Journal entries are probably the most important part of any financial accounting class. They are the language of accounting.

JE 1

This is a journal entry. It describes a transaction. The entry above tells us that on January 17, the company purchased land worth $100,000 and a building worth $225,000. The company put down $125,000 cash and took out a note with the bank for $200,000. Once you understand how journal entries are constructed, you will be able to read and write them yourself.

Debits and Credits

Debits and credits are the heart of the journal entry because they tell us if we are acquiring something or giving something up. Depending on the type of account, it will increase or decrease when it is debited or credited.

Remember the accounting equation? Assets = Liabilities + Equity. Just as we need to keep the accounting equation in balance, we must keep our debits and credit in balance. Each journal entry must contain equal debits and credits. Notice the entry above: $325,000 in debits and $325,000 in credits. In order for that to occur, each journal entry must have at least two accounts. You can never have a one line journal entry because it would not balance.

In accounting, we frequently refer to the normal balance in the account. The normal balance is a positive balance or what would need to be done to increase the balance.

JE 2

Because the accounting equation tells us that assets must equal liabilities and equity, it makes sense that the normal balance for assets is a debit and the normal balance for liabilities and equity is a credit. Remember that normal balance means positive or increasing balance. What do you do to decrease the balance of an asset? If a debit increases the balance, than a credit to the account would decrease the balance. As we saw in the example entry above when we wanted to decrease cash, we credited the account.

What about revenue and expenses? Why is revenue’s normal balance a credit while expense’s is a debit? First, let’s discuss the relation these two accounts have to equity. Retained Earnings is a major component of equity. What causes retained earnings to increase? Profit. What causes profit to increase? Revenue. If revenue increases equity, then it should act the same way that equity does. Therefore, revenue has a credit balance. Since expenses decrease profit and equity, it makes sense that the normal balance is a debit.

If you still are not sure, put revenue or expenses in a journal entry with cash. Most people who study accounting quickly learn how cash behaves in most situations. If you know how cash will behave, you can figure out the other account. When a company does work and gets paid, cash increases so we debit cash. The other account, revenue, would be the credit. When a company pays for its rent, cash decreases so we credit Cash. To balance the entry, we debit Rent Expense.

Steps for Completing Journal Entries

  1. Read the transaction to get a feel for what is happening. Do you understand what happened? Try to put it into your own words.
  2. Identify the accounts you will put in your journal entry. Identify the type of account for each account used.
  3. For each account, determine if the balance is increasing or decreasing. Then determine if that increase or decrease is a debit or credit.
  4. Determine the amount that each account is changing.


On January 4, Lisa decides to start a bookkeeping business and invests $10,000 cash and $5,000 worth of computer equipment in exchange for stock in the company.

  1. The company received cash and computer equipment in exchange for stock.
  2. Cash (asset), Computer Equipment (asset) and Common Stock (equity).
  3. Cash – increasing, debit. Computer Equipment – increasing, debit. Common Stock – Increasing, credit.
  4. Cash – $10,000. Computer Equipment – $5,000. Common Stock – $15,000

Je 3

This may seem like a lot of steps but when you are first learning how to do journal entries, it really helps to go through each of the steps as you write the entry. You don’t need to write out the answers to each of the steps as I did above, but you should do it mentally as you figure out the entry. I have had many students who will put the abbreviation for the account type next to the account name.

JE 4

If you are going to do that, I recommend using Eq for equity and Ex for expense.

When learning to do journal entries, take your time and go through the steps. Make sure to learn the accounts and what type each account is. You may want to make flash cards with the name of the account on one side and the type of account on the other. You should also learn when to use a particular account, for example, when to use Unearned Revenue instead of Revenue or Prepaid Insurance rather than Insurance Expense.

This may seem difficult at first, but if you learn the terminology and practice, you will get better at it. For most students, a lightbulb goes off in their minds somewhere in the first six weeks of the course; everything clicks and they no longer need to use the steps above. Until you have your lightbulb moment, make sure to use the steps outlined above.

Related Videos:

Basic Journal Entries Part 1

Basic Journal Entries Part 2

Share This:

What are adjusting journal entries?

The matching principle states expenses must be matched with the revenue generated during the period. The purpose of adjusting entries is to ensure that all revenue and expenses from the period are recorded. Many adjusting entries deal with balances from the balance sheet, typically assets and liabilities, that must be adjusted. In addition to ensuring that all revenue and expenses are recorded, we are also making sure that all asset and liability accounts have the proper balances. Adjusting entries are dated for the last day of the period.

When analyzing adjusting entry transactions involving assets and liabilities, remember that you are recording the change in the balance, not the new balance in the account. Ask yourself “what must I do to the account to get the adjusting balance?”

As a business goes through the normal day-to-day operations, many transactions are recorded. When work is done and the company is paid, revenue is recorded. Revenue is also recorded when invoices (accounts receivable) are created. Expenses are recorded when bills (accounts payable) are received. If the company has already recorded all those things, then what could possibly be left to do? You would be surprised!

NOTE: Cash should never appear in an adjusting entry. Most adjusting entries are done after year end and backdated to the end of the year. When cash is spent, the transactions are recorded immediately. With electronic banking, we can instantly check cash transactions. There is no reason why a business shouldn’t know about transactions affecting its cash accounts. Cash is never an account in an adjusting entry.

Unrecorded revenue

If a business has done work for a client but has not yet created an invoice, there is unrecorded revenue that must be recorded. Maybe the business just hasn’t gotten around to completing the invoice yet, or maybe the work is partially done but not completely finished. This entry looks exactly like an entry to record work that has been completed but have not yet been paid for.

Example #1

On December 31, KLI Video Production had completed $3,000 worth of work for clients which has not yet been billed.


Another type of unrecorded revenue deals with work the business was paid for before the work was completed (unearned revenue) which was completed by the end of the period. Transactions of this type can be written two different ways. We could be told how much revenue has been earned or we could be told the remaining balance in unearned revenue. Let’s look at how these transactions could be written so you can see the differences and identify which method to use.

Example #2

Unearned revenue has an unadjusted balance of $4,000. An analysis of the account shows that $2,500 of the balance has been earned.

When looking at transactions like this one, we need to determine what we are being given. You want to ask yourself if the transaction is giving you the amount of the adjustment (revenue or expense to be recorded) or the adjusted (correct) balance in the asset or liability account.  T-accounts are really helpful when doing adjusting entries because you can visualize what is happening. Here is the T-Account for unearned revenue.


We are told the account has an unadjusted balance of $4,000. Unearned revenue is a liability account and therefore the normal balance is a credit. We are told that $2,500 has been earned. Is that the new balance in the account? No, the $2,500 is the amount we need to remove from the account because it is no longer unearned. So if $2,500 is not the balance, then what is the balance? If the business has earned $2,500 of the $4,000, then the new balance is $1,500.


Now we can see the beginning balance and the ending balance in the T-account. Now, we have to determine how to get there. If we have a $4,000 credit balance and  then have a $1,500 credit balance, the balance decreased by $2,500. How do we decrease an account with a credit balance? We debit the account. The $2,500 was given in the transaction, but now we know what to do with it. If you can predict what the balance should be in the account, you can do a T-account to make sure your entry will actually do what you predicted.



The credit in the entry is fees earned (revenue) because we were told that $2,500 had been earned. When you see earned, you should always think revenue unless the transaction states the money has not yet been earned. That statement should make you think of unearned revenue because it has not been earned.

Example #3

The company had an unadjusted balance in unearned revenue of $4,000. An analysis of the account shows $1,500 is still unearned.

This transaction is worded a bit differently than the last. This transaction tells you what the ending balance in the account should be. Using a T-account in this scenario is a smart idea.

Notice, this example is exactly the same as Example #2. In order to get the balance from $4,000 credit to $1,500 credit, we need to debit unearned revenue $2,500.



Make sure to watch the wording in all adjusting entry transactions to ensure you understand what information you have.

Unrecorded Expenses

Typically, when we are looking for unrecorded expenses, we look to the balance sheet. There are two types of unrecorded expenses: those that are related to assets that have been used up or need to be adjusted and those related to unrecorded liabilities.

Assets and Expenses

The definition of an asset is something the company owns or has the right to which it can use to generate revenue. When we were recorded journal entries, we recorded transactions to various asset accounts that when used up, will generate an expense. Some of those accounts were supplies, prepaid expenses and long-term asset accounts, like equipment and buildings.

Supplies are initially recorded as an asset, but they get used up over time. Rather than record an entry every time a ream of paper or a bag of mulch is removed from storage, we do an adjusting entry at the end of the period to record the amount of supplies that have been used up. Recording an entry every time something is removed from the stockroom or garage would violate the cost-benefit constraint. At the end of the period, the company counts up what is left for supplies. The difference between the balance in the account (unadjusted) and the amount that is left (adjusted) is the value used in the journal entry.

Example #4

The balance in the supplies account at the end of the year was $5,600. A count of supplies shows that $1,400 worth of supplies are still on hand.

What does this transaction tell us? The unadjusted supplies balance is $5,600 but the adjusted balance should be $1,400. The transaction does not tell us the amount of the adjustment. That is something we will need to figure out. You may want to draw up a quick T-account to visualize the transaction.


To decrease the account balance, which is a debit balance, we need to credit the account. How much will we need to credit the account? What amount will bring the balance from $5,600 to $1,400? The difference is $4,200. So we need to credit the supplies account $4,200.


Where did the supplies go? They were used it. We call this supplies expense. Now we can write the journal entry.


Use the same methodology when doing entries involving prepaid expenses. Draw a T-account to help visualize what is happening.

Long-term assets and Expenses

When a company purchases a long-term asset, such as a vehicle to use in its business, we record the entire value of the purchase as an asset. That vehicle is used to generate revenue so shouldn’t that vehicle somehow be expensed? Yes, it should be. We call the expensing of a long-term asset depreciation. Do not confuse depreciation in accounting with how the term is used outside of accounting. Typically, we think of depreciation as a decline in market value. For example, I have heard it said many time that when you purchase a new car, it depreciates or loses 20% of its value when you drive off the lot. Depreciation in accounting has nothing to do with market value. Depreciation represents the using up of an asset to generate revenue.

The cost principle states that we must record assets at cost. In order to maintain that principle, when we record depreciation expense (which is a debit in the journal entry), we do not credit the asset directly. Instead we will use a contra account. A contra account is an account linked to another account but which has a normal balance opposite to the account it is linked to. A contra asset account would be linked to a specific asset account but would have a credit balance. For the vehicle described above, we would have a contra asset account called accumulated depreciation. This account would be linked to the vehicles account and would have a credit balance.

Some companies have one accumulated depreciation account used for all long-term assets and others have a separate accumulated depreciation account for each long-term asset account. In the next example, we will assume there is one accumulated depreciation account.

Example #5

The company calculates that the current year depreciation is $12,000.

As with all adjusting entries, we need to determine if we are being given an account balance (asset or liability) or the amount of the expense. In this case, as with all depreciation entries, we are given the amount of the expense. Therefore, there is nothing to calculate here. No T-account is needed.


For more information about long-term assets and depreciation, see the posts on long-term assets and calculating depreciation.

Adjusting Entries Involving Liabilities

Some adjusting entries involve expenses that have not yet been paid for nor has the obligation been recorded. However, in these cases an expense has been generated. Examples include unrecorded bills and unpaid wages, interest, and taxes. This is not an exhaustive list but it does cover most of the transactions you will see. These entries require the recording of an expense and a liability.

Example #6

The company received a bill for December’s utilities on January 5. The bill was for $235.

Although the bill was received in January, the utilities were used in December to generate revenue in December. The matching principle tells us that we must record the utilities expense in December.

AJE 10

Example #7

The company pays its employees every two weeks. On December 31, the employees had worked four days for which they had not been paid. The amount due to the employees was $4,300.

Are you thinking matching principle here? Our employees help us generate revenue. The wages that we pay them must be matched to the revenue they are creating. Therefore, the $4,300 must be recorded in December. The wages have not been paid so we must show a liability. The liability used in this case will be wages payable.

AJE 11

Note: Accounts payable should only be used for routine bills (utilities, supply and inventory purchases). Other short-term payables should be named based on the expense they are related to. That is why wages payable was used in this case.

Example #8

The company has a long-term note payable with Ginormic National Bank. As of December 31, $670 of interest had accrued on the loan but had not yet been paid.

Why do we have to record this? First, the interest is an expense for December even though it has not yet been paid. Second, to be accurate in our financial statements, the balance owed to the bank on December 31 includes not only the balance on the loan but also the unpaid interest. If we contact Ginormic National Bank to payoff the loan on December 31, we would need to pay the principal owed plus the $670 of interest. The interest is considered a separate payable and should not be added to the note payable.

AJE 12

Example #9

The company estimates its profit to be $42,000 for the year and is in a 35% tax bracket.

When reading this transaction, it doesn’t even sound like something we would need to record. It just sounds like a statement, but the matching principle should set off an alarm. Why are we paying income taxes? The company had a profit for the year of $42,000. Income taxes are an expense of doing business. Should the expense fall in the year that is completed or the year we are currently in? The expense is related to the year that is completed and, therefore, must be recorded as an adjusting entry.

To figure out how much to record for taxes, we need to calculate 35% of the profit, which would be $14,700 ($42,000 x 0.35). Now we can record the entry.

AJE 13

Things to Remember

Treat adjusting entries just like you would treat normal entries. Use these steps when completing adjusting journal entries.

  1. Read the transaction to determine what is going on. Is an entry required?
  2. Identify the accounts you will use in your entry. Remember, cash is never used in adjusting entries!
  3. Determine the amount. Did the transaction give you the amount to use or do you need to calculate it? T-accounts are helpful here.
  4. Determine which account(s) to debit and which account(s) to credit.

Share This:

Related pages

define asset turnoveradjusting entries depreciationschedule of costs of goods manufacturedbad debt expense is reported on the income statement aspresent value of an annuity due tabledepreciation slm methodaccounting merchandising businessoverhead cost examplecost allocation basejournal entry for prepaid rent receivedis unearned revenue credit or debitwithholdings from an employee paycheck are recorded asnotes payable adjusting entryhow to calculate direct labour costhow to compute for retained earningsbad debt expense balance sheetperiodic inventory examplestatement of retained earnings definitionaccrued expense journal entryfifo lifo accountingmanufacturing overhead rate calculatorfifo accounting calculatorwhat is contribution in marginal costingvariable expenses examplespresent value lump sum calculatorclosing ledger accountsdouble entry for prepaymenthow to calculate manufacturing overheadlifo fifo weighted averagedeclining depreciation methodjournal entries for periodic inventory systempv of ordinary annuity tablemerchandise inventory definitionvariable overhead rateunadjusted and adjusted trial balancedisposal of fixed assets in balance sheetaccrual accounting entryfixcostbank reconciliation examples problemsdoubtful accounts expensecost of goods sold per unit formuladouble declining balance depreciationequipment depreciation calculatorprepaid insurance balance sheetsalvage value depreciation calculationthe best estimate of the total monthly fixed cost iswhat is an adjusting entrywhat is absorption costing with examplesaccrual journal entryformula for calculating sales taxjanitor uniformscog accountingtransaction analysis accounting examplessales allowance journal entryhow to calculate sales tax from total amountoverhead cost rateexample of cogsbank reconciliation example with journal entriescogs percentagegross payroll vs net payrollpresent value of annuitywhat is a contribution margin ratiodifference between credited and debitedexample of ordinary annuityvariances in budgetscalculating predetermined overhead ratejournal entry to record accounts payablewhat is prepaid insurance on a balance sheetpercentage of completion method journal entriesthe adjusted trial balance contains only permanent accountssimple trial balance examplepresent value of ordinary annuity calculatortabular analysis accountingstraight line depreciation is a typical example of ajournal entry for allowance for doubtful accountswalmart inventory methodtabel annuitycalculate market value of a bondexamples of accounting journal entries