What is Accrual Accounting?

Accrual accounting is an accounting method that records revenues and expenses when they are earned or incurred, regardless of when cash is exchanged. This contrasts with cash basis accounting, which records transactions only when cash is received or paid.


Here’s how accrual accounting works:

  1. Revenue Recognition: Under accrual accounting, revenue is recognized when it is earned, regardless of when payment is received. Revenue is considered earned when goods are delivered or services are performed, and the customer is obligated to pay. For example, if a company provides consulting services in January but doesn’t receive payment until February, the revenue is recognized in January when the services are performed.
  2. Expense Recognition: Expenses are recognized when they are incurred, regardless of when payment is made. This means that expenses are recorded in the period in which they contribute to generating revenue, rather than when the cash is actually paid. For example, if a company purchases supplies on credit in January but doesn’t pay for them until February, the expense is recognized in January when the supplies are received.
  3. Accruals and Deferrals: Accrual accounting also involves the use of accruals and deferrals to ensure that revenues and expenses are matched with the periods in which they are earned or incurred. Accruals involve recognizing revenue or expenses before cash is received or paid, while deferrals involve recognizing revenue or expenses after cash is received or paid.
  4. Adjusting Entries: At the end of each accounting period, adjusting entries are made to record any accrued revenues or expenses that have been earned or incurred but not yet recorded. These adjustments ensure that the financial statements accurately reflect the company’s financial position and performance for the period.
  5. Accrual Basis Financial Statements: Accrual accounting produces financial statements, including the income statement, balance sheet, and statement of cash flows, based on accrual basis accounting principles. These financial statements provide a more accurate representation of a company’s financial performance and position compared to cash basis financial statements.


Accrual accounting is widely used by businesses, particularly those with complex operations or long-term contracts, as it provides a more accurate picture of financial performance and helps to match revenues and expenses with the periods in which they occur. It is also required for publicly traded companies and generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in many jurisdictions.

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