Last updated by
June 10, 2022
Whether big or small, virtually every organization throughout the world uses the accounting equation as the foundation for every transaction.
A close second to discovering America in the 1400’s is the creation of the accounting equation by Luca Pacioli in 1494. This mathematician created a formula that has stood the test of time. Whether big or small, virtually every organization throughout the world uses the accounting equation as the foundation for every transaction.
This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.
Table of contents
The accounting equation is the formula:
Assets = Liabilities + Owner’s Equity
This formula expresses the relationship between what an organization OWNS and what the organization OWES. The owner’s equity is the portion left over.
Assets represent everything the company owns or has claim too. It includes: cash, accounts receivable, inventory, prepaid expenses, fixed assets, long term receivables among other items.
Liabilities represent everything the company owes to a third party. It includes accounts payable, customer deposits, debt, deferred revenue and more.
Owners equity represents the claim owners or shareholders have on the remaining assets of the company. Or simply put, it is the value left after assets have paid all the liabilities.
The accounting equation works because of double entry accounting.
Double entry accounting means there is a debit and a credit for every transaction.
The double entry keeps the accounting equation in balance by increasing one component and decreasing another component of the formula.
A debit increases assets and expenses, and decreases liabilities, revenue and owner’s equity.
A credit, increases liabilities, revenue and owner’s equity, and decreases assets and expenses.
EXAMPLE: If you pay a bill, assets will decrease and expenses will increase.
You might be asking yourself how does expense fit into the accounting formula? Let’s explain.
Assets and liabilities are easy to understand but owner’s equity is a little more involved. Owner’s equity includes owner’s contributions and owner withdrawals. Contributions increase equity and withdrawals decrease equity.
The other part of the owner's equity is revenue and expenses. The net of these two categories is moved from the income statement to the owner’s equity account. If we expand the formula to include revenue and expense it would look like this:
Assets = Liabilities + [Capital – Distributions + Revenue – Expense]
Capital represents any investments made by an owner or shareholder.
Distributions represents any money distributed to owners or shareholders in terms of dividends or owner draws.
Revenues represents company sales, interest income, rental income, service fees and other revenue generating activities.
Expenses represent anything the company pays like cost of goods sold, payroll, advertising, utilities, professional fees, rent and much more. Expenses may even include noncash expenses such as depreciation.
EXAMPLE: If the income statement shows revenue of $100,000 and expenses of $92,000 the net income or profit is $8,000. This $8,000 is reflected in the owner’s equity account as earnings.
To summarize, owner’s equity includes contributions, distributions and net income.
The accounting equation is a very simple algebraic formula that can be rearranged in various formats to solve for any single component, but more than that expressing it in a different format answers different questions.
Assets = Liabilities + Owners Equity
This answers the question: What is the financial position or condition of the company? It is the arrangement you will find on the balance sheet. Notice in the example below the Asset balance of $472,100 equals the combined balance of $472,100 for the liabilities and owner’s equity.
Owner’s Equity = Assets - Liabilities
This answers the question: How much is left after all creditors of an organization have been paid? Creditors have first claim on all the assets followed by owner’s and stockholders.
Assets = Liabilities + Capital + Revenue - Expenses
This answers the question: What is the relationship between owner’s equity and the income statement? By expanding owner’s equity into subgroups, you can see the relationship between the income statement and the balance or owner’s equity.
Net Assets = Assets - Liabilities
This answers the question: What are the net assets of an organization? This is similar to format #1 but Owner’s Equity is stated as Net Assets. Net Worth, Net Assets, Owner's Equity are essentially all the same thing described in a different way. It might also be called Book Value as it defines how much the assets of an organization are worth after all liabilities have been settled. However, understanding book value and market value are not the same value.
The accounting equation affects both the balance sheet and the income statement; however, assets, liabilities and owner’s equity are only found on the balance sheet. As implied in the discussion of owner’s equity, the net income from the income statement posts to owner’s equity thus linking the balance sheet and the income statement together.
The balance sheet is one of the primary statements used in accounting. Its purpose is to document the financial condition of a company at a point in time. It highlights what the company owns (Assets), what the company owes (Liabilities), and the effectiveness of the operation over time (Equity).
The balance sheet will help management or a third party understand the following:
In essence the balance sheet is the most important statement revealing the financial condition of a company.
To this point you have learned the accounting equation is assets = liabilities + owners’ equity with owner’s equity divided into capital, revenue and expenses. In addition, every transaction in accounting must follow the double entry method of including a debit and a credit. Further, each debit/credit will affect one or many components in the equation. All of this ensures the formula remains in balance.
Here are a few examples:
Utility Expense $200
(increases expense with a debit, and decreases assets with a credit)
Accounts Receivable $1,000
(increases assets with a debit, and decreases assets with a credit)
Owners’ Equity $5,000
(increases assets with a debit, and increases owner’s equity with a credit)
Accounts Receivable $10,000
(increases an asset with a debit, and increases revenue with a credit)
Payroll Expense $5,000
(increases expense with a debit, and decreases assets with a credit)
You will not from all of these examples there is always a debit and a credit. If one side of the equation increases, the other side of the equation increases. The only real tricky one is expense. Notice in #5 above, payroll expense which is on the right side of equation increased, but cash which is on the left side of the equation decreased. That would seem to bring unbalance to the accounting equation. However, as you look closer, you realize that expense actually reduces owner’ equity thus keeping the accounting equation in balance.