What is a 'Journal'

A journal is a detailed account that records all the financial transactions of a business, so that they can then be used for future reconciling and transfer to other official accounting records, such as the general ledger.

A journal states the date of a transaction, which accounts were affected and the amounts, usually in a double-entry bookkeeping method.

BREAKING DOWN 'Journal'

Journaling is an essential part of objective record-keeping and allows for concise review and records transfer later in the accounting process; journals are often reviewed as part of a trade or audit process, along with the general ledger.

A journal entry is the entry of record that details the financial transaction in a journal. When a journal entry is recorded into a company's journal, it's usually recorded using a double-entry method but can be recorded using a single-entry method of bookkeeping.

A journal is also used in the investment finance sector. For an individual investor or professional manager, a journal is a detailed record of trades occurring in the investor's own accounts, used for tax, evaluation and auditing purposes.

For accounting, however, a journal is a physical record or digital document kept as a book, spreadsheet or within accounting software like QuickBooks. When a business transaction is made, an accounting or bookkeeper enters the financial transaction as a journal entry. The expense or income affects one or more business accounts, which the journal entry details.

Double-Entry Bookkeeping

Double-entry bookkeeping is the most common form of accounting. It directly affects the way journals are kept and journal entries are recorded. Every business transaction is made up of an exchange between two accounts. This means that each journal entry is recorded with two columns.

For example, if a business owner purchases $100 of inventory for sale with cash, the accounting or bookkeeper records two transactions in a journal entry. The cash account decreases by $100, and the inventory account, an asset, increases by $100.

Single-Entry Method

Single-entry bookkeeping is rarely used in accounting and business. It is the most basic form of accounting and is set up like a checkbook in that there is only a single account used for each journal entry. It is a simple running total of cash inflows and cash outflows.

If, for example, a business owner purchases $100 of inventory with cash, the single-entry system records a $100 reduction in cash, with the total ending balance below it. It is possible to separate income and expenses into two columns so a business can track total income and total expenses, and not just the aggregate ending balance.

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