What is a T-Account?

A T-account is an informal term for a set of financial records that uses double-entry bookkeeping. The term describes the appearance of the bookkeeping entries. First, a large letter T is drawn on a page. The title of the account is then entered just above the top horizontal line, while underneath debits are listed on the left and credits are recorded on the right, separated by the vertical line of the letter T.

A T-account is also called a ledger account.

Understanding T-Account

In double-entry bookkeeping, a widespread accounting method, all financial transactions are considered to affect at least two of a company's accounts. One account will get a debit entry, while the second will get a credit entry to record each transaction that occurs. 

The credits and debits are recorded in a general ledger, where all account balances must match. The visual appearance of the ledger journal of individual accounts resembles a T-shape, hence why a ledger account is also called a T-account.

A T-account is the graphical representation of a general ledger that records a business’ transactions. It consists of the following:

  • An account title at the top horizontal line of the T
  • A debit side on the left
  • A credit side on the right

Key Takeaways

  • A T-account is an informal term for a set of financial records that use double-entry bookkeeping.
  • It is called a T-account because the bookkeeping entries are laid out in a way that resembles a T-shape.
  • The account title appears just above the T. Underneath, debits are listed on the left and credits are recorded on the right, separated by a line.
  • The T-account guides accountants on what to enter in a ledger to get an adjusting balance so that revenues equal expenses. 

Example of T-Account

If Barnes & Noble Inc. (BKS) sold $20,000 worth of books, it will debit its cash account $20,000 and credit its books or inventory account $20,000. This double-entry system shows that the company now has $20,000 more in cash and a corresponding $20,000 less in inventory on its books. The T-account will look like this:

T-Account One
Image by Julie Bang © Investopedia 2019 

T- Account Recording

For different accounts, debits and credits may translate to increases or decreases, but the debit side must always lie to the left of the T outline and the credit entries must be recorded on the right side. The major components of the balance sheetassets, liabilities and shareholders’ equity (SE)—can be reflected in a T-account after any financial transaction occurs. 

The debit entry of an asset account translates to an increase to the account, while the right side of the asset T-account represents a decrease to the account. This means that a business that receives cash, for example, will debit the asset account, but will credit the account if it pays out cash. 

The liability and shareholders’ equity (SE) in a T-account have entries on the left to reflect a decrease to the accounts and any credit signifies an increase to the accounts. A company that issues shares worth $100,000 will have its T-account show an increase in its asset account and a corresponding increase in its equity account:

T-Account Two
Image by Julie Bang © Investopedia 2019

T-accounts can also be used to record changes to the income statement, where accounts can be set up for revenues (profits) and expenses (losses) of a firm. For the revenue accounts, debit entries decrease the account, while a credit record increases the account. On the other hand, a debit increases an expense account, and a credit decreases it.

T-Account Advantages

T-accounts are commonly used to prepare adjusting entries. The matching principle in accrual accounting states that all expenses must match with revenues generated during the period. The T-account guides accountants on what to enter in a ledger to get an adjusting balance so that revenues equal expenses.

A business owner can also use T-accounts to extract information, such as the nature of a transaction that occurred on a particular day or the balance and movements of each account.