Explanation of T-account, Debit and Credit, and Double-entry Accounting System

All accountants know several terms that create basis for any accounting system. Such terms are T-account, debit and credit, and double-entry accounting system. Of course, these terms are studied by accounting students all over the world. However, any business person, whether an investment banker or a small business owner, will benefit from knowing them as well. They are easy to grasp and will be helpful in most business situations. Let us take a closer look at these accounting terms.


Accounting records about events and transactions are recorded in accounts. An account is an individual record of increases and decreases in a specific asset, liability, or owner’s equity item. Look at accounts as a place for recording numbers related to a certain item or class of transactions. Examples of accounts may be Cash, Accounts Receivable, Fixed Assets, Accounts Payable, Accrued Payroll, Sales, Rent Expenses and so on.

An account consists of three parts:

– title of the account

– left side (known as debit)

– right side (known as credit)

Because the alignment of these parts of an account resembles the letter T, it is referred to as a T account. You could draw T accounts on a piece of paper and use it to maintain your accounting records. However, nowadays, instead of having to draw T accounts, accountants use accounting software (i.e., QuickBooks, Microsoft Accounting, Peachtree, JD Edwards, Oracle, and SAP, among others).

Debit, Credit and Account Balance

In account, the term debit means left side, and credit means right side. These are abbreviated as Dr for debit and Cr for credit. Debit and credit indicate on which side of a T account numbers will be recorded.

An account balance is the difference between the debit and credit amounts. For some types of accounts debit means an increase in the account balance, while for others debit means a decrease in the account balance. See below for a list of accounts and what a debit to such account means:

Asset – Increase
Contra Assets – Decrease
Liability – Decrease
Equity – Decrease
Contribution Capital – Decrease
Revenue – Decrease
Expenses – Increase
Distributions – Increase

Credits to the above account types will mean an opposite result.

Double-entry Accounting System

A double-entry accounting system requires that any amount entered into the accounting records is shown at least on two different accounts. For example, when a customer pays cash for your product, an account would show the cash received in the Cash account (as a debit) and in the Sales account (as a credit). All debit amounts equal all credit amounts provided the double-entry accounting was properly followed.

Having a double-entry accounting system has benefits over regular, one-sided systems. One of such benefits is that the double-entry system helps identify recording errors. As I mentioned, if one amount is entered only once in error, then debits and credits won’t balance and the accountant will know that one or more entries were not posted fully. Note, however, that this check will help spot errors, but will not identify all cases of errors. For example, equal debits and credits will not identify an error when an amount was posted twice, but was posted to wrong accounts. Keep this in mind when analyzing causes of errors in accounting records.

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