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What is 'Accounting'

Accounting is the systematic and comprehensive recording of financial transactions pertaining to a business. Accounting also refers to the process of summarizing, analyzing and reporting these transactions to oversight agencies, regulators and tax collection entities. The financial statements that summarize a large company's operations, financial position and cash flows over a particular period are a concise summary of hundreds of thousands of financial transactions it may have entered into over this period.

Breaking Down 'Accounting'

Accounting is one of the key functions for almost any business. It may be handled by a bookkeeper or an accountant at a small firm, or by sizable finance departments with dozens of employees at larger companies. The reports generated by various streams of accounting, such as cost accounting and management accounting, are invaluable in helping management make informed business decisions. While basic accounting functions can be handled by a bookkeeper, advanced accounting is typically handled by qualified accountants who possess designations such as Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the United States, or Chartered Accountant (CA), Certified General Accountant (CGA) or Certified Management Accountant (CMA) in Canada.

Accounting: Creating Financial Statements

The financial statements that summarize a large company's operations, financial position and cash flows over a particular period are concise statements based on thousands of financial transactions. As a result, all accounting designations are the culmination of years of study and rigorous examinations combined with a minimum number of years of practical accounting experience.

Accounting: Generally Accepted Accounting Principles

In most cases, accountants use generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) when preparing financial statements. GAAP is a set of standards related to balance sheet identification, outstanding share measurements and other accounting issues, and its standards are based on double-entry accounting, a method which enters each expense or incoming revenue in two places on a company's balance sheet.

Accounting: Example of Double Entry Accounting

To illustrate double-entry accounting, imagine a business issues an invoice to one of its clients. An accountant using the double-entry method enters a credit under the accounts receivables column and a debit under the balance sheet's revenue column. When the client pays the invoice, the accountant debits accounts receivables and credits revenue. Double-entry accounting is also called balancing the books, as all of the accounting entries are balanced against each other. If the entries aren't balanced, the accountant knows there must be a mistake somewhere in the ledger.

Accounting: Financial Accounting vs. Management Accounting

Financial accounting refers to the processes accountants use to generate the annual accounting statements of a firm. Management accounting uses much of the same processes but utilizes information in different ways. Namely, in management accounting, an accountant generates monthly or quarterly reports that a business's management team can use to make decisions about how the business operates.

Accounting: Financial Accounting vs. Cost Accounting

Just as management accounting helps businesses make decisions about management, cost accounting helps businesses make decisions about costing. Essentially, cost accounting considers all of the costs related to producing a product. Analysts, managers, business owners and accountants use this information to determine what their products should cost. In cost accounting, money is cast as an economic factor in production, whereas in financial accounting, money is considered to be a measure of a company's economic performance.

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