QuickMBA / Accounting / Journal Entries

Journal Entries

After a transaction occurs and a source document is generated, the transaction is analyzed and entries are made in the general journal. A journal is a chronological listing of the firm's transactions, including the amounts, accounts that are affected, and in which direction the accounts are affected. A journal entry takes the following format:

Format of a General Journal Entry

Date Accounts Debit Credit
mm/dd account to be debited xxxx.xx  
       account to be credited   xxxx.xx

In addition to this information, a journal entry may include a short notation that describes the transaction. There also may be a column for a reference number so that the transaction can be tracked through the accounting system.

The above format shows the journal entry for a single transaction. Additional transactions would be recorded in the same format directly below the first one, resulting in a time-ordered record. The journal format provides the benefit that all of the transactions are listed in chronological order, and all parts (debits and credits) of each transaction are listed together.

Because the journal is where the information from the source document first enters the accounting system, it is known as the book of original entry.

Compound Journal Entries

The format shown above has a single entry for the debit and a single entry for the credit. This type of entry is known as a simple journal entry. Sometimes, more than two accounts are affected by a transaction so more than two lines are required. Such a journal entry is know as a compound journal entry and takes the following format:

Format of a Compound General Journal Entry

Date Accounts Debit Credit
mm/dd account to be debited xxxx.xx  
       account to be credited   xxxx.xx
       account to be credited   xxxx.xx

For example, if an expense is incurred in which part of the expense is paid with cash and the remainder placed in accounts payable, then two lines would be used for the credit - one for the cash portion and one for the accounts payable portion. The total of the two credits must be equal to the debit amount.

As many accounts as are necessary can be used in this manner, and multiple accounts also can be used for the debit side if needed.

Special Journals

The general journal is the main journal for a wide range of transactions. Of these, a business usually finds itself performing some types much more frequently than others. By grouping specific types of transactions into their own special journal, the efficiency and organization of the accounting system can be improved.

Some commonly-used special journals:

  • sales journal
  • purchases journal
  • cash receipts journal
  • cash disbursements journal

While a special journal may be organized differently from the general journal, it still provides the core transaction information such as date, debits and credits, and the relevant accounts.

From Journal Entry to Ledger Posting

Once the source document is generated and the appropriate journal entry is made, the next step in the accounting cycle is to post the entry to the general ledger.

Recommended Reading

Schaum's Outline of Bookkeeping and Accounting

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