What Is an Adjusting Journal Entry?

An adjusting journal entry is an entry in a company's general ledger that occurs at the end of an accounting period to record any unrecognized income or expenses for the period. When a transaction is started in one accounting period and ended in a later period, an adjusting journal entry is required to properly account for the transaction. Adjusting journal entries can also refer to financial reporting that corrects a mistake made previously in the accounting period.

Key Takeaways

  • Adjusting journal entries are used to record transactions that have occurred but have not yet been appropriately recorded in accordance with the accrual method of accounting.
  • Adjusting journal entries are recorded in a company's general ledger at the end of an accounting period to abide by the matching and revenue recognition principles.
  • The most common types of adjusting journal entries are accruals, deferrals, and estimates.

Understanding Adjusting Journal Entries

The purpose of adjusting entries is to convert cash transactions into the accrual accounting method. Accrual accounting is based on the revenue recognition principle that seeks to recognize revenue in the period in which it was earned, rather than the period in which cash is received. As an example, assume a construction company begins construction in one period but does not invoice the customer until the work is complete in six months. The construction company will need to do an adjusting journal entry at the end of each of the months to recognize revenue for 1/6 of the amount that will be invoiced at the six-month point.

An adjusting journal entry involves an income statement account (revenue or expense) along with a balance sheet account (asset or liability). It typically relates to the balance sheet accounts for accumulated depreciation, allowance for doubtful accounts, accrued expenses, accrued income, prepaid expensesdeferred revenue, and unearned revenue. Income statement accounts that may need to be adjusted include interest expense, insurance expense, depreciation expense, and revenue. The entries are made in accordance with the matching principle to match expenses to the related revenue in the same accounting period. The adjustments made in journal entries are carried over to the general ledger which flows through to the financial statements.

In summary, adjusting journal entries are most commonly accruals, deferrals, and estimates. Accruals are revenues and expenses that have not been received or paid, respectively, and have not yet been recorded through a standard accounting transaction. Deferrals refer to revenues and expenses that have been received or paid in advance, respectively, and have been recorded, but have not yet been earned or used. Estimates are adjusting entries that record non-cash items, such as depreciation expense, allowance for doubtful accounts, or the inventory obsolescence reserve.

Not all journal entries recorded at the end of an accounting period are adjusting entries. For example, an entry to record a purchase of equipment on the last day of an accounting period is not an adjusting entry.

Example of an Adjusting Journal Entry

For example, a company that has a fiscal year ending December 31 takes out a loan from the bank on December 1. The terms of the loan indicate that interest payments are to be made every three months. In this case, the company’s first interest payment is to be made March 1. However, the company still needs to accrue interest expense for the months of December, January, and February.

Since the firm is set to release its year-end financial statements in January, an adjusting entry is needed to reflect the accrued interest expense for December. To accurately report the company’s operations and profitability, the accrued interest expense must be recorded on the December income statement, and the liability for the interest payable must be reported on the December balance sheet. The adjusting entry will debit interest expense and credit interest payable for the amount of interest from December 1 to December 31.