Cash Basis Accounting: What Is It and How Does It Work?

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Review by 
Hoang Tran
Ms. Frances Dang is a visionary CPA, Partner at XOATAX, and a Tax Expert for many high-net-worth clients and corporations. She specializes in both minimizing tax liabilities and driving sustainable growth. Over 7 years of dedicated service, Ms. Frances has provided personalized planning for high-net-worth clients including business owners, investors, and entrepreneurs spanning manufacturing, e-commerce, biotechnology, fintech, services, and non-profit sectors. 
Kevin Zhang renowned CPA and Tax Expert with over 15 years working in tax planning and financial optimization for individuals and large businesses. He excels in analytical abilities and innovative problem-solving, identifying tax minimization opportunities, and providing strategic recommendations to leadership teams.
Hoang Tran  is an accomplished CPA and financial advisor with over 8 years of experience. He specializes in providing tailored financial solutions, tax optimization, and strategic guidance to individuals and businesses. With a client-centric philosophy and a commitment to continuous learning, Hoang has earned a reputation as a trusted expert in personalized financial strategy. His expertise has helped businesses across diverse industries, including manufacturing, import & export, and wholesale & distribution, achieve their financial success.

Key Takeaway

  • Cash accounting is a straightforward and simple method. It records transactions only when there is a cash inflow or outflow.
  • Cash accounting is unsuitable for larger companies or companies with a lot of inventory, as it may hide their financial situation.

Cash accounting explained

The cash basis accounting, also known as cash method of accounting, involves recording transactions only when cash changes hands. This means revenues are recognized at the time cash is received, while expenses are recorded when cash is paid out. The cash method of accounting, also known as cash basis accounting, involves recording transactions only when cash changes hands.

This means revenues are recognized at the time cash is received, while expenses are recorded when cash is paid out. This approach stands in contrast to accrual accounting, where income is acknowledged when revenue is earned, and expenses are noted when liabilities are incurred, regardless of the timing of cash inflows or outflows.

Cash basis accounting is based on the principle of cash flow. Cash flow is the movement of money into and out of a business. It shows how much money a business has available to spend or invest at any given time. Cash flow can be positive or negative, depending on whether the business receives more money than it spends or vice versa.

Example: ABC Accounting Firm, operating on a cash basis accounting system, provides accounting services to its clients during the month of July. They receive payments from clients immediately upon completion of the services. On July 15th, the firm paid $500 in cash for office supplies. Under cash basis accounting, the firm records the revenue from client services on the dates cash is received and the expense for office supplies on July 15th when the cash is paid.

Cash Accounting

Who suited this type of accounting?

Cash basis accounting is considered less accurate than accrual basis accounting due to its inability to track timing differences. It is often used by small businesses, freelancers, and individuals who want to keep track of their cash flow and tax obligations. However, cash basis accounting also has some limitations and drawbacks that you should be aware of and not all entities are allowed to use cash basis accounting method.

You may be interested in Cash vs Accrual Accounting: A Comprehensive Comparison

Excluded entities.

According to the IRS, most individuals and many small businesses use the cash method of accounting. However, some entities are excluded from using this method and must use an accrual method instead. These include:

  • Corporations (other than S corporations) with average annual gross receipts exceeding $26 million for the 3 prior tax years.
  • Partnerships with a corporation (other than an S corporation) as a partner and with average annual gross receipts exceeding $26 million for the 3 prior tax years.
  • A tax shelter, certain types of farming businesses.

Benefits of cash basis accounting

  • Simplicity: Cash basis accounting is easy to understand and implement. You don’t need to deal with complex concepts such as accounts receivable, accounts payable, deferred revenue, accrued expenses. It’s straightforward and easy to use.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Cash basis accounting is less expensive than accrual accounting. You don’t need to hire an accountant or use a sophisticated accounting system to maintain your books. You can use a simple ledger or a spreadsheet to keep track of your cash transactions.

Limitation of cash basis accounting

  • Inaccuracy: Cash basis accounting does not reflect a business’s actual performance or financial position in the short term. It can distort the revenue and expense recognition by ignoring the timing of transactions.
  • Misleading: Cash basis accounting can create misleading financial statements that do not show the actual profitability or solvency of a business in the long term
  • Incompatibility: Cash basis accounting is incompatible with the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) or the international financial reporting standards (IFRS) used by most large companies, especially by publicly traded companies.
  • Cash basis accounting is also not accepted by some lenders, investors, auditors, and regulators who rely on accrual accounting to evaluate a business’s creditworthiness, profitability, and compliance.

Cash basis accounting


Cash basis accounting is an accounting system that recognizes revenues and expenses only when cash is exchanged. It is simple, cost-effective, and useful for cash flow management and tax benefits. However, it can also be inaccurate, misleading, and incompatible with accounting standards and regulations. So let our experts at Xoa Tax help.

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What if I want to change the accounting method?

You choose an accounting method when you file your first tax return. If you later want to change your accounting method, you must generally get IRS approval. See Change in Accounting Method.

How to Decide Between Cash-Basis and Accrual-Method Accounting?

Cash basis accounting records money when it comes in or goes out. Accrual-method accounting records money when it is earned or spent, even if cash does not change hands. Cash-basis accounting is easier and more suitable for small businesses that only handle cash. Accrual-method accounting is more complex but better for big businesses that have more transactions and need to follow the rules. Some businesses cannot use cash-basis accounting for taxes, and some can use both methods. To change methods, you need permission from the IRS.

>>>You may find interesting: Is Revenue A Debit Or Credit?

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