On the balance sheet you list your assets and equities under classifications according to their general characteristics. It is a relatively simple matter to make a comparison of one classification with another or to make comparisons within a classification because similar assets or similar equities are listed together. Some of the most commonly used classifications are:
Current assets include cash and other assets that in the normal course of events are converted into cash within the operating cycle. For example, a manufacturing enterprise will use cash to acquire inventories of materials. These inventories of materials are converted into finished products and then sold to customers. Cash is collected from the customers. This circle from cash back to cash is called an operating cycle. In a merchandising business one part of the cycle is eliminated. Materials are not purchased for conversion into finished products. Instead, the finished products are purchased and are sold directly to the customers. Several operating cycles may be completed in a year, or it may take more than a year to complete one operating cycle. The time required to complete an operating cycle depends upon the nature of the business. It is conceivable that almost all of the assets that are used to conduct your business, such as buildings, machinery, and equipment, can be converted into cash within the time required to complete an operating cycle. However, your current assets are only those that will be converted into cash within the normal course of your business. The other assets are only held because they provide useful services and are excluded from the current asset classification. If you happen to hold these assets in the regular course of business, you can include them in the inventory under the classification of current assets. Current assets are usually listed in the order of their liquidity and frequently consist of cash, temporary investments, accounts receivable, inventories and prepaid expenses.
Cash is simply the money on hand and/or on deposit that is available for general business purposes. It is always listed first on a balance sheet. Cash held for some designated purpose, such as the cash held in a fund for eventual retirement of a bond issue, is excluded from current assets.
These investments are temporary and are made from excess funds that you do not immediately need to conduct operations. Until you need these funds, they are invested to earn a return. You should make these investments in securities that can be converted into cash easily; usually short-term government obligations.
Simply stated, accounts receivables are the amounts owed to you and are evidenced on your balance sheet by promissory notes. Accounts receivable are the amounts billed to your customers and owed to you on the balance sheet's date. You should label all other accounts receivable appropriately and show them apart from the accounts receivable arising in the course of trade. If these other amounts are currently collectible, they may be classified as current assets.
Your inventories are your goods that are available for sale, products that you have in a partial stage of completion, and the materials that you will use to create your products. The costs of purchasing merchandise and materials and the costs of manufacturing your various product lines are accumulated in the accounting records and are identified with either the cost of the goods sold during the fiscal period or as the cost of the inventories remaining at the end of the period.
These expenses are payments made for services that will be received in the near future. Strictly speaking, your prepaid expenses will not be converted to current assets in order to avoid penalizing companies that choose to pay current operating costs in advance rather than to hold cash. Often your insurance premiums or rentals are paid in advance.
Investments are cash funds or securities that you hold for a designated purpose for an indefinite period of time. Investments include stocks or the bonds you may hold for another company, real estate or mortgages that you are holding for income-producing purposes. Your investments also include money that you may be holding for a pension fund.
Often classified as fixed assets, or as plant and equipment, your plant assets include land, buildings, machinery, and equipment that are to be used in business operations over a relatively long period of time. It is not expected that you will sell these assets and convert them into cash. Plant assets simply produce income indirectly through their use in operations.
Your other fixed assets that lack physical substance are referred to as intangible assets and consist of valuable rights, privileges or advantages. Although your intangibles lack physical substance, they still hold value for your company. Sometimes the rights, privileges and advantages of your business are worth more than all other assets combined. These valuable assets include items such as patents, franchises, organization expenses and goodwill expenses. For example, in order to become incorporated you must incur legal costs. You can designate these legal costs as organizing expenses.
During the course of preparing your balance sheet you will notice other assets that cannot be classified as current assets, investments, plant assets, or intangible assets. These assets are listed on your balance sheet as other assets. Frequently, your other assets consist of advances made to company officers, the cash surrender value of life insurance on officers, the cost of buildings in the process of construction, and the miscellaneous funds held for special purposes.
On the equity side of the balance sheet, as on the asset side, you need to make a distinction between current and long-term items. Your current liabilities are obligations that you will discharge within the normal operating cycle of your business. In most circumstances your current liabilities will be paid within the next year by using the assets you classified as current. The amount you owe under current liabilities often arises as a result of acquiring current assets such as inventory or services that will be used in current operations. You show the amounts owed to trade creditors that arise from the purchase of materials or merchandise as accounts payable. If you are obligated under promissory notes that support bank loans or other amounts owed, your liability is shown as notes payable. Other current liabilities may include the estimated amount payable for income taxes and the various amounts owed for wages and salaries of employees, utility bills, payroll taxes, local property taxes and other services.
Your debts that are not due until more than a year from the balance sheet date are generally classified as long-term liabilities. Notes, bonds and mortgages are often listed under this heading. If a portion of your long-term debt is due within the next year, it should be removed from the long-term debt classification and shown under current liabilities.
Your customers may make advance payments for merchandise or services. The obligation to the customer will, as a general rule, be settled by delivery of the products or services and not by cash payment. Advance collections received from customers are classified as deferred revenues, pending delivery of the products or services.
Your owner's equity must be subdivided on your balance sheet: One portion represents the amount invested directly by you, plus any portion of retained earnings converted into paid-in capital. The other portion represents your net earnings that are retained. This rigid distinction is necessary because of the nature of any corporation. Ordinarily, stockholders, or owners, are not personally liable for the debts contracted by a company. A stockholder may lose his investment, but creditors usually cannot look to his personal assets for satisfaction of their claims. Under normal circumstances, the stockholders may withdraw as cash dividends an amount measured by the corporate earnings. The distinction in this rule gives the creditors some assurance that a certain portion of the assets equivalent to the owner's investment cannot be arbitrarily withdrawn. Of course, this portion could be depleted from your balance sheet because of operating losses. The owner's equity in an unincorporated business is shown more simply. The interest of each owner is given in total, usually with no distinction being made between the portion invested and the accumulated net earnings. The creditors are not concerned about the amount invested. If necessary, creditors can attach the personal assets of the owners.
Cost is conventionally used as the basis for accountability. Assets, when acquired under normal circumstances, are recorded at the price negotiated between two independent parties dealing at arm's length. Simply stated, the cost of an asset to the purchaser is the price that he or she must pay now or later in order to obtain it. The fair value of the asset is not relevant in recording the transaction on your balance sheet. A purchaser may acquire an asset at a cost that is greater or less than the fair value determined in the marketplace. If the asset is acquired, the purchaser accounts for the assets at his cost, value notwithstanding.
A simple formula to remember in determining cost is: Assets = Liability + Equity or Equity = Assets - Liability