Cash vs Accrual Accounting. Which Method Is Right For Your Business?

Cash vs Accrual Accounting


Table of Contents

Table of Contents

When it comes to accounting methods, the choice between cash vs accrual accounting is a pivotal decision for businesses of all sizes. This decision can significantly influence financial reporting, tax obligations, and overall business planning. Understanding the key differences of each method will empower you to select the one that best aligns with your company’s dynamics and financial goals.

Key takeaways:

  • Cash basis accounting recognizes revenue and expenses only when money changes hands.
  • Accrual basis accounting records revenue and expenses when transactions occur, not when the money is actually received.
  • Big companies prefer accrual accounting because it shows a more accurate view by considering account payable and account receivable.
  • The cash basis method is commonly used by sole proprietorships and small businesses.

Cash basis accounting


Cash basis accounting is a method where revenue is recorded only when cash is received, and expenses are noted only when cash is disbursed. It’s a popular choice among small businesses and sole proprietorships for financial management.

The advantages

Cash basis accounting stands out for its simplicity. It’s straightforward to set up, maintain, and comprehend, making it a preferred choice for many small businesses. This allows business owners to track their company’s cash flow efficiently, and it could be a great way to record transactions for businesses that rely solely on cash.

Cash basis accounting

The disadvantages

However, cash basis accounting does have some limitations. A primary concern is its non-compliance with the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS). Specifically, it doesn’t adhere to the matching and revenue recognition principles, which are the foundation of good accounting practices. While public companies are mandated to follow GAAP, even small businesses seeking loans are advised to comply.

Another significant drawback is that it doesn’t track accounts receivable and payable effectively. For businesses that rely heavily on these accounts, cash basis accounting might not provide an accurate financial picture – because of timing differences between cash in and cash out. Outstanding bills from vendors or invoices to customers aren’t reflected in the financial statements, which can be misleading, making a business appear more profitable than it is, especially when outstanding bills are taken into account.

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

Accrual basis accounting


Accrual basis accounting recognizes revenue when it is earned, regardless of when the payment is received. This method differs from the cash method, as it records revenue when a product or service is delivered, anticipating future payment. Similarly, expenses are recorded even before the cash is paid out for them. This method is preferably used by large companies, especially publicly traded companies for financial management.

For tax filing, choosing the cash basis is typically an option if the business’s gross receipts are less than $25 million under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

The advantages

Accrual basis accounting offers a more comprehensive view of a business’s financial standing. It considers both unpaid expenses and outstanding invoices from customers. This way, it accurately measures a business’s profitability during specific periods, giving a clearer view of its financial activities. Furthermore, it provides a detailed balance sheet that helps the company track accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory, and loans.

A significant advantage is its compliance with the GAAP and IFRS, unlike cash basis accounting.

The disadvantages

However, accrual basis accounting also has some drawbacks. Maintaining accurate books using this method can be exhausting, particularly when matching expenses. If businesses opt for a bookkeeping service, the costs might be higher for accrual basis records and time-consuming.

Accrual basis accounting

Additionally, for those who operate on a cash basis for tax purposes, relying solely on accrual accounting can lead to unexpected tax implications. While tax professionals can convert accrual statements to cash basis for tax filing, transitioning to the accrual accounting method can be challenging in process implementation.

The key difference

In a nutshell, the key difference between cash vs accrual accounting is:

  • With cash accounting: Revenue and expenses are recognized only when cash is actually received or paid. For example, if you invoice a client in January but don’t receive payment until February, the revenue is recorded in February under cash accounting.
  • With accrual accounting: Revenue and expenses are recognized when they are earned or incurred, regardless of when the cash is actually received or paid. Using the same example, if you invoice a client in January and they pay in February, the revenue is recorded in January under accrual accounting because that’s when the service was provided and the revenue was earned.

Choosing the right method for your business

The ideal accounting method for your business varies based on different factors. Typically, cash accounting suits small businesses without inventory. Conversely, larger companies and those dealing with inventory often opt for accrual basis accounting. Small businesses eyeing growth might consider starting with accrual accounting to prepare for future accounting needs.

Choosing the right method for your business

Sometimes, the nature of your business, its income, and sales type might limit your choice. The IRS mandates specific businesses to use accrual basis accounting. For instance, certain corporations must use accrual accounting if they’ve averaged over $25 million in gross receipts for the last three years. Additionally, some corporations and tax shelters, especially those dealing in credit sales, are not permitted to use cash accounting.

The bottom line

Deciding whether cash vs accrual accounting is right for your business boils down to a balance between simplicity and accuracy. Cash accounting may be the straightforward choice for smaller businesses looking for ease and direct tax alignment, but it lacks the comprehensive financial clarity that accrual accounting offers, which is essential for larger businesses and those with complex financial activities. Ultimately, your choice should support not just your current financial transactions but also your strategic financial planning and compliance requirements.

>>You may also like: Understanding Cash Flow Statements in Bookkeeping


Is accrual accounting suitable for small businesses?

Accrual accounting can be suitable for small businesses, especially for those planning growth. It offers a more comprehensive financial view but might be more complex for some small businesses.

Can I switch between cash and accrual accounting?

Certainly, businesses are allowed to switch from cash to accrual accounting or vice versa, but it’s a process that requires careful consideration due to IRS regulations. You’ll need to file Form 3115, Application for Change in Accounting Method, to request approval from the IRS.

Because switching methods can affect your taxes and how your business’s financial health is represented, it’s wise to consult with a tax professional or accountant. They can guide you through the process, help you understand the implications, and ensure that your switch is compliant with tax laws

How does each method affect tax liabilities?

Cash accounting records income and expenses when money exchanges hands, affecting tax liabilities by showing income only when received and expenses when paid. Accrual accounting records transactions when they occur, impacting tax liabilities by potentially recognizing income before it’s received or expenses before they are paid. This could alter the timing of taxable income and deductions.

How do investors and lenders view the two methods?

Investors and lenders generally prefer accrual accounting as it provides a more detailed and accurate financial picture by matching income with related expenses. Cash accounting might be considered less informative or less reliable for assessing a company’s financial performance and position.

>>People also read: What Is The Difference Between Bookkeeping And Accounting?


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