5 Things You Should Know About the Chart of Accounts in QuickBooks Online

QuickBooks Online doesn’t require deep knowledge of accounting principles. Still, there are concepts you should understand.

You probably didn’t expect you’d have to become an accounting expert when you started your business. You knew you’d have to deal with recording income and expenses – maybe track your inventory and process a payroll. But you may not have understood just how complex financial bookkeeping could be.

That’s why you decided to use QuickBooks Online, or are at least considering it. The service is an expert on accounting, and it simplifies the process. It knows exactly how you have to document transactions to stay compliant with the rules that accountants and other businesses follow. This is good practice, and it’s absolutely necessary if, for example, you ever have to apply for financing.

One of the features of accounting systems you should understand is the Chart of Accounts. You won’t have to alter it in any way—in fact, we strongly advise against it—but you’ll encounter it when you work with transactions. Here are five things you should know about it.

What is it?

These three columns from QuickBooks Online’s Chart of Accounts display account Names, Types, and Detail Types.

QuickBooks Online’s Chart of Accounts is a list of financial categories that are used to classify your company’s transactions when you record them. If you were doing your accounting manually, you would have to create your own Chart of Accounts. But QuickBooks Online builds one for you based on the company type and industry you choose when you’re setting up the site.

Why is the Chart of Accounts important?

Some people refer to the Chart of Accounts as the “backbone” of your company file. All transactions flow to it. Its primary importance can be summed up in one word: reports. Your reports will not be accurate if your Chart of Accounts is poorly constructed or if you categorize transactions incorrectly. This becomes as issue when you want to:

  • Prepare taxes. Your income tax return will not reflect your reportable income and deductible expenses if transactions are not assigned to the right classifications.
  • Apply for financing, take on an investor, sell your company, etc.
  • Monitor your finances. You won’t get a true picture of your income and expenses, which makes it difficult to analyze your company’s fiscal health and plan for the future.

What’s in the Chart of Accounts?

There are two types of accounts. One contains information that’s used in the Balance Sheet report. These accounts will have a number in the QuickBooks Balance column that’s based on all transactions up to the current date. They include Assets (bank accounts, accounts receivable, inventory, etc.), Liabilities (unpaid bills, credit cards, payroll and sales taxes, loans, etc.), and Equity.

The remainder of the accounts are used in the Profit and Loss report, otherwise known as the Income Statement. They’re divided into Income (sales, discounts given, etc.), Cost of Goods Sold (labor, shipping, materials and supplies, etc.), Expenses (advertising, insurance, payroll, etc.), Other Income, and Other Expense. You won’t see a number in the QuickBooks Balance column for these accounts because the Profit and Loss report changes based on the date range selected.

Should I ever make any modifications to my Chart of Accounts?

You can set up bank and credit card accounts in QuickBooks Online’s Chart of Accounts.

As we stated earlier, we strongly recommend that you never modify your Chart of Accounts without consulting us. However, there are two exceptions to this. You’ll want to create entries for your bank and credit card accounts. To do this, first open the Chart of Accounts by clicking the gear icon in the upper right and selecting Chart of Accounts under Your Company. When it opens, click New in the upper right corner. Choose Bank or Credit Card and fill in the blanks.

Do I need to use account numbers in the Chart of Accounts?

Generally, the smaller the business, the less need there is for this. If your business is big enough that you have dedicated A/P and A/R individuals, you may want to post transactions to account numbers.

Understanding Reports

QuickBooks Online makes it possible for you to view the Chart of Accounts and those two critical reports, Balance Sheet and Profit & Loss. Customizing and analyzing them, though, is something you should do under professional supervision. We’re happy to help here and in other advanced areas of the site. Contact us for a consultation.

Receive Payments the Right Way in QuickBooks®: Your Options

How you record a customer payment in QuickBooks depends on why and how you received it.

One of the reasons we like QuickBooks is because it uses language and processes that are familiar to small businesspeople. Instead of using the term “accounts receivable,” it has a menu label that says Customers and menu items that use phrases like Create Invoices and Receive Payments. You would have to go into the Chart of Accounts to find standard accounting terminology – and we never recommend that you do that without consulting with us first.

Yet when you’re doing customer-related tasks, you’re following a traditional accounts receivable workflow, a series of steps that completes a sales cycle, like Estimate | Invoice | Payment | Deposit. QuickBooks keeps it simple for you and doesn’t often force you into unfamiliar territory.

One of the more pleasant elements of accounts receivable is the process of receiving customer payments. There’s more than one way to do this, and it’s very important that you use the correct way in each situation.

Payment Methods

Before you record your first payment, you’ll need to make sure that QuickBooks is set up to accommodate its Payment Method. QuickBooks comes with some standard types, but you can add, edit, and delete your own options (though not those that are built in to the software).

Open the Lists menu and click Customer & Vendor Profile Lists, then Payment Method List. This window will open:

You can work with Payment Method options in this window.

To use any of the commands in the Payment Method drop-down list, you’d highlight the method by clicking on it and opening the options list by clicking the down arrow in that field.

Note: When you add or change an existing entry, the window that opens contains fields for both Payment Method and Payment Type. They should be identical or at least very similar.

Settling an Invoice

If your company sends invoices, you’ll need to record their matching payments in the Customer Payment window. Click Customer | Receive Payments or the Receive Payments icon on the home page. There’s also a button for this in the toolbar in an open invoice. However you get there, here’s what it looks like:

You’ll record payments that customers send in response to invoices in this window.

Select a customer in the RECEIVED FROM field, and any outstanding invoices will appear in the table below. The CUSTOMER BALANCE appears in the upper right corner. Enter the PAYMENT AMOUNT and verify the date.

Click in the box for the correct payment method to the right. If it’s a check, enter the number in the CHECK # field. If you choose CREDIT DEBIT, you can enter the card details in the small window that opens. If you provided this information in the customer’s record and chose that as the PREFERRED PAYMENT METHOD, it should fill it in automatically.

Note: To set a PREFERRED PAYMENT METHOD, which will save time, open the customer record and click the small pencil icon in the upper right. Click Payment Settings and complete the fields in that window.

If the customer has paid less than the balance due, you can either LEAVE THIS AS AN UNDERPAYMENT or WRITE OFF THE EXTRA AMOUNT. Select one of those two options in the lower left and save your work when you’re done.

Instant Payments

You’ll use a different form when a customer gives you a payment in exchange for the goods or services you provided, without receiving an invoice. Click Customers | Enter Sales Receipts to open a window like this:

If a customer gives you a payment without receiving an invoice, you’ll provide them with a Sales Receipt.

You’ll complete this form much like you did the CUSTOMER PAYMENT window, except you won’t be applying the payment to an existing invoice.

Tip: If you have a merchant account or are willing to get one, you can record payments and email sales receipts at remote locations on your mobile device. We can walk you through the setup.

Receiving payments from customers is one of the easier tasks you’ll do as a QuickBooks user, but if you don’t use the software’s tools correctly, your books will be difficult to untangle. We can help ensure that you’re doing this element of your work right from the start; just contact us to schedule a consultation.