What Is Reconciliation?

Reconciliation is an accounting process that compares two sets of records to check that figures are correct and in agreement. Reconciliation also confirms that accounts in the general ledger are consistent, accurate, and complete. However, reconciliation can also be used for personal purposes in addition to business purposes.

Account reconciliation is particularly useful for explaining the difference between two financial records or account balances. Some differences may be acceptable because of the timing of payments and deposits. Unexplained or mysterious discrepancies, however, may warn of fraud or cooking the books. Businesses and individuals may reconcile their records daily, monthly, or annually.

Key Takeaways

  • Companies use reconciliation to prevent balance sheet errors on their financial accounts, check for fraud, and to reconcile the general ledger.
  • In double-entry accounting, each transaction is posted as both a debit and a credit.
  • Individuals also may use account reconciliation to check the accuracy of their checking and credit card accounts.
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Reconciliation

Understanding Reconciliation

There is no standard way to perform an account reconciliation. However, generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) require double-entry accounting—where a transaction is entered into the general ledger in two places—and is the most prevalent tool for reconciliation.

Double-entry accounting is a useful way of reconciling accounts that helps to catch errors on either side of the entry. In double-entry accounting—which is commonly used by companies—every financial transaction is posted in two accounts, the credit account, and the debit account.

One account will receive a debit, and the other account will receive a credit. For example, when a business makes a sale, it debits either cash or accounts receivable (on the balance sheet) and credits sales revenue (on the income statement).

In the following example, Mary starts a lawn mowing company. Mary uses $2,000 that she has in savings as start-up funding for her business. She uses it to purchase a lawnmower. She then uses the lawnmower to complete her first lawn-mowing job.

Using the double-entry accounting system, she credits cash for $2,000 and debits her assets, which is the lawnmower, by the same amount. For her first job, she credits $500 in revenue and debits the same amount for accounts receivable. Both her credits and debits are reconciled and equal the same.

Account Debit  Credit
 Cash    $2,000
 Lawnmower  $2,000  
 Revenue    $500
 Accounts Receivable  $500  

In account reconciliation, debits and credits should balance out to zero.

Another way of performing a reconciliation is via the account conversion method. Here, records such as receipts or canceled checks are simply compared with the entries in the general ledger, in a manner similar to personal accounting reconciliations.

Special Considerations

It's also possible to make a double-entry journal entry that affects the balance sheet only. For example, if a business takes out a long-term loan for $10,000, the accountant would debit the cash account (an asset on the balance sheet) and credit the long-term debt account (a liability on the balance sheet).

When a business receives an invoice, it credits the amount of the invoice to accounts payable (on the balance sheet) and debits an expense (on the income statement) for the same amount. When the company pays the bill, it debits accounts payable and credits the cash account. With every transaction in the general ledger, the left (debit) and right (credit) sides of the journal entry should agree, reconciling to zero.

Types of Reconciliation

Personal Reconciliation

Periodically, many individuals reconcile their checkbooks and credit card accounts by comparing their written checks, debit card receipts, and credit card receipts with their bank and credit card statements. This type of account reconciliation makes it possible to determine whether money is being fraudulently withdrawn.

By reconciling their accounts, individuals also can make sure that financial institutions (FI) have not made any errors in their accounts, and it gives consumers an overall picture of their spending. When an account is reconciled, the statement's transactions should match the account holder's records. For a checking account, it is important to factor in pending deposits or outstanding checks.

Business Reconciliation

Companies must reconcile their accounts to prevent balance sheet errors, check for fraud, and avoid auditors' negative opinions. Companies generally perform balance sheet reconciliations each month, after the books are closed for the prior month. This type of account reconciliation involves reviewing all balance sheet accounts to make sure that transactions were appropriately booked into the correct general ledger account. It may be necessary to adjust journal entries if they were booked incorrectly.

Some reconciliations are necessary to ensure that cash inflows and outflows concur between the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement. GAAP requires that if the direct method of presenting the cash flow statement is used, the company must still reconcile cash flows to the income statement and balance sheet.

If the indirect method is used, then the cash flow from the operations section is already presented as a reconciliation of the three financial statements. Other reconciliations turn non-GAAP measures, such as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), into their GAAP-approved counterparts.

Reconciliation FAQs

What Does Reconciliation Mean?

Reconciliation is an accounting process that seeks to check two sets of records, often internal and external, to ensure that the figures are correct and in agreement.

Why Should You Reconcile Your Accounts?

Reconciling your accounts is important because it helps detect any mistakes, discrepancies, or fraud in your accounting books that could severely impact the financial health of your company. Reconciliation is a good business practice that can help the success of a business.

What Is the Reconciliation Process?

There is not a specific method that reconciliation needs to be done in, but in general, it involves comparing your internal accounts to your external accounts, such as reviewing payments and deposits, reviewing bank statements for all outflows and inflows of cash, noting charges that you have no receipts for, and ensuring that all debits match with credits and vice versa.

What Is an Example of Reconciliation?

An example of reconciliation would be the purchase of certain assets for a business used to generate revenue and ensuring that the purchase reflects correctly on both the balance sheet and the income statement. The cash used to make the purchases would be recorded as a credit in the cash account and a debit to the asset account.