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Chart of Accounts: Definition, Example and Practices



Featured image: Chart of Accounts- Definition and Examples

In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of chart of accounts, shedding light on its importance, structure, and best practices. By the end, you’ll have a solid understanding of how to create, maintain, and optimize your chart of accounts, empowering you to make informed decisions and take control of your business’s financial future.

What is a chart of accounts (COA)?

A chart of accounts (COA) is an essential tool for any business. It is a list of all the financial accounts used by the company to track its financial transactions and is typically organized by account type, such as assets, liabilities, income, and expenses. The COA provides a comprehensive overview of the company’s financial health and helps in making informed decisions about how to manage its finances.

The purpose of a COA is to provide an organized structure for recording and tracking financial information. It allows businesses to categorize their transactions into meaningful categories that can be easily monitored over time. This helps businesses understand their current financial position and plan for future growth.

How do charts of accounts work? The process

To better understand how charts of accounts work, it’s important to delve into the process involved in creating, maintaining, and utilizing them. Here’s a step-by-step overview of how charts of accounts function within a business’s accounting system:

1. Setting up the Chart of Accounts

The first step in the process is to set up the chart of accounts tailored to your business. Begin by listing the main categories: assets, liabilities, equity, revenues, and expenses. Then, identify the specific accounts that fall under each category based on your business’s unique financial transactions. For example, under assets, you may have cash, accounts receivable, and inventory accounts.

2. Assigning Account Numbers

Once you’ve determined the accounts needed for your business, assign unique numbers to each account. These numbers are usually structured in a hierarchical format, with the main categories represented by a specific range of numbers (e.g., 1000-1999 for assets, 2000-2999 for liabilities). Within each category, individual accounts are assigned a unique number, allowing for easy identification and organization.

3. Recording Transactions

As financial transactions occur within your business, they must be recorded in the appropriate accounts within the chart of accounts. For example, when you receive payment from a customer, you would record the transaction in the cash account (an asset) and the revenue account (revenue). This process is known as double-entry bookkeeping, where each transaction affects at least two accounts, ensuring that the accounting equation (Assets = Liabilities + Equity) remains balanced.

4. Generating Financial Reports

The data stored in the chart of accounts serves as the foundation for generating financial reports. By organizing transactions into specific accounts, businesses can quickly and easily generate reports such as the balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement. These reports provide valuable insights into the company’s financial health and performance, informing decision-making and planning processes.

5. Periodic Review and Adjustments

Regularly reviewing and updating the chart of accounts is crucial for maintaining accurate and relevant financial records. As your business grows and evolves, you may need to add or modify accounts to better reflect your financial activities. Additionally, periodic adjustments, such as depreciation or inventory write-offs, may be necessary to ensure that the account balances accurately represent the current value of assets and liabilities.

Types of Accounts

The chart of accounts is typically organized into five main categories: assets, liabilities, equity, revenues, and expenses. Within these categories, individual accounts are assigned unique numbers to make it easier to locate and classify financial transactions.

Ecommerce Chart of Accounts Example
Ecommerce Chart of Accounts Example: Pilot
  1. Assets: These accounts represent resources that a business owns or controls and expects to provide future economic benefits. Examples include cash, accounts receivable, inventory, and property, plant, and equipment.
  2. Liabilities: Liabilities are obligations a business must fulfill, usually through the payment of cash or other assets. Examples include accounts payable, loans, and accrued expenses.
  3. Equity: Equity represents the residual interest in a company’s assets after deducting liabilities. It consists of owner investments, retained earnings, and accumulated adjustments like unrealized gains or losses.
  4. Revenues: Revenue accounts track the inflow of money from the sale of goods or services, as well as other income sources like rental income or royalties.
  5. Expenses: Expenses represent the cost of conducting business operations. Examples include salaries and wages, rent, utilities, and advertising costs.

Benefits of Using a Chart of Accounts

Using a chart of accounts offers several advantages for businesses, such as:

  1. Streamlining financial reporting: A well-organized COA simplifies the process of generating financial reports, making it easier for both internal and external stakeholders to understand a company’s financial position.
  2. Identifying financial performance: A COA allows businesses to track revenues and expenses, making it possible to analyze profit margins, identify trends, and monitor the overall financial performance of the company.
  3. Improving budgeting and forecasting: By categorizing financial transactions in a structured manner, a COA can help businesses create more accurate budgets and forecasts, ultimately improving financial planning and decision-making.

Importance of Standardized Charts of Accounts

Standardizing charts of accounts is essential for maintaining consistency and integrity in financial records. By using a uniform numbering system and account categories, businesses can ensure that financial transactions are consistently recorded and classified. This consistency makes it easier to compare financial data across different periods and departments, leading to more reliable financial analysis and reporting.

Chart of accounts example

To help you better understand how a chart of accounts works, let’s explore an example for a hypothetical retail business. Keep in mind that this is merely an illustration, and the actual chart of accounts will differ based on each organization’s specific needs and requirements.

Assets (1000-1999)

The asset accounts category includes resources owned or controlled by the business, such as cash, accounts receivable, and inventory. For our retail business, the chart of accounts under assets might include:

  • Cash (1000)
  • Petty Cash (1010)
  • Checking Account (1020)
  • Savings Account (1030)
  • Accounts Receivable (1100)
  • Trade Receivables (1110)
  • Allowance for Doubtful Accounts (1120)
  • Inventory (1200)
  • Finished Goods (1210)
  • Raw Materials (1220)
  • Prepaid Expenses (1300)
  • Property, Plant, and Equipment (1400)
  • Land (1410)
  • Buildings (1420)
  • Furniture and Fixtures (1430)
  • Vehicles (1440)
  • Accumulated Depreciation (1450)

Liabilities (2000-2999)

Liability accounts represent obligations the business must fulfill, such as accounts payable, accrued expenses, and loans. The chart of accounts for our retail business’s liabilities might look like:

  • Accounts Payable (2000)
  • Accrued Expenses (2100)
  • Salaries and Wages Payable (2110)
  • Rent Payable (2120)
  • Utilities Payable (2130)
  • Loans Payable (2200)
  • Short-term Loans (2210)
  • Long-term Loans (2220)
  • Deferred Revenue (2300)

Equity (3000-3999)

Equity accounts reflect the residual interest in the company’s assets after deducting liabilities. In our retail business example, equity accounts might include:

  • Owner’s Capital (3000)
  • Retained Earnings (3100)
  • Drawing (3200)

Revenue (4000-4999)

Revenue accounts track the inflow of money from sales and other income sources. For our retail business, revenue accounts could be:

  • Sales Revenue (4000)
  • Product Sales (4010)
  • Service Sales (4020)
  • Other Income (4100)
  • Rental Income (4110)
  • Interest Income (4120)

Expenses (5000-5999)

Expense accounts represent the costs incurred during business operations. The chart of accounts for our retail business’s expenses might include:

  • Cost of Goods Sold (5000)
  • Salaries and Wages Expense (5100)
  • Rent Expense (5200)
  • Utilities Expense (5300)
  • Advertising Expense (5400)
  • Depreciation Expense (5500)
  • Insurance Expense (5600)
  • Office Supplies Expense (5700)
  • Travel and Entertainment Expense (5800)
  • Miscellaneous Expense (5900)

Through this easy-to-follow example, you can see how a chart of accounts neatly organizes financial transactions into specific categories and accounts. Regularly reviewing and updating your chart of accounts will help you keep accurate and current financial records, which will empower you to make well-informed decisions and manage your finances effectively.

Chart of accounts best practices

Here are some best practices that will make the process smoother and more enjoyable. These tips will help you create an efficient and user-friendly chart of accounts that truly works for your business.

1. Keep It Simple, but Informative

When setting up your chart of accounts, resist the urge to overcomplicate things. Focus on including only the accounts necessary for your business operations. However, ensure that each account is descriptive enough to provide meaningful insights into your financial transactions. Striking the right balance between simplicity and detail is key!

2. Tailor It to Your Business Needs

Remember that every business is unique, and so should be its chart of accounts. Customize your chart to reflect your specific industry, business size, and operational requirements. Don’t be afraid to add or modify accounts as your business evolves – flexibility is crucial for staying on top of your finances.

3. Consistency Is Your Friend

Establish a consistent numbering system and account naming convention from the get-go. This consistency will make it easier to locate, classify, and analyze financial transactions. Plus, it’ll save you time and effort in the long run, leaving you more energy to focus on growing your business.

4. Stay Organized with Subaccounts

Consider using subaccounts to further categorize your financial transactions. This extra layer of organization will help you track specific revenue streams, expenses, or projects more easily. Just remember tip #1 – keep it simple and avoid creating an excessive number of subaccount.

5. Use accounting software

Using accounting software will make the whole process much easier. Most of them have built-in chart of accounts that you can customize to your business’s needs. They also provide features that allow you to track financial transactions and analyze financial data more accurately. In short, investing in accounting software is worth its weight in gold.


A chart of accounts is an indispensable tool in the world of accounting, particularly for beginners. Businesses can use their financial structure and benefits to help them better decide how to manage money. They can also make it easier to report financial information and make wise decisions with money. Emphasizing the importance of standardized charts of accounts ensures the consistency and integrity of financial records, ultimately contributing to the overall success of a business.


What are the 5 basic charts of accounts?

The 5 basic charts of accounts are essential components in financial statements, and they include:

  1. Assets: Resources owned or controlled by a business, contributing to generating future income.
  2. Liabilities: Financial obligations a business must fulfill, such as debts or payables.
  3. Equity: The residual interest in a business’s assets after deducting liabilities, representing ownership claims.
  4. Revenues: Income generated through business activities, such as sales, services, or investments.
  5. Expenses: Costs incurred during business operations, like salaries, rent, and utilities.

These categories form the basis of balance sheet accounts (assets, liabilities, and equity) and income statement accounts (revenues and expenses), providing a comprehensive view of a business’s financial health.

What are chart accounts?

Chart of accounts refers to a list of all the accounts a company owns, organized into categories that represent financial transactions. It serves as the foundation for creating balance sheets and other financial reports, offering a structured view of a company’s financial health.

What should be in your chart of accounts?

Your chart of accounts should include asset accounts that record resources owned by the company, liability accounts reflecting what the company owes, and other relevant financial accounts. Each account should have a unique account number for easy identification. The accounts should be organized into categories, such as assets, liabilities, equity, revenues, and expenses, to maintain a structured and comprehensive financial record.

What is the chart of accounts journal entries?

Chart of accounts journal entries refer to the process of recording financial transactions in the appropriate accounts within the chart of accounts. These entries serve as a basis for creating accurate financial reports, ensuring proper tracking and analysis of a company’s financial activities.

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