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Small business terms: What are accrued expenses?

As a small business owner, you want to get a true picture of your company’s resources and financial responsibilities. This means you should recognise income as soon as you earn it and expenses as you incur them.

If your company receives goods or services from suppliers and you pay for them in the following month or accounting period, you recognise these accrued expenses before making the actual payments.

What are accrued expenses?

Accrued expenses are the expenses your company incurs before you pay for them. Typically, you note these expenses as current liabilities, but you pay them in the next financial period. You need to log these expenses in your firm’s accounting books, such as on its balance sheet, because you must pay them in the future.

But why should you record accrued expenses before making the necessary payments? As a responsible business owner, you want your expenses to closely align with your revenues to increase accuracy in your firm’s financial statements.

Examples of accrued expenses

Typical examples of expense accruals include salaries payable, utilities, and taxes you incur for which the government has yet to issue a notice. If you run a startup or small business, you might need to take out a loan to fund your day-to-day operations. You must pay the loan and the accumulated interest at some future date.

In this case, the interest serves as the accrued expense, and you recognise it during the current accounting period.

As another example of an accrued expense, imagine your company receives raw materials from a supplier near the end of the month, and you close your books before you receive an invoice from the supplier. In this case, you enter an “accrued expense liability” when you receive the raw materials and a “materials expense” when you actually pay.


Because you often record accrued expenses or income at a different time than when payment is exchanged, accrual-based accounting requires you to make two entries for each event.

How to record accruals

When you recognise income, you enter the accrual under your income account as well as an asset account, such as accounts receivable. When you recognise an expense, you enter the accrual under your expense account as well as a liability account, such as accounts payable.

Then, when the payment exchanges hands, you can offset the accrual in your asset or liability account and then debit or credit your cash account.

While this requires additional steps compared to cash-based accounting, it’s much easier to record each event properly than wait for the end of the year to convert your cash-based records.

Recognising expenses even before you pay for them ensures your books stay up to date with your company’s current resources and financial obligations. With QuickBooks Online, you can organise your business finances and stay ready for tax time. Try it free for 30 days.

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