What’s My Accountant Talking About? Accounting Jargon Explained
So you’ve set up a meeting with your accountant. “Bring me a list of accruals and your profit and loss for the current fiscal year,” they say.
If you’re left scrambling to find exactly what they mean, you are not alone. According to this accounting statistics resource, 60% of small business owners feel they aren't very knowledgeable when it comes to finances and accounting.
Accounting is an area that is definitely rife with jargon and unfamiliar terms, which is possibly one reason why large numbers of business owners lack confidence when it comes to bookkeeping.
If you’re a digital business owner selling across country borders, you’ve got even more things to know about. Taxes such as VAT, GST or other sales taxes are not limited to your own borders, so you find yourself having to become familiar with accounting systems and terms in a foreign land, too.
On the run yet? Hang tight, let’s look at some of the most common terms a digital business owner is going to hear…
Accounting jargon explained
One thing you should understand, especially if you do business worldwide, is that there are not many differences in the GAAPs (Generally Accepted Accounting Practices - jargon alert!) of each country; however, sometimes terms and interpretations vary.
While most of the world now uses International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), the USA does not require their use and still uses its own GAAPs. IFRS has been developed by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), a multi-national board based in London.
Whew! Without going too far down a tangled rabbit warren of standards boards, in a nutshell, you just need to know that the different countries you deal with may have adopted different standard practices and different terms (for example, a profit forecasting Europe may be referred to as a revenue forecast in the USA).
Yes, all of these financial terms can definitely get confusing, especially if accounting is not a strength of yours, but don’t let that put you off.
Remember, it is their job to explain things in layman’s terms and really, they usually do that kind of thing every day. Sometimes a little knowledge of good accounting practices can make all the difference for your business.
Here's our accounting jargon list explained and sorted in alphabetical order:
These are considered to be an asset to your business. Accounts receivables are any monies owed to you by clients that they are legally obliged to pay.
Ah yes, back to that conversation with your accountant at the beginning: accruals are simply a list of expenses that have been incurred but are not yet paid. Accounts payable is a similar term meaning the same thing.
Accrual accounting is an accounting method whereby you record income as it is invoiced (not yet received) and expenses as bills are received (not yet paid).
The other method to be aware of is “Cash Basis”, where you record income only when you receive money and expenses only when you pay the bills.
This term is more usually used outside of North America and is a stringent measure of a company’s ability to pay its short-term debts. It may also be referred to as “quick ratio” and refers to the ratio of liquid assets (so no shares included) to current liabilities. (Liquid assets = cash on hand, or assets which can readily be converted to cash).
Assets are the physical items you own that have value. These could include current assets, which are things like stock, cash and accounts receivable, or fix assets, which include items such as buildings, vehicles, equipment or property.
This refers to any accounts receivables that you are not able to collect. For example, if the client will not respond or they have been declared bankrupt. In some parts of the world, these may be tax deductible.
This is one key piece of paper that all accounting systems agree with. Ais a snapshot in time showing your assets, liabilities, and equity. It can be used to figure out calculations, such as your gearing (ratio of debt to equity).
This may also be referred to as “working capital,” and is the term for the money that you have readily accessible to invest or spend on necessary business items. For example, as a digital business owner, you may have capital set aside just in case you need to purchase a new laptop or equipment, such as stationery or printer ink.
Cash flow statement
This is another important accounting document. Your cash flow statement shows the movement and availability of cash through and to the business over a finite period of time. This statement is important because you can use it to monitor and predict the availability of cash for things like paying any suppliers or staff you have.
If you are the kind of digital business that must own large assets in order to run your business (such as any equipment), then depreciation may be a relevant term for you. Depreciation measures the decrease in the value of an item over time. For example, say you owned a printing press that cost $12k, which had a depreciation value of $3k per year over 4 years, your list of assets would then show it valued at $9k after one year, $6k after two years, etc. Depreciation can often be used as a write-off on tax returns, depending on the country you file your taxes in.
Equity refers to the amount of money invested in a business by its owners. This may be referred to as “owner equity” when there is only one or a few owners, or shareholder equity if it has come from stock options.
We all have them. Expenses are divided into different types for accounting purposes:
Fixed expenses - Costs that do not vary with changing sales or production; for example, rent, wages or utility bills.
Variable expenses - Those that do vary according to conditions, such as the number of sales; for example, if you are an eCommerce store, your postage costs will increase with increased sales.
Accrued expenses - Single expenses that are reported for accounting purposes but have not yet been paid.
Operational expenses - Expenses that are necessary for you to conduct business; for example; insurance, legal fees, office supplies, depreciation, repair costs, accounting fees and software subscriptions.
Fiscal year refers to the time period a company uses for preparing financial statements and for accounting purposes. Companies nominate their own fiscal year, which may coincide with whatever their particular federal tax year is. For example, in the US, the tax year is the same as the calendar year, in New Zealand, the tax year is April until March of the following year.
Your digital business may be happy to coincide with your federal tax year if your bookkeeping is relatively simple, but larger companies sometimes nominate time periods based on how long it takes them to close out their books for federal tax return requirements.
Forecasting is the process of using your business’ past financial data to predict future trends. For example, you may notice that you increase sales by an average of 3% per month, so this data could be used to predict what your sales might look like in six month’s time.
The general ledger is a complete recording of your business’ financial transactions over its lifetime.
Any debts you are responsible for paying in the short or long term.
The word net refers to “after all deductions”, so net profit is generally taken to mean what is left over after expenses are deducted from revenue. This figure is generally before tax is taken out, so you may also hear “net profit before tax.”
Profit and Loss statement
This is another important accounting document for your business. It basically gives an overall picture of how well your business has performed in its trading activities and includes: earnings, expenses, gross profits, and net profits. The profit and loss is often referred to as one of the “most important” accounting documents along with your balance sheet and cash flow statement.
Revenue is the total amount of money the company brought in from the sales of goods or services before any expenses are subtracted. Revenue may also include any credits or discounts you have for returning products to suppliers. Sometimes you'll also hear about "recurring revenue," which is revenue that comes in regular subscription or membership payments.
This is the amount you have available to run your business after current liabilities are subtracted from current assets. It may be more or less than what is actually required to fund the business.
Final thoughts on accounting jargon
Accounting is filled with jargon, we know! Hopefully, this has brought some light to a few terms that you, as a digital business owner, will commonly hear thrown around.
It’s not easy figuring these things out if you’re operating across different tax jurisdictions, but for the most part, practices tend to be very similar.
Next time you’re in a conversation with your accountant, we hope you’re better placed to understand and ask a few questions. Being properly involved with the accounting side of your business can help you develop better strategies to stay in business going forward.
Need help simplifying your small business accounting? Sign up for your free trial of Quaderno today.