A general ledger is a file comprised of the accounts used to record the business transactions of an organization. The general ledger has a specifically-defined template, which is used to organize the myriad of transactions that may be stored in the file.
The template can vary somewhat by accounting software package, but usually includes the following fields:
- Account number. This is the primary designator for an account. There are a number of possible account number configurations, such as two digits for a company code, two more digits for a department code within each company, and three more digits for a specific asset, liability, equity, revenue, or expense item within each department.
- Account name. This is the name of each account. It is normally set up in a separate file, and automatically appears in the general ledger when an account number is entered.
- Debit. This is the field into which the debit portion of an entry is made.
- Credit. This is the field into which the credit portion of an entry is made.
- Transaction number. A transaction number is entered as part of each transaction, possibly also with an identifier that describes the type of activity being recorded. For example, a journal entry transaction number may be preceded by "JE" while a cash receipt entered through the cash receipts system may be preceded by "CR".
- Totals. There is a totals row at the bottom of each account detail, stating the debit total and credit total as of the general ledger date. There may also be a calculated running total to the right of the other general ledger fields, stating the ending account balance as of each transaction.
Most general ledgers also allow for the entry of budget information. This information may be stored in a separate file, and only appears in the financial statements when the statements use a budget versus actual format.