What is Accounts Payable?

Accounts payable are amounts which are owed by a business to its suppliers for the purchase of trade goods or services, they are sometimes referred to as trade payables or trade creditors. Under normal circumstances, they are normally unsecured, and non-interest bearing.


If a supplier allows a business credit terms and invoices for a product or service and allows payment to be made at a later date 30 days 60 days etc, the business is said to have purchased goods on account or on credit. While the business owes the supplier the money, the outstanding amount is classified as an accounts payable in the accounting records of the business.

Accounts payable are recorded in the balance sheet of the business under the heading of current liabilities, that means they are payable within a year.

accounts payable - balance sheet

Accounts Payable Process

The aim of the payables process is to ensure that only approved supplier or vendor invoices are entered into the accounts payable system, and that payments to suppliers are made at the appropriate time.

The accounts payable process starts with a purchase order from the business to the supplier. The supplier then sends the goods with a delivery note together with an invoice. On receipt, the goods are checked against the purchase order which is then matched to the invoice. In this way only invoices which have been properly approved are entered into the payables system.

Accounts Payable Invoice Processing

Once approved the invoice can be entered into the purchase day book or purchase journal.

If for example, purchases are made on credit from Supplier A for 500 and Supplier B for 800 the first entry would be to the purchases day book to record the purchases.

Purchases Day Book – to record the supplier invoices
Purchases Day Book Page 1
Date Supplier Invoice Page Amount
8th Oct 2014 Supplier A Invoice 123 Page 4 500
9th Oct 2014 Supplier B Invoice 456 Page 7 800
Total Purchases 1,300

The purchase day book is part of the payables system and records details of the date, supplier, invoice reference number, general ledger page reference to which the account was posted, and the amount. The day book is not part of the double entry bookkeeping process and is simply a listing of trade invoices.

The next stage of the payables procedure is to enter the purchase day book details into the purchase ledger. The purchase ledger is a subsidiary ledger which is part of the double entry bookkeeping process.

The ledger contains a page for each supplier and records details of all transaction with that supplier including purchase invoices, cash payments, and adjustments. The balance on each suppliers account represents the outstanding balance to that supplier, and the total of the purchase ledger balances is the account payable balance, and represents amounts owed by the business to suppliers.

Purchase Ledger – to record the accounts payable
Supplier A Page 4
Date Account Page Debit Credit
8th Oct 2014 Purchases PDB 1 500
Supplier B Page 7
Date Account Page Debit Credit
9th Oct 2014 Purchases PDB 1 800
Total Accounts payable 1,300

Accounts Payable Bookkeeping Entry

The bookkeeping entry to record a supplier invoice is to debit the purchases or expense account and credit the account payable account.

Double entry posting to the accounts payable account
Account Debit Credit
Purchases or expense 1,300
Accounts Payable Account 1,300
Total 1,300 1,300

The credit entry to the accounts-payable account is either to the subsidiary purchase ledger or to the accounts-payable control account in the general ledger depending on which one the business sees as part of the double entry system.

Account Payable Payment

Payment to the supplier should be made at the appropriate time in order take advantage of any discount being offered by the supplier for early settlement.

When a supplier invoice has been entered and approved for payment, the double entry bookkeeping journal entry to make the payment is as follows:

Double entry posting to make payment to supplier
Account Debit Credit
Accounts Payable Account – Supplier A 500
Cash 500
Total 500 500

The payment has been made to Supplier A, the debit to the trade payables account clears the original invoice posted to the supplier account, and the credit to cash reflects the cash going out of the business to the supplier.

Account Payable Reconciliation

The accounts payable normal balance is a credit balance. Additional invoices added to the account will increase the credit balance, and payments to suppliers will reduce the balance. In addition there will be adjustments relating to discounts taken, error corrections, supplier debit notes for returned goods etc. and each of these will affect the balance on the account.

The following formula reconciles the beginning and ending balances on an account payable account.

Ending accounts payable = Beginning accounts payable + Credit purchases – Cash payments

At the end of each accounting period, the ending balance on each supplier account can be reconciled to the independent statement received from the supplier. This statement shows the balance the supplier thinks is outstanding and, if the ending balance on the supplier payables account does not agrees to the statement, then the purchases, payments, and adjustments each need to be checked to understand why, and appropriate correcting entries made.

Last modified January 23rd, 2020 by Michael Brown

About the Author

Chartered accountant Michael Brown is the founder and CEO of Double Entry Bookkeeping. He has worked as an accountant and consultant for more than 25 years and has built financial models for all types of industries. He has been the CFO or controller of both small and medium sized companies and has run small businesses of his own. He has been a manager and an auditor with Deloitte, a big 4 accountancy firm, and holds a degree from Loughborough University.

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