In the early days of accounting, during the medieval period, simple record-keeping systems were employed. However, there wasn’t a standardized chart of accounts as we know it today. The chart of accounts has been a fundamental component of accounting systems for centuries, evolving as accounting practices have developed. While it’s challenging to pinpoint an exact date when the chart of accounts became a common accounting practice, we can trace its evolution through history. The COA is comprised of multiple fields, each of which records a different element of information about a transaction. Therefore, a given transaction is not defined by a single field, but by the combination of fields.

  1. The standardization of the chart of accounts is often facilitated by accounting software, which provides pre-defined templates that align with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).
  2. But experience has shown that the most common format organizes information by individual account and assigns each account a code and description.
  3. It supports better money management and improves the overall financial health of the business.
  4. If assets are classified by numbers starting with the digit 1, then cash accounts might be labeled 101, accounts receivable might be labeled 102, inventory might be labeled 103, and so on.
  5. Wrapping it up, the chart of accounts has evolved alongside accounting practices, shaping a standard framework for organizing finances.
  6. If their warehouse is well-organized, an arriving shipment of Dell laptops will be routed to a specific bin in the Dell section of the laptop area of the warehouse.

The Spanish generally accepted accounting principles chart of accounts layout is used in Spain. The French generally accepted accounting principles chart of accounts layout is used in France, Belgium, Spain and many francophone countries. The use of the French GAAP chart of accounts layout (but not the detailed accounts) is stated in French law. The charts of accounts can be picked from a standard chart of accounts, like the BAS in Sweden. In some countries, charts of accounts are defined by the accountant from a standard general layouts or as regulated by law. However, in most countries it is entirely up to each accountant to design the chart of accounts.


For example, consider a simple manufacturer who last month had $1,000 of manufacturing supplies and $1,000 of shop repairs, for a total of $2,000 of indirect expenses. Based on that, the company decides to allocate indirect cost to future projects at a rate of $10 per hour ($2,000 total costs/200 shop labor hours). The chart of accounts is like the framework of shelves and storage bins in a warehouse.

A chart of accounts is a list of all your company’s “accounts,” together in one place. It provides you with a birds eye view of every area of your business that spends or makes money. The main account types include Revenue, Expenses, Assets, Liabilities, and Equity. Yes, it is a good idea to customize your chart of accounts to suit your unique business.

How is chart of accounts connected to financial statements?

In financial statements, liabilities are broadly categorized into current and non-current, each displaying various aspects of the company’s financial commitments. Nowadays, most companies use bookkeeping or accounting software that will automatically create a chart of accounts for your business based on the type of business you are. This allows not only to save time when setting up your accounting but also helps new business owners to have some guidance on what they might want to see in their chart of accounts. The general ledger serves as the central repository for all of a company’s financial transactions.

Groups of numbers are assigned to each of the five main categories, while blank numbers are left at the end to allow for additional accounts to be added in the future. Also, the numbering should be consistent to make it easier for management to roll up information of the company from one period to the next. For example, a company may decide to code assets from 100 to 199, liabilities from 200 to 299, equity from 300 to 399, and so forth. Those could then be broken down further into, e.g., current assets ( ) and current liabilities ( ).

That approach can work as long as you have custom reporting capability. In the absence of that, tax and audit CPAs have the custom reporting software to easily convert your management-oriented chart of accounts into their format. Just be sure to make it easy for them by incorporating any special accounts they need into your remodeled chart accounts. Some accountants recommend sticking with a GAAP-oriented chart of accounts and generating management-oriented financials through custom reports. These custom reports cobble together numbers from various sections of the chart of accounts to get the financial statement layout management is looking for. They know (especially the entry-level providers) most people would struggle to set up a quality chart of accounts.

There are five main account type categories that all transactions can fall into on a standard COA. These are asset accounts, liability accounts, equity accounts, revenue accounts, and expense accounts. If necessary, you may include additional categories that are relevant to your business. A listing of the accounts available in the accounting system in which to record entries. The chart of accounts consists of balance sheet accounts (assets, liabilities, stockholders’ equity) and income statement accounts (revenues, expenses, gains, losses). The chart of accounts can be expanded and tailored to reflect the operations of the company.

Chart of accounts: basics and best practices

It’s important to set up the chart of accounts correctly the first time around, since you should use the same system from year to year to maintain consistency. Charts of accounts can follow many different structures and can be modified to meet almost any size or type of business. The flexibility means that they can be adapted to fit your needs, but it can make things a bit tricky when creating your first chart of accounts. As an aside, for companies subject to US tax regulations, Meals is an example where you’ll want an easy way to give your tax accountant a stand-alone total amount at year-end. If you choose to spread Meals across relevant categories, you’ll want to still keep them in discrete accounts within each category.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon for tax, legal, or investment purposes. BooksTime is not responsible for your compliance or noncompliance with any laws or regulations. For example, Meals Expense might be a standalone account or it might be spread across the categories the meals relate to, such as Marketing, Conferences, or Travel. For example, under GAAP, a fixed cost like equipment depreciation would be a direct cost for a manufacturer. However, in a managerial-focused environment, fixed costs are often kept out of gross margin, to keep it from being distorted by swings in sales. Update the COA at least annually or when significant changes occur, such as business expansion, diversification, or changes in accounting regulations.


The balance sheet accounts are listed first, followed by the accounts in the income statement. The COA is typically set up to display information in the order that it appears in financial statements. That means that balance sheet accounts are listed first and are followed by accounts in the income statement. A chart of accounts (COA) is basic chart of accounts an index of all of the financial accounts in a company’s general ledger. In short, it is an organizational tool that lists by category and line item all of the financial transactions that a company conducted during a specific accounting period. Accounts may also be assigned a unique account number by which the account can be identified.

Use simple account names

These are followed by Liability accounts, which can include accounts payable, payroll, loans, and so on. In other words, the Balance sheet accounts are normally listed first and they are listed in the order in which they appear on this financial report. For example, if the software does not allow you to rearrange the order of the accounts on the financial statements, it becomes very critical how your order your chart of accounts. The chart of accounts is simply the organized list of all the bins and shelves.

The first digit of the number signifies if it is an asset, liability, etc. For example, if the first digit is a “1” it is an asset, if the first digit is a “3” it is a revenue account, etc. The company decided to include a column to indicate whether a debit or credit will increase the amount in the account. This sample chart of accounts also includes a column containing a description of each account in order to assist in the selection of the most appropriate account. While it sounds great in theory, in practice financial statements are what get faithfully generated and reviewed by management each month.