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What is accounts receivable?

Harold Averkamp, CPA, MBA

Accounts receivable is the money that a company has a right to receive because it had provided customers with goods and/or services. For example, a manufacturer will have an account receivable when it delivers a truckload of goods to a customer on June 1 and the customer is allowed to pay in 30 days. From June 1 until the company receives the money, the company will have an account receivable (and the customer will have an account payable). Accounts receivables are also known as trade receivables.

Companies who sell on credit are unlikely to have liens on their customers' property. Hence, there is a risk that the full amount of their accounts receivable might not be collected. This means that companies need to cautious when granting credit and establishing an account receivable. If there is uncertainty of a potential (or existing) customer's credit worthiness, it is wise for the company to require the customer to pay with a credit card before delivering goods or services.

It is also important for a company to monitor its accounts receivable and to immediately follow up with any customer who has not paid as agreed. An aging of accounts receivable is a tool that will help and it is readily available with most accounting software. A general rule is that the older a receivable gets, the less likely it will be collected in full.

Accounts receivable are reported as a current asset on a company's balance sheet. Good accounting requires that an estimate be made for the amount that is unlikely to be collected. That estimate is reported as a credit balance in a related receivable account such as Allowance for Doubtful Accounts. Any adjustments to the Allowance balance will also be recorded in the income statement account Uncollectible Accounts Expense.

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Category: Bank

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