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Accounting cycle:
The 9-step accounting process

Checked for updates, April 2022.

What is accounting cycle?

The accounting cycle, also commonly referred to as accounting process, is a series of procedures in the collection, processing, and communication of financial information. It involves specific steps in recording, classifying, summarizing, and interpreting transactions and events of a business entity.

Steps in the Accounting Cycle

Accountants first need to gather information about business transactions, then record and collate them to come up with values to be reported (steps 1-6 in the accounting cycle). Financial information is ultimately presented in reports called financial statements (step 7).

The process nonetheless does not end with the presentation of financial statements. Subsequent steps are necessary to prepare the accounts for the next accounting period (steps 8-9).

Let's take a look at each step.

1. Identify and Analyze Business Transactions

The accounting process starts with identifying and analyzing business transactions and events. Not all transactions and events are entered into the accounting system. Only those that pertain to the business entity are recorded.

For example, a personal loan made by a business owner that does not have anything to do with the business shall not be recorded in the books of the business. When the owner buy a personal car, it should also not be recorded as an asset of the business. Always watch for the separation of personal and business transactions.

Business transactions identified are then analyzed to determine the accounts affected and the amounts to be recorded.

Also, this step would involve the preparation or collection of business documents, or as auditors would call them – source documents. A business document (such as sales invoice, official receipt, etc.) provides evidence that a particular transaction happened, and serves as basis in recording the transaction.

2. Record in the Journal

A journal is a book – paper or electronic – wherein transactions are recorded. Journals are also known as Books of Original Entry.

Business transactions are usually recorded using the double-entry bookkeeping system. They are recorded in journal entries under at least two accounts (at least one debited and at least one credited). Transactions are recorded chronologically, as they occur.

To simplify the recording process, special journals are often used for transactions that recur frequently, such as sales, purchases, cash receipts, and cash disbursements. And, a general journal is used to record all those that do not fit in the special journals.

3. Post to the Ledger

Also known as Books of Final Entry, the ledger is a collection of accounts and shows the changes made to each account from past transactions recorded. It also shows their current balances.

Simply put, the ledger collates all records made to specific accounts. For example, all journal entry records made to "Cash" are posted into the Cash account in the ledger. After posting is complete, we will be able to see all increases and decreases in Cash; and from that, we can determine the remaining balance.

4. Prepare an Unadjusted Trial Balance

A trial balance is prepared to test the equality of the debits and credits. All account balances are extracted from the ledger and arranged in one report. Afterwards, all debit balances are added. All credit balances are also added. Total debits should be equal to total credits.

When errors are discovered, correcting entries are made to rectify them or reverse their effect. Take note however that the purpose of a trial balance is only test the equality of total debits and total credits. It does not provide complete assurance that the accounting records are correct and accurate.

Some errors could exist even if debits are equal to credits, such as double posting or failure to record a transaction.

5. Adjusting Entries

Adjusting entries are prepared as an application of the accrual concept of accounting. At the end of the accounting period, some expenses may have been incurred but not yet recorded in the journals. Some income may have been earned but not entered in the books.

Adjusting entries are prepared to update the accounts before they are summarized in the financial statements.

Adjusting entries are made for accrual of income, accrual of expenses, deferrals (income method or liability method), prepayments (asset method or expense method), depreciation, and allowances.

6. Adjusted Trial Balance

An adjusted trial balance may be prepared after adjusting entries are made and before the financial statements are prepared. This is to test if the debits are equal to credits after adjusting entries are made.

7. Financial Statements

When the accounts are already up-to-date and equality between the debits and credits have been tested, the financial statements can now be prepared. The financial statements are the end-products of an accounting system.

A complete set of financial statements is made up of: (1) Statement of Comprehensive Income (Income Statement and Other Comprehensive Income), (2) Statement of Changes in Equity, (3) Statement of Financial Position or Balance Sheet, (4) Statement of Cash Flows, and (5) Notes to Financial Statements.

8. Closing Entries

Temporary or nominal accounts, i.e. income statement accounts, are closed to prepare the system for the next accounting period. Temporary accounts include income, expense, and withdrawal accounts. These items are measured periodically, hence need to be closed to have a "fresh slate" for the next accounting period.

The accounts are closed to a summary account (usually, Income Summary) and then closed further to the capital account. Again, take note that closing entries are made only for temporary accounts. Real or permanent accounts, i.e. balance sheet accounts, are not closed.

9. Post-Closing Trial Balance

In the accounting cycle, the last step is to prepare a post-closing trial balance. It is prepared to test the equality of debits and credits after closing entries are made. Since temporary accounts are already closed at this point, the post-closing trial balance contains real accounts only.

10. Reversing Entries: Optional step at the beginning of the new accounting period

Reversing entries are optional. They are prepared at the beginning of the new accounting period to facilitate a smoother and more consistent recording process, especially if the company uses a cash-basis accounting system.

In this step, the adjusting entries made for accrual of income, accrual of expenses, deferrals under the income method, and prepayments under the expense method are reversed.

Author's Notes: So there you have the nine steps in the accounting cycle. We will fully illustrate these steps as we continue with the next chapters and lessons in this course.

Key Takeaways

The accounting cycle involves:

  1. Identifying and analyzing business transactions
  2. Recording in the journal
  3. Posting to the ledger
  4. Unadjusted trial balance
  5. Adjusting entries
  6. Adjusted trial balance
  7. Financial statements
  8. Closing entries
  9. Post-closing trial balance

An optional step at the beginning of the next accounting period is to record and post reversing entries.

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