Inventory is an asset and as such, it belongs on your statement of assets and liabilities. Because assets do not appear on the profit and loss statement, the mechanics involved in inventory account can be confusing. If proper accounting steps are followed, inventory does affect your profit or loss. It just does so in a somewhat roundabout way.

Inventory Purchases

When you purchase items for inventory, the transaction will affect your balance sheet, the financial statement that provides a snapshot of your company’s worth based on its assets and liabilities. You record the value of the inventory; the offsetting entry is either cash or accounts payable, depending on the method you used to purchase the goods. At this point, you have not affected your profit and loss or income statement.

Inventory Sold

Over time, you use the items in your inventory to fill customer orders. You record the sales in an income statement account; the offset to sales is either cash or accounts receivable, which are both balance sheet accounts. Because you used inventory from a balance sheet account and recorded sales on your income statement, your profits are overstated unless you make the necessary adjustment. You need to reduce your inventory for the value of the items sold, with the offsetting entry to a cost-of-goods sold account. Your cost-of-goods sold account is an income statement account. You have now affected your profit and loss.

Inventory Adjustments

In the normal course of business, you might find that the balance in your inventory is inaccurate. This might be due to breakage occurring after the goods were in your possession, the failure to add returned goods back to your inventory or errors that you simply cannot explain. You might also have products in your inventory that you know you cannot sell for full price, such as a supply of the current year’s calendars remaining in June. You need to adjust your inventory to an accurate value, so you credit inventory and debit your cost-of-goods sold account, which again affects your profit and loss statement.

Inventory Reserve Account

A major inventory adjustment, such as adjusting inventory only at year-end, can play havoc with your profit and loss statement for the period in which you make the adjustment. To avoid skewing the numbers, companies sometimes use an inventory reserve account. The basic idea is that they know that a certain percentage of their inventory has historically been lost or become obsolete. Each month, they record an amount, typically a percentage of the inventory value, in an inventory reserve account. The inventory reserve account is a balance sheet account and should have a negative balance; when netted against your positive-balance inventory accounts, you have a more accurate picture of your inventory’s worth. The offset to the entry is your cost-of-goods sold account. When you need to adjust your inventory, you record the entry to your inventory reserve account and offset it against your cost-of-goods sold account. By taking smaller, more frequent adjustments, you do not risk a major impact.