Accounts receivable is a crucial aspect of any business’s financial operations. It represents the amount of money owed to a company by its customers for goods or services provided on credit. This comprehensive guide will delve into the definition, calculation, and examples of accounts receivable.

We will also explore the differences between accounts receivable and accounts payable, discuss the pros and cons of managing accounts receivable, and address common questions regarding this important financial metric.

Accounts Receivable Explained

Accounts receivable, often known as AR, are the money customers owe to a company for goods or services they received but have yet to pay for. It’s like the company’s IOU from its customers. On the company’s balance sheet, accounts receivable are listed as a current asset, which means it’s expected to be collected within a year.

When a company sells something on credit, it’s creating accounts receivable. Instead of getting immediate cash, the company gives the customer time to pay, which could be a short period or even several months, depending on the agreement between the company and the customer.

Sales Outstanding

Sales Outstanding, called Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) or average collection period, is essential for understanding accounts receivable. It tells us how long, on average, it takes a company to get paid by its customers after selling products//services. If the DSO is low, the company is good at turning what it’s owed into actual cash.

Here’s how you figure out the DSO: divide the average accounts receivable by the average daily sales, then multiply it by the number of days.

This number helps businesses look at their cash flow and how much money they have available. If the DSO is high, there are issues with how customers pay, which could signal possible cash flow troubles. Conversely, a low DSO indicates that customers are paying their bills quickly, which is excellent for the company’s financial health.

Calculating Accounts Receivable

Credit Sales: 

This metric is when customers buy things but wait to pay. They promise to pay later.

Average Accounts Receivable:

 It’s like finding the middle amount customers owe you. You add what they owe at the start and what they owe now, then divide by two.

Formula: Average Accounts Receivable = (Beginning Accounts Receivable + Ending Accounts Receivable) / 2

Turnover Ratio: 

This ratio shows how fast customers are paying. If it’s high, they take more time. This might affect how much money you have.

Formula: Accounts Receivable Turnover Ratio = Credit Sales / Average Accounts Receivable

Accounts Receivable vs. Accounts Payable

Accounts Receivable:

When a company provides goods or services to customers but allows them to pay later, it creates an “accounts receivable.” This is like a kind of IOU from the customers. It represents money the company rightfully expects to receive. The company’s balance sheet lists accounts receivable as a current asset because it’s expected to be collected within a year.

For example, imagine a small tech company sells software to a client for $1,000 but allows them to pay in 30 days. In this case, the company has created an accounts receivable of $1,000.

Accounts Payable:

Conversely, when a company buys goods or services from suppliers but isn’t required to pay immediately, it creates an “accounts payable,” which is like a promise to pay the supplier later. It represents money the company owes to its suppliers. On the balance sheet, accounts payable are listed as a current liability because it’s a debt that must be settled within a year.

For instance, if the same tech company needs to buy office supplies, it might receive an invoice for $500 with a payment due in 30 days. In this case, the company has an accounts payable of $500.

In essence, accounts receivable is about what others owe the company, while accounts payable is what the company owes to others. Both involve buying or selling on credit, a common practice in business transactions. Balancing these two aspects is crucial for maintaining healthy cash flow and good customer and supplier relationships.

Pros and Cons of Accounts Receivable

Managing accounts receivable comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Let’s explore the pros and cons of accounts receivable to understand its implications for businesses.

Pros of Accounts Receivable

  • Increased Sales Opportunities: 

Offering credit terms to customers can attract more sales and encourage customer loyalty. It allows customers to make purchases even if they don’t have immediate cash available.

  • Flexible Payment Options: 

Accounts receivable allow customers to pay for goods or services over an extended period, making managing their cash flow easier.

  • Improved Cash Flow: 

While accounts receivable represents money owed to the company, it also signifies expected cash inflows shortly. This can improve a company’s cash flow and provide funds for operational expenses and growth initiatives.

  • Customer Relationships: 

Credit terms can strengthen customer relationships by demonstrating trust and willingness to work together. It can also help attract new customers who prefer the convenience of purchasing on credit.

Cons of Accounts Receivable

  • Payment Delays: 

Accounts receivable introduces the risk of payment delays or non-payment by customers, which can impact a company’s cash flow and liquidity, potentially leading to financial difficulties.

  • Collection Efforts: 

Managing accounts receivable requires time and resources to track and collect outstanding payments. Companies may need to invest in a dedicated collection department or outsource the collection process to a third-party agency.

  • Bad Debts: 

Some customers may need help paying their outstanding invoices, resulting in bad debts. Companies must account for potential bad debts and establish provisions to mitigate the financial impact.

  • Opportunity Cost: 

Extending customer credit ties up funds that could be invested elsewhere. Companies must assess the opportunity cost of providing credit and ensure that the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

While accounts receivable can offer numerous advantages, businesses must carefully manage and monitor their receivables to mitigate potential risks and optimize cash flow.

Accounts Receivable Examples

To illustrate the concept of accounts receivable, let’s consider a few examples:

  • Retail Store: 

A retail store sells clothing and accessories to customers in-store and online. When a customer purchases using a credit card or opts for a deferred payment plan, the transaction is recorded as accounts receivable. The store will send an invoice to the customer, indicating the amount owed and the payment due date.

  • Service Provider: 

A consulting firm provides advisory services to clients and invoices them every month. The firm’s accounts receivable will reflect the outstanding payments from clients for the services rendered. The firm may offer credit terms, allowing clients to pay within a specified period, typically 30 days.

  • Wholesaler: 

A wholesaler supplies products to retailers on credit. When a retailer places an order, the wholesaler ships the products and sends an invoice to the retailer. The invoice amount becomes part of the wholesaler’s accounts receivable until the retailer pays for the goods.

These examples demonstrate how accounts receivable are created when a company extends credit to its customers and represents the outstanding payments owed to the company.

Where is a Company’s Accounts Receivable?

A company’s accounts receivable is recorded as a current asset on the balance sheet. It is typically listed under the current assets section and other short-term assets such as cash, inventory, and prepaid expenses. The accounts receivable balance represents the total amount of money owed to the company by its customers for goods or services provided on credit.

Accounting software and financial systems track and maintain accounts receivable records, allowing businesses to monitor and manage outstanding invoices efficiently. Companies may also generate aging reports to analyze their accounts receivable status, categorizing them based on the time they have been satisfactory or more.

What Happens if Customers Never Pay What’s Due?

In some cases, customers may fail to pay their outstanding invoices, leading to potential losses for the company. When it becomes clear that a customer will not pay the amount due, the company may need to write off the accounts receivable as a bad debt expense, reflecting that the company will not receive the expected payment.

Writing off a bad debt expense involves removing the outstanding amount from the accounts receivable balance and recording it as an expense on the income statement. While this affects the company’s profitability, it also allows for more accurate financial reporting by recognizing the potential loss.

Alternatively, companies may sell their accounts receivable to a third party, known as factoring. Factoring allows the company to receive immediate cash for the outstanding invoices, transferring the responsibility of collecting the payment to the factor. Factoring can improve cash flow and mitigate the risk of non-payment.

How are Accounts Receivable Different from Accounts Payable?

Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable are like two sides of a financial coin in a company’s operations.

Accounts Receivable

Accounts Receivable is the money customers owe to the company because they bought something on credit. It’s a promise to pay later. The company expects to receive this money, so it’s listed as an asset on the balance sheet.

For instance, if a company sold products worth $1,000 with a promise from the customer to pay in 30 days, it records an accounts receivable of $1,000.

Accounts Payable

On the other hand, Accounts Payable is the money the company owes to its suppliers for goods or services they provide on credit. It’s a promise to pay the supplier later, which is seen as a debt and listed as a liability on the balance sheet.

For example, if the company buys office supplies and gets an invoice for $500, payable in 30 days, it creates an accounts payable of $500.

The critical distinction here is that accounts receivable represent what others owe to the company, while accounts payable mean what the company owes to others. Even though both involve credit transactions, they’re opposite sides of the same financial situation. Managing them well is essential for healthy cash flow and maintaining positive relationships with customers and suppliers.

FAQs

Q1: What’s the distinction between accounts receivable and trade receivables?

A1: Accounts receivable and trade receivables mean the same thing. They both stand for the money owed to a company by its customers for goods or services provided on credit.

Q2: Is accounts receivable considered an asset?

A2: Absolutely; accounts receivable is listed as a current asset on the balance sheet. It signifies the company’s entitlement to receive customer payments and is anticipated to turn into cash within a year.

Q3: How can a company enhance its collection of accounts receivable?

A3: Companies can enhance the collection of accounts receivable by implementing sound credit policies, setting clear payment terms, issuing timely and accurate invoices, staying in touch with customers regarding outstanding payments, and offering incentives for early settlement.

Q4: Could you explain factoring accounts receivable?

A4: Factoring accounts receivable involves selling the outstanding invoices or accounts receivable to a third party, known as a factor. The factor pays the company a portion of the invoice value upfront, assuming the responsibility of collecting the payment from the customers.

Bottom Line

Accounts receivable is a crucial aspect of a company’s financial operations, representing the outstanding amounts customers owe for goods or services provided on credit. Understanding accounts receivable is essential for businesses to manage cash flow, monitor credit policies, and optimize their financial health.

Companies can improve their liquidity, strengthen customer relationships, and mitigate non-payment risk by implementing compelling accounts receivable management strategies.

Articles with this term

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board (OTPPB) Explained

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board (OTPPB) Explained

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board (OTPPB) is a global investor that oversees the retirement plan for public school teachers in Ontario, Canada. With net assets of $247.2 billion as of Dec...

2 min

Offensive Competitive Strategy: Meaning and Types

Offensive Competitive Strategy: Meaning and Types

In the business world, staying ahead of the competition is often the key to success. Companies invest heavily in crafting strategies to gain an edge, and while defensive strategies, such as protecting...

4 min

Offer for Asset Purchase Explained

Offer for Asset Purchase Explained

Regarding business transactions, there are various ways to buy or sell a company or its assets. One standard method is through an offer  This approach can have several advantages for buyers and s...

4 min

share

Latest News

May 23, 2024

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board (OTPPB) Explained

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board (OTPPB) is a global investor that oversees the retire...


May 23, 2024

Offensive Competitive Strategy: Meaning and Types

In the business world, staying ahead of the competition is often the key to success. Companies inves...


May 23, 2024

Offer for Asset Purchase Explained

Regarding business transactions, there are various ways to buy or sell a company or its assets. One ...


May 23, 2024

What is an Off-Balance Sheet (OBS)?: A Quick Guide

Understanding Off-Balance Sheet (OBS) items is essential for anyone interested in a company’s ...


May 23, 2024

Occupational Labor Mobility Explained

The job market is rapidly changing, and the ability to adapt and switch between careers has become a...


May 23, 2024

Obamanomics Defined: What It Is and How It Works

Obamanomics is a term that gained popularity during Barack Obama’s presidency, which lasted fr...