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Cash Basis Accounting vs. Accrual Basis Accounting: What’s the Difference?

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There are two methods of recording accounting transactions in the world of accounting: cash basis and accrual basis.

While the cash basis requires prompt recognition of all expenses or revenues, the accrual basis is based on anticipated expenses and revenues. In other words, the cash basis of accounting recognizes expenses and revenues as soon as money changes hands between the two parties involved in the transaction.

On the other hand, the accrual foundation of accounting recognizes expenses when they are billed (not paid) and revenues when they are earned. Small firms use the cash foundation of accounting, whereas major organizations and publicly traded companies choose the accrual system.

Let’s delve deep into some of the differences between the cash and accrual basis of accounting.

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cash basis accounting vs. accrual basis accounting

Let us first figure out what are the differences between accrual vs cash basis accounting first? The significant distinction between cash and accrual accounting is when income and spending are represented in a company’s books. Since cash accounting is uncomplicated and more straightforward, businesses that are eligible to use it almost always prefer it.

Because income and expenses are recorded at different periods depending on whether a company uses cash or accrual accounting, this affects when companies incur tax liability (or benefit) due to these activities.

Accrual accounting businesses are taxed based on sales made, regardless of payment status, unlike cash accounting businesses, whose tax responsibility occurs when the sale proceeds enter their account. 

cash accounting vs. accrual accounting in a nutshell


Category Cash Basis Accrual Basis
When are transactions recorded? When funds are received or spent a sale takes place, or an expense is incurred
incurred tax liability when the money arrives When is the income recorded?
Simpleness of use Very straightforward and simple more difficult and time-consuming
Required for certain types of enterprises No Yes

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the benefits and downsides of cash basis accounting


Cash basis accounting records revenue when the money is received, and expenses are recorded when they are paid. Cash accounting does not recognize or track accounts receivable or payable.

As a result, the strategy is ideal for small enterprises that do not keep goods on hand. 

  • It allows you to see your cash balance. Cash accounting lets you understand how much money your company has at any given time and provides a picture of current account balances.
  • It gives you more control over your transactions. This can lead to more reliable cash management and tax benefits.
  • It is simpler to keep track of income and expenses. Simply track when you get money and when it leaves your account. You are not required to track receivables or payables (but you should).
  • There is less chance of not being able to make tax payments. Income is not taxed until it reaches your account. 


  • It does not indicate a company’s liabilities. Because cash-based accounting does not account for future payables, it is impossible to see your company’s liabilities. 
  • It is not suitable for all businesses. The IRS prohibits corporations from using cash accounting if they make credit sales or have collected $26 million in gross sales in any of the previous three years. 
  • The change to accrual accounting is challenging. If you start with cash accounting, it can be difficult to switch to accrual accounting later, leading to financial mismanagement. For better account reconciliation it’s better to choose options wisely. 

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the benefits and downsides of accrual accounting

The accrual basis accounting approach records income and costs when they are accrued rather than when the money flows in or out. 

Accrual basis accounting is the more typical form, and it is required for organizations with gross receipts of $26 million or more in any of the previous three years. 

Accrual accounting is also needed for businesses with gross receipts of more than $25 million during the last three years.


  • It makes it simple to forecast future revenue and expenses. Unlike cash accounting, accrual-based accounting provides a complete picture of your company’s finances. 

This is due to the fact that you track receivables and payables rather than merely money put or removed from your accounts. 

  • It is more accurate than cash-based accounting. Accrual accounting incorporates receivables and payables, which provide a more complete picture of a company’s finances.
  • It enables tax breaks for depreciation. While businesses that utilize accrual accounting incur tax responsibility for sales earlier, they may also be able to save money on taxes in the long run by taking advantage of depreciation (of specific assets).

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  • It contains a plethora of laws and regulations. Accrual accounting is more sophisticated than cash accounting, and regulations govern specific transactions. There are even guidelines governing which businesses must adopt accrual accounting.
  • It needs more effort than cash accounting. If your firm will profit from accrual accounting (or is forced to use it) but lacks time to keep the books, you will most likely need to hire a specialist accountant. It does not reflect actual available funds. 

Accrual accounting displays account balances based on transactions that have not yet been settled, so you may not have as much cash as your records indicate. 

It may be necessary for you to pay taxes on income that you have not yet received. Sales made at the end of the year are taxed in the year they are made, even if the cash isn’t received for weeks or months.

an illustration of how cash and accrual affect the bottom line

Consider a tiny retail shop that completes the following transactions in a single month:

  • Spends $5,000 on inventory
  • Pays $300 on utility
  • Receives a $500 bill for building upkeep
  • Makes $8,000 in sales and 
  • Sends a $2,000 invoice for a bespoke order fulfilled.

The cash-based method of accounting results in a profit of $2,700 for the month. Because the money has not been spent or received, the $500 maintenance expense and $2,000 invoice are not included in the month’s accounting. 

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If, on the other hand, the company employs accrual accounting, its books will show a profit of $4,200 for the month after accounting for all income and expenses reported during that time.

how to select the best method for your business

Several factors influence the optimal accounting approach for your company. 

Cash accounting is generally best suited to small organizations and those that do not operate with an inventory. 

Large firms and inventory-based businesses, on the other hand, should use accrual basis accounting. 

Small businesses preparing for growth may opt for accrual-based accounting to meet future accounting for startup needs.

You may not have a choice depending on the type of business you run, how much money you make, and the types of sales you make.

The IRS requires certain businesses to use accrual-based accounting. Corporations other than S-corps, for example, must utilize an accrual basis accounting if their gross receipts averaged more than $25 million over the previous three years. 

Cash accounting is also forbidden for many firms and tax shelters, including those that conduct credit sales.Most top accounting software systems make it simple to pick between cash and accrual accounting for your organization; some even help discover which will benefit you more.

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