Behind the Metrics: Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable

This set of blogs will take you behind some of the metrics you should be measuring in your business. We’ll talk about what they are, what they really mean and more.

accounts-payable-behind-the-metricsToday we’re talking the ins and outs of your accounts … payable and receivable that is. To begin, let’s look at what they actually are:

            Accounts payable: Money owed by you to your vendors

            Accounts receivable: Money owed to you by your customers


Okay, so what does this really mean?

Accounts payable and accounts receivable are different sides of the same coin. When you talk about accounts payable, you’re discussing the money YOU owe. On the other side, accounts receivable measures how much money OTHERS owe you.

Let’s break it down …

Accounts Payable

When you buy goods or services from someone and don’t pay them for it at the time of transaction, you’re buying them on credit. This is tracked in your accounting system as an account payable. This seems like it should go without saying, but you need to pay these off within a given time to avoid incurring late fees and/or interest. Some vendors are even nice enough to offer discounts if you pay early.

Accounts payable are current liabilities; meaning the accounts payable due within a year However, we all know vendors typically don’t give you a year (most are due on receipt or within 30 days). There are other liabilities like short-term loans, payroll costs or income taxes for your business … but those are recorded elsewhere.

Accounts Receivable

Think of accounts receivable as your outstanding invoices. It’s like you’ve received an IOU from your customers. They have a legal obligation to pay you back.

Similar to accounts payable, the accounts receivable is a current asset … we’re talking at the most a year. But again, you likely aren’t going to give your customers a year to pay you back. If a company cannot collect on its accounts receivable, they do have options for recourse, including taking the debtor to court or handing over the debt collection to a third-party bill collector.

As a fun fact, if a company has bad debt (accounts receivable was recorded as income but payment was not received …learn more about why this would happen here), the IRS allows you to subtract it from your gross income on your income tax return. However, this is only as long as the debt was reported as income on a previous return. But if by chance your customer comes through (after you record it as bad debt), you will need to record a bad debt recovery (income) when the money is received.

So how do I track it?

Accounts Payable

To track your accounts payable, your numbers guru credits accounts payable when a bill is owed and debits accounts payable when the bill is paid.

Of course, we’re just talking here about the accounts payable section of your accounting system. In reality, the full tracking looks like this:

When an invoice is received, the invoice is recorded as a credit to Accounts Payable, AND a debit to another account(s) within your system like inventory or expense (cough, double entry accounting).

When an invoice is paid, the payment is recorded as a debit to Accounts Payable, AND a credit to cash (or in some cases credit card payable).

Accounts Receivable

To track your accounts receivable, your numbers guru debits accounts receivable when an invoice is create and credits accounts receivable when payment for the invoice is received.

Of course, we’re just talking here about the accounts receivable section of your accounting system. In reality, the full tracking looks like this:

When an invoice is create, the invoice is recorded as a debit to Accounts Receivable, AND a credit to another account(s) within your system like income.

When payment for the invoice is received, the payment is recorded as a credit to Accounts Receivable, AND a debit to cash.

Anything else?

Why yes in fact … let’s talk turnover.

Accounts Payable Turnover Ratio

In its simplest form, the accounts payable turnover ratio is a measurement of the rate you’re paying off your short-term debt to suppliers.

It’s calculated like this:

Total Supplier Purchases

Average Accounts Payable

This matters because this calculation allows your investors (and you) to see how often you pay your average payable amount to your vendors. When your turnover ratio falls, it means you’re taking longer than normal to pay off your short-term debts. When the turnover ratio rises, you’re paying off vendors at a faster rate.

Accounts Receivable Turnover Ratio

What this basically means is your ability to effectively extend credit and collect debts on those credits. In other words, how well are you collecting on the debts your customers owe you?

It’s calculated like this:

Net Credit Sales

Average Accounts Receivable

A high receivable turnover ratio often means your collection policies are effective and efficient. You have a good quantity of customers who pay off debts owed to you in a timely fashion. Or, it could mean you’re conservative with the amount of credit you extend.

A low ratio can tell you that you have a poor collection process or are being too generous with your extensions of credit. It could also mean you have customers who aren’t willing to pay off their debt, or are having difficulty doing so.

Big difference in your turnover numbers?

This can tell you a story about your cash flow; but these aren’t the only components of cash flow. For example if your accounts receivable turnover is low compared to your account payable turnover, it means you are paying your suppliers faster than your customers are paying you. This could create decreased cash flow and you might be feeling the pressure. However if your accounts receivable turnover is high compared to your accounts payable turnover, you might be seeing a cash influx. But it’s important to remember you have accounts payables coming due so don’t be quick to spend it all.

The moral of the story …

Accounts receivable and accounts payable (and their respective turnover ratios) tell a part of your company’s story. By examining them and continually measuring them, you can see ways to adjust course, change methods or improve systems in order to help make you a more successful business.



3 comments on “Behind the Metrics: Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable

  1. […] Similar to the bank reconciliation, if your account detail – such as accounts receivable and accounts payable detail – doesn’t agree with your balance sheet, it may indicate a problem with the reconciliation process. A detailed review of your account records can help you identify which difference needs to be corrected. (If you need a refresher on accounts payable and accounts receivable, look here). […]


  2. […] Receivable – We’ve mentioned this a lot: keeping up on accounts receivable is important. Income from your operations is what keeps your business going, so making sure you […]


  3. […] Payable Ratio is expressed as accounts payable divided by cost of goods sold, multiplied by 365 days. The accounts payable ratio shows the number […]


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