A small business guide to balance sheets

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A company’s balance sheet is one of several important financial statements that report on its performance. But to understand the importance of a balance sheet, you need to understand the balance sheet equation and the types of accounts it uses. Then you can download a balance sheet template and review some analytical tools to assess your business.

What is a balance sheet?

A balance sheet (or a statement of financial position) reports your company’s assets, liabilities, and equity as of a time period. Stakeholders need access to your balance sheet and other financial documents to evaluate your results.

Assets are what your business owns. They are the resources you use to produce revenue. Liabilities are what your business owes to other parties. These financial obligations include accounts payable and long-term debt. Equity is the difference between assets and liabilities. Think of equity as the true value of your business.

Why do balance sheets matter?

When you provide accurate financial reports and balance sheets, you can maintain good relationships with stakeholders. If financial performance declines, you can explain the changes you’re making to improve results. Stakeholders include employees, investors, creditors, regulators, and vendors. Business owners must keep stakeholders informed for a variety of reasons.

  • Investors want to know if the business is generating profits, which may increase the market value of stockholder’s equity.
  • Creditors need to know if the company is generating enough cash to repay borrowed money.
  • Vendors want to know if the business will continue to order goods and services, and that the business can pay invoices on time.

How to calculate the balance sheet equation

The balance sheet formula calculates assets by adding a business’s liabilities and equity. This formula is also called the accounting equation. The balance sheet formula follows:

Liabilities + equity = assets

Accountants use the formula to create financial statements. So each transaction you post to your accounting systems must keep the formula balanced.

Let’s say a business issues a $10,000 bond and receives cash. The company posts a $10,000 debit to cash (an asset account) and a $10,000 credit to bonds payable (a liability account).

The company would post a $10,000 increase in liabilities and a $10,000 increase in assets on the balance sheet. There would be no change in the company’s equity, so the formula would stay balanced.

If every transaction you post keeps the formula balanced, you can generate an accurate balance sheet. But note that each section of the balance sheet may contain several accounts.

What goes on a balance sheet: assets

The assets and liabilities sections of the balance sheet separate accounts into current and non-current categories. The equity section, however, does not use current or non-current accounts. Assets are resources that a business uses to generate revenue and profits. Your assets may be tangible, such as equipment, or intangible, such as patents.

Asset accounts post in order of liquidity, so assets that convert to cash easiest come first. Cash and cash equivalents (i.e., money market account balances) are listed first, followed by current assets. Land, buildings, and long-term investments post last.

Current asset categories

This category includes cash and assets that convert into cash within a year. For example, you can expect accounts receivable and inventory balances to convert to cash over months. Common current asset accounts include

  • Cash: The total amount of money on hand.
  • Accounts receivable: The amount that your customers owe you after buying your goods or services on credit.
  • Inventory: Items you purchase for resale.
  • Prepaid expenses: Expenses you’ve paid in advance, such as six months of insurance premiums.
  • Investments: Some investments, such as bonds, may be categorized as long-term assets, but most are short-term.
  • Notes receivable: A loan to an outside party that you’ll repay within 12 months.

Non-current asset accounts

Non-current assets will not convert to cash within a year. Your business may own fixed assets and intangible assets. Some balance sheets refer to non-current assets as long-term assets. Non-current assets include fixed assets, land, and intangible assets.

  • Fixed assets include vehicles and equipment you use to produce revenue. These assets decrease in value over time. A depreciation expense records the decline in the value of a fixed asset.
  • Land posts to the non-current asset category, but the land doesn’t depreciate.
  • Intangible assets have no physical manifestation—think goodwill, patents, and trademarks.

What goes on a balance sheet: liabilities

Assets convert into cash to pay liabilities. Liabilities are amounts your business owes to third parties. There are two types of liabilities: current and non-current (long-term) liabilities.

Current liability categories

Current liabilities include balances that your business must pay within a year.

  • Accounts payable: These include bills that you owe to vendors that you must pay within a year.
  • Current portion of long-term debt: This includes what you must pay within 12 months. If you owe $3,000 in principal and interest on a bank loan within a year, the amount posts as a current liability.
  • Customer deposits: If a client deposits money before you deliver a product or service, the cash deposit is a liability. You must repay the customer if you don’t deliver goods or services.

Non-current liability categories

Non-current liabilities are amounts your business must pay in a year or more. The non-current category includes long-term debt like loans and mortgage payments. The current portion of long-term debt is a current liability.

Imagine that you sell all of your business’s assets for cash. You might use the cash to pay off all of your accounts payable balances and your long-term debts. Any cash remaining is your equity, which is the true value of your business.

What goes on a balance sheet: equity

Equity measures a company’s net worth. You may see equity defined as “shareholder’s equity” or “owner’s equity.” This category includes common stock, additional paid-in capital, and retained earnings.

Issuing common stock

“Par value” is a dollar amount used to allocate dollars to the common stock category. For example, assume that a company issues 1,000 shares of $1 par value common stock. Investors purchase the 1,000 shares and pay $5,000. In this example, the common stock balance is $1,000 (1,000 shares of $1 par value).

Posting additional paid-in capital

Additional paid-in capital is the amount of money shareholders invest that is greater than the common stock balance. The additional paid-in capital balance is $4,000, or $5,000 subtracted from the $1,000 common stock balance. When the company starts generating profits, their transactions will post to retained earnings.

Calculating retained earnings

Retained earnings are the sum of total company earnings (net income) since inception, minus all dividends paid to owners since the firm’s inception. Businesses can choose to retain earnings for use in the business or pay a portion of earnings as a dividend.

View or download a sample balance sheet

The following is a balance sheet for 2019. You’ll note that the sheet uses current and non-current categories, and total assets ($185,000) equal total liabilities and equity. Accounting software provides financial statement templates that you can use to generate reports. Or you can download a sample balance sheet for your business.

How balance sheets connect to income statements and cash flow statements

Data in the balance sheet connects the income statement and the cash flow statement.

Income statements assess business profitability

An income statement reports a company’s profit or loss for a time period. It’s a financial statement that subtracts revenue from expenses to determine net income or profit. The formula follows:

Revenue – expenses = net income

Net income increases the equity on the balance sheet. Many business owners focus on the balance sheet and the income statement. But the cash flow statement is equally important.

Cash flow statements report cash activity

The cash flow statement reports cash inflows and outflows over time. You can separate cash flows into three activities: operating, investing, and financing. The ending balance in the cash flow statement must equal the cash balance on the balance sheet.

Overall, the balance sheet is one of three financial statements that explain your company’s performance. Review your balance sheet monthly, and use analytical tools to assess your financial performance. Balance sheet data can help you make better business decisions and increase profits.

This article originally appeared on QuickBooks Resource Center and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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