Everything You Need to Know About Chart of Accounts

Navigating the financial landscape of a business involves managing a variety of transactions, current liabilities, and financial performances. These activities need to be meticulously recorded in the financial statements account.

So, how will you know the proper account type to record it in? Here’s where the chart of accounts plays an essential role. This article offers a comprehensive guide on the chart of accounts, outlining its structure, operation, and the profound benefits it poses to your organization.

What’s a Chart of Accounts?

A chart of accounts (COA) is an accounting tool adopted to organize and categorize the company’s finances, including operating expenses, income, current assets, current liabilities, and more. It’s basically a numbered list of your company’s cash flow statement. A COA is typically structured hierarchically with various categories and sub-categories to record, classify, and report your financial information.

The balance sheet and the financial statement accounts primarily dictate the accounts you’ll enter into the chart of accounts. Assigning categories and their sub-groups ensures that your company’s accounting records are well-labeled for easy auditing.

Chart of Accounts Structure

The structure of a chart of accounts generally follows a hierarchical format with several levels of accounts. Depending on your organization’s specific needs, it can be more detailed or simplified. The account numbers and naming arrangement can vary between companies, but consistency is essential to ensure accurate financial reporting and analysis.

Here’s a primary structure of a chart of accounts:

1. Assets: Asset accounts represent what the company owns.

10100 – Cash

10200 – Accounts receivable

10300 – Inventory

10400 – Prepaid expense

10500 – Undisputed funds

10600 – Property, plant, and equipment

2. Liabilities: These are accounts that depict what the company owes.

20100 – Accounts payable

20200 – Short-term loans

20300 – Accrued liabilities

20400 – Long-term debt

20500 – Payroll due

20600 – Company credit card

3. Equity: Equity accounts represent the owner’s or shareholder’s stake in the company.

30100 – Common stock

30200 – Retained earnings

4. Revenue: Revenue accounts represent the company’s income.

40100 – Sales revenue

40200 – Interest income

40300 – Rental income

5. Expenses: These are accounts that represent costs and expenditures.

50100 – Salaries and wages

50200 – Rent expense

50300 – Utility expense

50400 – Advertising expense

6. Cost of goods sold: This account is specific to businesses that sell products.

60100 – The cost of goods sold

7. Taxes: These are accounts for various tax-related transactions.

70100 – Income tax expense

70200 – Sales tax payable

8. Intercompany: These are accounts for transactions between different entities within a larger organization, if applicable.

80100 – Intercompany receivables

80200 – Intercompany payables

9. Suspense or clearing accounts: These are temporary accounts used for adjusting entries.

90100 – Suspense account

How Does a Chart of Accounts Work?

Entities use a chart of accounts to organize, categorize, and record financial transactions, providing the basis for financial reporting and analysis. In accounting, each of your recorded business’s transactions is grouped according to its account and sub-account to enable you to keep your accounting system.

The standard categories in the chart of accounts include the following:

  • Current assets
  • Liabilities
  • Equity
  • Income
  • Expenses

Within these categories, you can create specific accounts for each type of financial item, such as cash, payable, or operating revenues.

Each account is assigned a unique account number and can be customized to fit the organization’s preference as long as they’re consistent. Names and descriptions are given to each account to understand its purpose. For example, cash might be a category name, and petty cash could be an account name within that category.

Benefits of a Chart of Accounts

An accounting chart plays a crucial role in accounting and financial management since you’ll have every account in your business laid out. Some of its benefits include the following:

Organizes the Company’s Financial Data

A chart of accounts provides a systematic way to classify and organize financial data, making tracking and managing transactions easier.

Uniformity and Consistency

It ensures uniformity and consistency in recording financial transactions. All department employees follow the same set of accounts and categories, reducing errors and promoting accuracy.

Budgeting and Planning

Organizations use it as a basis for budgeting and planning. It allows them to allocate resources and funds to specific accounts and track actual performance against the budgeted figures.

Compliance and Tax Reporting

An adequately maintained balance sheet simplifies tax compliance and reporting. It ensures that transactions are categorized correctly for tax purposes and can be easily audited or reviewed by tax authorities.

Financial Analysis

An effective chart makes it easier to conduct financial analysis, such as benchmarking, ratio analysis, and trend analysis. It’s essential for assessing the performance and financial health of the organization.

External Reporting

A standardized balance sheet is vital for external stakeholders such as investors, creditors, and regulators. It enhances transparency and makes it easier for these parties to understand the financial position and performance of the organization.

Audit Trail

The balance sheet helps create a clear audit trail by providing a structured framework for recording financial transactions. It’s vital for internal and external auditing, which is crucial for accountability and compliance.

Example of a Chart of Accounts

A chart of accounts basically includes a combination of balance sheets and income statement accounts. Below is an example of a standard account in an accounting chart.

Account numberAccount descriptionAccount typeFinancial statements
10100CashAssetBalance sheet
10200Prepaid expensesAssetBalance sheet
10300Accounts receivableAssetBalance sheet
10400InventoryAssetBalance sheet
10500Plant and machineryAssetBalance sheet
20100Accrued liabilitiesLiabilityBalance sheet
20200Accounts payableLiabilityBalance sheet
20300Wages payableLiabilityBalance sheet
20400Taxes payableLiabilityBalance sheet
30100Common stockEquityBalance sheet
30200Retained earningsEquityBalance sheet
40100Sales revenueRevenueIncome statement
40200Interest and incomeRevenueIncome statement
40300Rental incomeRevenueIncome statement
40400Returns and allowancesRevenueIncome statement
50100Rent expenseExpenseIncome statement
50200Depreciation expenseExpenseIncome statement
50300Supplies expenseExpenseIncome statement
50400Bank feesExpenseIncome statement
50500Advertising expenseExpenseIncome statement
50600Utilities expenseExpenseIncome statement

Note: The data in income statement accounts can also be used to generate other types of financial statements, including profit reports (net income).

How to Adjust Your Chart of Accounts

Adjusting your financial accounts is an essential step in managing your financial records. However, specific adjustments will depend on your unique business and accounting requirements. Here’s a general adjustment process:

Review Your Current Chart of Accounts

Begin by reviewing your existing chart of accounts to identify any issues or areas that need improvement. It may involve looking for duplicate, unused, or inaccurately labeled accounts.

Determine Your Needs

Consider why you need to adjust your chart of accounts. Are you expanding your business, simplifying your accounts, or changing your financial reporting requirements?

Plan the Changes

Create a plan by deciding which accounts you need to add, modify, or remove. Ensure that your chart of accounts aligns with your financial reporting requirements and business needs.

Organize Accounts

Group similar accounts together for ease of reporting. For instance, group all income accounts under a common category and do the same for expense accounts, liability accounts, and equity accounts.

Rename or Re-Categorize

If necessary, rename accounts to be more descriptive or re-categorize them to reflect your business operations better. Ensure the account names are easy to understand.

Add New Accounts

If your business is expanding or you have new categories of income or expense accounts, add new accounts as needed. Enter the new accounts to fit into the existing structure.

Delete or Deactivate Old Accounts

Deleting or deactivating old financial statements will help declutter your chart of accounts. This also prevents confusion that could arise from outdated or redundant data.

Communicate Changes

Communicate the changes in the chart of accounts to everyone in your business so they can be on the same page.

Maintain and Monitor

Regularly review your chart of accounts to make further adjustments as your business evolves. Make sure it continues to meet your financial reporting needs.

Chart of Accounts Best Practices

Establishing a productive chart of accounts in accounting requires some guiding principles. These methods ensure that your COA remains organized, compliant, and adaptable to your business’s evolving needs. Here are some key practices to consider:

Embrace Simplicity

Strive to keep your COA straightforward and comprehensible. This approach allows for easier navigation and a better understanding of your financial records.

Ensure Consistency

Adopt a uniform approach towards naming and numbering your accounts. Standardized categorizations facilitate orderliness and reduce potential confusion in your COA.

Prioritize Hierarchy

Establish your accounts hierarchically, with parent accounts and corresponding sub-accounts. This structure creates a clear reflection of the relationships and dependencies among various accounts.

Promote Relevance

Include only those accounts that serve a significant purpose in your business operations. Unnecessary accounts can clutter your COA and compromise its effectiveness.

Adopt Numerical Order

Focus on a systematic approach in numbering your accounts, such as reserving the 1000s for assets, 2000s for liabilities, 3000s for equity, and so forth. This will enhance the organization and orderliness of your COA.


An adaptable COA is a durable COA. Construct your chart in a manner that allows you to easily add or modify accounts as your business evolves. This also applies to financial reports, which may need updating in line with your business growth or changes.


Following regulatory standards such as the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) is crucial. It ensures compliance and contributes to consistency across all your accounting practices.

FASB and GAAP Chart of Accounts Guidelines

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) do not prescribe specific charts of accounts guidelines. Instead, they provide broad accounting standards and principles that guide financial reporting in the United States.

Organizations should design their chart of accounts to adhere to these principles. Hence, it’s essential that you consult with a qualified accountant or financial professional to create a chart of accounts that aligns with these standards.

Frequently Asked Questions About Chart of Accounts (FAQs)

Below are common questions people have about charts of accounts that may enlighten you further:

1. Why is a chart of accounts important?

It helps organize and categorize financial transactions, making tracking and reporting on a company’s financial health easier.

2. How do you set up a chart of accounts?

You can customize it to suit your business needs, starting with basic accounts like asset accounts, liability accounts, equity accounts, and revenue and expense accounts.

3. Can I add or modify accounts in the chart of accounts?

Yes, you can add, delete, or modify accounts to reflect changes in your business.

4. What’s the difference between a general ledger and a chart of accounts?

The general ledger contains the detailed transactions for each account, while the chart of accounts is a list of accounts. 


A chart of accounts is vital to a company’s financial management. It efficiently organizes, manages, and reports transactions, supports budgeting and tax reporting, and must be customized to a business’s individual needs.

It’s the backbone of a robust financial system, enhancing understanding of a company’s financial health and performance. So take charge and smartly utilize the COA to gain a more profound understanding of your business’s finances and financial performance.

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