Accounts receivable is a legally enforceable claim for payment held by a business for goods supplied and/or services rendered that customers/clients have ordered but not paid for. These are generally in the form of invoices raised by a business and delivered to the customer for payment within an agreed time frame. Accounts receivable is shown in a balance sheet as an asset. It is one of a series of accounting transactions dealing with the billing of a customer for goods and services that the customer has ordered. These may be distinguished from notes receivable, which are debts created through formal legal instruments called promissory notes.

balance-sheet-financialsAccounts receivable represents money owed by entities to the firm on the sale of products or services on credit. In most business entities, accounts receivable is typically executed by generating an invoice and either mailing or electronically delivering it to the customer, who, in turn, must pay it within an established timeframe, called credit terms or payment terms.

The accounts receivable department uses the sales ledger, because a sales ledger normally records:

  • The sales a business has made.
  • The amount of money received for goods or services.
  • The amount of money owed at the end of each month varies (debtors).

The accounts receivable team is in charge of receiving funds on behalf of a company and applying it towards their current pending balances.

Collections and cashiering teams are part of the accounts receivable department. While the collections department seeks the debtor, the cashiering team applies the monies received.

An example of a common payment term is Net 30 days, which means that payment is due at the end of 30 days from the date of invoice. The debtor is free to pay before the due date; businesses can offer a discount for early payment. Other common payment terms include Net 45, Net 60 and 30 days end of month. The creditor may be able to charge late fees or interest if the amount is not paid by the due date.

Booking a receivable is accomplished by a simple accounting transaction; however, the process of maintaining and collecting payments on the accounts receivable subsidiary account balances can be a full-time proposition. Depending on the industry in practice, accounts receivable payments can be received up to 10 – 15 days after the due date has been reached. These types of payment practices are sometimes developed by industry standards, corporate policy, or because of the financial condition of the client.

Since not all customer debts will be collected, businesses typically estimate the amount of and then record an allowance for doubtful accounts which appears on the balance sheet as a contra account that offsets total accounts receivable. When accounts receivable are not paid, some companies turn them over to third party collection agencies or collection attorneys who will attempt to recover the debt via negotiating payment plans, settlement offers or pursuing other legal action.

Outstanding advances are part of accounts receivable if a company gets an order from its customers with payment terms agreed upon in advance. Since billing is done to claim the advances several times, this area of collectible is not reflected in accounts receivables. Ideally, since advance payment occurs within a mutually agreed-upon term, it is the responsibility of the accounts department to periodically take out the statement showing advance collectible and should be provided to sales & marketing for collection of advances. The payment of accounts receivable can be protected either by a letter of credit or by Trade Credit Insurance.


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