Accounts receivable and accounts payable are the yin and yang of business: When revenues and expenditures stay in healthy equilibrium, the company can seize growth opportunities, and relationships with customers and suppliers remain on a positive footing.
A company’s accounts payable (AP) ledger lists its short-term liabilities — obligations for items purchased from suppliers, for example, and money owed to creditors. Accounts receivable (AR) are funds the company expects to receive from customers and partners. AR is listed as a current asset on the balance sheet.
Lenders and potential investors look at AP and AR to gauge a company’s financial health. Income is important, and so is prudent spending to grow the business and retain customers. Mismanagement of either side of the equation can adversely affect your credit and, eventually, the stability of your business.
What Is Accounts Payable (AP)?
A company’s accounts payables comprise amounts it owes to suppliers and other creditors — items or services purchased and invoiced for. AP does not include, for example, payroll or long-term debt like a mortgage — though it does include payments to long-term debt.
Accounts payable are typically recorded upon receipt of an invoice based on the payment terms both parties agreed to when initiating the transaction. When a finance team receives a valid bill for goods and services, it is recorded as a journal entry and posted to the general ledger as an expense. The balance sheet shows the total amount of accounts payable, but it does not list individual transactions.
Once an authorized approver signs off on the expense and payment is issued per the terms of the contract, such as net-30 or net-60 days, the accounting team records the expense as paid.
AP departments are responsible for processing expense reports and invoices and for ensuring payments are made. A skilled AP team keeps supplier relationships positive by making sure vendor information is accurate and up-to-date and bills are paid on time. The team can save the company money by taking full advantage of favorable payment terms and available discounts. A strong AP practice contributes to business success by ensuring cash forecasts stay accurate, minimizing mistakes and fraud and generating reports for business leaders and third parties.
What Is Accounts Receivable (AR)?
Accounts receivable are the funds that customers owe your company for products or services that have been invoiced. The total value of all accounts receivable is listed on the balance sheet as current assets and include invoices that clients owe for items or work performed for them on credit.
Generally, vendors bill their customers after providing services or products according to terms mutually agreed on when a contract is signed or a purchase order is issued. Terms typically range from net 30 — that is, customers agree to pay invoices within 30 days — to net 60 or even net 90, which a company may choose to accept to secure a contract. However, for large orders, a company may ask for a deposit up front, especially if the product is made to order. Services firms also frequently bill some portion of their fees up front.
Once a company delivers goods or services to the client, the AR team invoices the customer and records the invoiced amount as an account receivable, noting the terms.
If the client pays as agreed, the team records the payment as a deposit; at that point, the account is no longer receivable. If the customer fails to pay on time, the AR or collections team will likely send a dunning letter, which may include a copy of the original invoice and list any late fees.
With accounting and finance software, companies can improve their days payables metrics by automatically emailing customers about past-due invoices and requesting immediate payment. Business leaders can drill down into each account, or all past-due accounts, for more detailed reporting on customer, invoice, due date, amount due and credit terms. Look for the ability to exclude certain customers, such as those with extended terms, from collection emails.