Cash accounting is an accounting methodology under which revenue is recognized when cash is received, and expenses are recognized when cash is paid. For example, a company bills a customer $10,000 for services rendered on October 15, and receives payment on November 15. A sale is recorded on the cash receipt date, which is November 15. Similarly, the company receives a $500 invoice from a supplier on July 10, and pays the bill on August 10. The expense is recognized on the date of payment, which is August 10.
Cash accounting is most commonly used by smaller businesses, since it is easy to understand and does not require someone with an advanced knowledge of accounting practices. A larger business will use accrual accounting, where revenue is recognized when earned and expenses are recognized when incurred.
Depending on the software package, cash accounting may be available as an option, so that one can set a flag in the system when setting it up. Once the setup is complete, the software will produce financial statements using cash accounting.
There are problems with cash accounting. First, it can be used to manipulate the financial results of a business, since not recording a cash receipt can delay revenue recognition, and delaying a supplier payment will defer the recognition of expense. For example, a business owner who wants to report a reduced level of taxable income would accelerate payments to suppliers at year-end in order to increase the recognized amount of expenses.
Another problem is that revenues and expenses are not accrued, which can result in a financial picture of a business that is incorrect. For example, if a contractor has done a substantial amount of work on a long-term project but is not yet able to bill the work to date, the contractor will record a loss under cash accounting because there is not yet any revenue. Under accrual accounting, the contractor would have been able to recognize the revenue associated with the work to date.
Cash accounting is also known as cash-basis accounting.