Definition: Permanent accounts are those accounts that continue to maintain ongoing balances over time. Essentially all accounts that are aggregated into the balance sheet are considered permanent accounts; these are the asset, liability, and equity accounts.
A permanent account does not necessarily have to contain a balance. If no transactions are ever recorded that involve such an account, or if the balance has been zeroed out, a permanent account may contain a zero balance.
It is reasonable to periodically review the need for permanent accounts and see if any should be combined, in order to reduce the number of accounts for which the accounting staff must monitor the contents.
Permanent accounts are the subject of considerable scrutiny by auditors, since transactions stored in these accounts possibly should be charged to revenue or expense and are thereby flushed out of the balance sheet.
The other type of account is the temporary account, which only accumulates information for one fiscal year, at the end of which the information is shifted into the retained earnings account (which is presented in the equity section of the balance sheet). All accounts that are aggregated into the income statement are considered temporary accounts; these are the revenue, expense, gain, and loss accounts.
Permanent accounts are also known as real accounts.