cash.
  • Earning revenue from services: Credit your revenue account to increase income, and debit your cash or accounts receivable to show the inflow of funds.

By mastering the application of debits and credits across different accounts you maintain a healthy balance sheet and support sustainable growth.

Advanced concepts and applications

Accrual versus cash accounting, and preparing financial statements are more complex aspects of accounting.

Let’s dive into these concepts:

Debits and credits in accrual vs. cash accounting

  • Accrual accounting: Records transactions when they occur, regardless of when cash is exchanged. This means you debit or credit accounts as you earn revenue or incur expenses, not necessarily when money changes hands.
  • Cash accounting: Records transactions only when cash is received or paid. Here, you debit or credit your accounts based on actual cash flow. While simpler, it might not always give the full picture of your financial health like accrual accounting does.

The role of debits and credits in financial statement preparation

Understanding how to prepare key financial statements using debits and credits can give you insights into your business’s financial health.

  • Balance sheet: Reflects your business’s assets, liabilities, and equity at a certain point in time, providing a snapshot of your financial position. Debits and credits help ensure that the equation (Assets = Liabilities + Equity) always balances.
  • Income statement: Shows your revenue and expenses over a range of time. Debits increase expenses and decrease revenue, while credits do the opposite. This statement highlights the profitability of your business.
  • Statement of cash flows: Complements the income statement and balance sheet by providing a comprehensive view of a company’s cash position and cash flow activities.

Impact of debits and credits on financial analysis and decision-making

  1. Accuracy: Proper use of debits and credits ensures accuracy in your financial statements, which is vital for analyzing your business’s financial health.
  2. Insights: By accurately recording transactions, you can glean insights from your financial statements about profitability, liquidity, and solvency.
  3. Risk Assessment: By analyzing debits and credits, businesses can identify potential financial risks, such as cash flow problems, excessive debt levels, or irregularities in financial transactions. This risk assessment enables proactive risk management strategies to mitigate potential threats and ensure financial stability.
  4. Strategic decisions: Understanding the financial impact of different transactions helps in making informed, strategic business decisions. For example, you can better manage cash flow, evaluate investment opportunities, and plan for growth.

These advanced applications of debits and credits are about providing you with the tools to analyze your business’s performance, identify trends, and make decisions that align with your long-term goals.


Knowing how debits and credits work is important for understanding your business’s money situation clearly. It helps you make and review financial reports accurately. This knowledge is crucial for a business to succeed. Clear and trustworthy financial reports also make investors more likely to support the business as it grows.

Next, check out our articles on how to calculate burn rate, 15 accounting statistics and trends to know, and bank reconciliation example: step by step.

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FAQ: Understanding Debits and Credits

Here's some answers to commonly asked questions about Understanding Debits and Credits.

What are debits and credits in accounting?

In accounting, debits and credits are entries that record financial transactions in the double-entry accounting system. Every transaction affects two accounts: one is debited and the other is credited. A debit is an entry that increases assets or expenses and decreases liabilities, equity or revenues. Conversely, a credit entry increases liabilities or revenues and decreases assets or expenses. Together, debits and credits ensure that the accounting equation remains balanced and accurately reflects the financial state of a business.

How do debits and credits affect the accounting equation?

The accounting equation (Assets = Liabilities + Equity) forms the foundation of the double-entry accounting system. Debits and credits maintain the balance of this equation. The dual entry of each transaction—one account debited and another credited—ensures that the total assets always equal the sum of liabilities and equity, thereby keeping the company’s financial statements balanced and accurate.

Why is it important to understand debits and credits in accounting?

Knowing how debits and credits work helps you manage your business’s money, debts, and ownership details better. It makes your financial reports clear and supports careful planning. This helps your business keep its finances accurate and stable, and grow in a steady way.