How to Journalize Paying a Bill in Accounting

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To journalize paying a bill in accounting, you need to know the basics of double entry accounting and an understanding of how the transaction affects the various accounts in your chart of accounts. You record the bill or invoice by debiting an asset or expense account, and credit accounts payable.

In accrual accounting, revenues are matched to the expenses used to generate them, and are recorded when incurred regardless of when cash is exchanged. This leads to a need for double-entry accounting where each transaction has at least one credit and one debit in the books. The entries made into this system are called journal entries. To journalize paying a bill in accounting, you must understand how the transaction affects the different accounts in your organization.

Double-Entry Accounting Basics

Double-entry accounting is based on the premise that assets will always equal the liabilities plus the equity of the business. Assets may include cash and cash equivalents, buildings, equipment, investments and more. Liabilities are amounts your business owes, such as balances with vendors, loan balances, revolving account balances and even settlement payments. The equity of the business is the difference between the assets and the liabilities and is affected by revenues and expenses.

Revenues increase equity and expenses decrease it. Negative equity means your business owes more than it owns. In double-entry accounting, accounts are kept in a balance where debits always equal credits. The normal balances for asset accounts are debits. Normal balances for liabilities and equity are credits. Since revenue increases equity, its normal balance is also a credit while expenses are debits. In this way, the equation stays balanced.

Understanding the Accounts Payable Function

To journalize paying a bill, you must have already entered the bill into your accounting records. You will do this with the accounts payable account, which represents amounts your business owes to other parties from normal business operations. You may have received an invoice or bill from acquiring an asset or from incurring an expense, for example. You'd record the bill when you received it as an account payable, even though the final date for payment not fall due for another 15, 30 or 60 days.

Examples for How to Journalize Paying a Bill in Accounting

Suppose you receive an invoice for the purchase of $50,000 of merchandise you will resell. This merchandise is inventory, an asset of your business. You will record this invoice as a debit to inventory and a credit to accounts payable.

You receive this month's electric bill in the amount of $850. Electricity is an expense. You will debit the utilities expense account and credit accounts payable.

When the bill or invoice is paid, it will affect accounts payable and cash. Because you are reducing the liability of accounts payable, it is the debit side of the transaction. You are reducing the cash asset, so you are going to credit cash. In the example below, assume we issue payments for both of the bills in our previous journal entries.

In short, you record the bill or invoice by debiting either an asset or an expense account, and by crediting accounts payable. When you pay the bill, you debit accounts payable and credit cash.

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About the Author

Laura Chapman holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting and has worked in accounting, bookkeeping and taxation positions since 2012. She has written content for online publication since 2007, with earlier works focusing more in education, craft/hobby, parenting, pets, and cooking. Now she focuses on careers, personal financial matters, small business concerns, accounting and taxation. Laura has worked in a wide variety of industries throughout her working life, including retail sales, logistics, merchandising, food service quick-serve and casual dining, janitorial, and more. This experience has given her a great deal of insight to pull from when writing about business topics.