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What are the Rules of Accounting?

5 August, 2015 - 15:25

Accounting is the mechanism used to record activities and transactions that occur within a business.. In its simplest terms, Accounting is the "language of business." However, in order to have an understandable record, a standard set of rules for accounting within the U.S. has been established. These rules are called the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), and all U.S. businesses are expected to follow them.

The first general rule of accounting is that every transaction is recorded. It has been said that businesses that do not record transactions, or incorrectly record transactions, are committing fraud, although this is not necessarily the case. Fraud is part of a much broader area called material misstatement which also can include error. An error is not necessarily fraud under the law. While there are exceptions to this rule, the guidance for applying those exceptions is specifically defined by GAAP, and is applicable to all businesses.

The second general rule of accounting is that transactions are recorded using what is called a "double-entry" accounting method. Originally developed in Italy in the 1400s, double-entry means that for a complete record of a transaction, two entries are made. For example, if you have $5 in cash, and want to buy some gasoline for your lawn mower, you take your portable gas can and your money to the gas station and exchange $5 in cash for $5 in gas. This transaction is recorded as an increase in the asset "gas" for $5, and a corresponding reduction in the asset "cash" for $5. In this example, one transaction contained two entries. This takes a little time to get used to, but it is a critical concept in basic accounting. Double entry is tied to the concept of Debits and Credits, which you will learn about in the next section. The act of recording transactions is commonly referred to as making journal entries. In a few more paragraphs, we'll discuss what a journal entry looks like.

The third general rule of accounting is that every recorded transaction is captured in a log called the "General Journal."

In general, "Accounting is the art of recording, classifying, summarizing and interpreting a business transaction."

To make this easier, we can follow the golden rules of accounting. Accounts are one of three basic types:





Accounts related to individuals, firms, organizations, or companies

Individuals; partnership firms; corporate entities; Capital; Drawings; non-profit organizations; any local or statutory bodies including governments at the country, state or local levels


Accounts related to assets of a tangible or intangible nature

  • Tangibles – Plants and machinery, furniture and fixtures, computers and information processing equipment
  • Intangibles – Goodwill, patents, copyrights, trademarks, purchase


implications of financial transactions during each fiscal term till finalization of accounts at term end

rent, salary, discount, utilities, dividends


Example: The Sales account is opened for recording the sales of goods or services. At the end of the financial period, the total sales are transferred to the revenue statement account (Profit and Loss Account or Income and Expenditure Account).

Similarly, expenses during the financial period are recorded using the respective Expense accounts, which are also transferred to the revenue statement account. The net positive or negative balance (profit or loss) of the revenue statement account is transferred to reserves or capital account as the case may be.






The receiver

The giver


What comes in

What goes out


All expenses and losses

All income and gains (profits)