General ledger

General ledger
Key concepts
Accountant · Accounting period · Bookkeeping · Cash and accrual basis · Cash flow management · Chart of accounts · Journal  · Special journals · Constant Item Purchasing Power Accounting · Cost of goods sold · Credit terms · Debits and credits · Double-entry system · Mark-to-market accounting · FIFO & LIFO · GAAP / IFRS · General ledger · Goodwill · Historical cost · Matching principle · Revenue recognition · Trial balance
Fields of accounting
Cost · Financial · Forensic · Fund · Management · Tax
Financial statements
Statement of financial position · Statement of cash flows · Statement of changes in equity · Statement of comprehensive income · Notes · MD&A · XBRL
Auditor's report · Financial audit · GAAS / ISA · Internal audit · Sarbanes–Oxley Act
Accounting qualifications
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The main accounting record of a business which uses double-entry bookkeeping. It will usually include accounts for such items as current assets, fixed assets, liabilities, revenue and expense items, gains and losses. Each General Ledger is divided into debits and credits sections. The left hand side lists debit transactions and the right hand side lists credit transactions. This gives a 'T' shape to each individual general ledger account.

A "T" account showing debits on the left and credits on the right.

Debits Credits

The general ledger is a collection of the group of accounts that supports the value items shown in the major financial statements. It is built up by posting transactions recorded in the sales daybook, purchases daybook, cash book and general journals daybook. The general ledger can be supported by one or more subsidiary ledgers that provide details for accounts in the general ledger. For instance, an accounts receivable subsidiary ledger would contain a separate account for each credit customer, tracking that customer's balance separately. This subsidiary ledger would then be totalled and compared with its controlling account (in this case, Accounts Receivable) to ensure accuracy as part of the process of preparing a trial balance.[1]

There are five(seven) basic categories in which all accounts are grouped:

  1. Assets
  2. Liability
  3. Owner's equity
  4. Revenue
  5. Expense
  6. (Gains)
  7. (Loss)

The balance sheet and the income statement are both derived from the general ledger. Each account in the general ledger consists of one or more pages. The general ledger is where posting to the accounts occurs. Posting is the process of recording amounts as credits, (right side), and amounts as debits, (left side), in the pages of the general ledger. Additional columns to the right hold a running activity total (similar to a checkbook).

The listing of the account names is called the chart of accounts. The extraction of account balances is called a trial balance. The purpose of the trial balance is, at a preliminary stage of the financial statement preparation process, to ensure the equality of the total debits and credits.

The general ledger should include the date, description and balance or total amount for each account. It is usually divided into at least seven main categories. These categories generally include assets, liabilities, owner's equity, revenue, expenses, gains and losses. The main categories of the general ledger may be further subdivided into subledgers to include additional details of such accounts as cash, accounts receivable, accounts payable, etc.

Because each bookkeeping entry debits one account and credits another account in an equal amount, the double-entry bookkeeping system helps ensure that the general ledger is always in balance, thus maintaining the accounting equation:

Assets = Liabilities + (Shareholders or Owners equity)[2]

The accounting equation is the mathematical structure of the balance sheet. Although a general ledger appears to be fairly simple, in large or complex organizations or organizations with various subsidiaries, the general ledger can grow to be quite large and take several hours or days to audit or balance.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Mills, Doug (2000). Foundations of Accounting. Sydney: UNSW Press. p. 256. ISBN 0908237928. 
  2. ^ Meigs and Meigs. Financial Accounting, Fourth Edition. McGraw-Hill, 1983. pp.19-20.

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