Keeping accurate up-to-date books helps a company make informed financial decisions and avoid mishaps that can affect financial health. However, tracking your business’ income, expenses, taxes and vendor payments is complicated and time-consuming. Including an item in the appropriate account, applying the correct description or code for the item and entering the correct amount takes time and attention. Accounting errors inevitably occur. The following are the most common types of errors in accounting that business owners make and suggestions on how to prevent accounting errors.
What is an error in accounting?
Accounting errors are unintended accidents; inadvertent mistakes. Sometimes accounting errors are caused by transposing a number or hitting an incorrect key. Other times they stem from a misunderstanding of accounting rules and/or company policy. Accounting departments attempt to limit errors, especially in data that flows into financial reporting used by stakeholders.
What are the most common errors in accounting?
- Improper record keeping: Record keeping is the act or practice of recording important information for future reference. It involves identifying a transaction, recording it, classifying it, posting it and balancing the account. It may involve paper copies but can also be managed digitally. To avoid improper record keeping, implement a receipt capture, filing and backup system and enforce its proper use.
- Failing to do monthly reviews of your financial statements: A profit and loss statement provides a snapshot of a company’s sales, expenses and profit for a given accounting period. A balance sheet statement reports the ending balance of a company’s assets, liabilities and equity for a given accounting period. These statements provide insight into a company’s financial health. Financial statement analysis should be done on a regular basis (preferably monthly) to ensure all expenses have been categorized accurately and account balances have been reconciled. Add this task to the monthly duties schedule.
- Neglecting to analyze budget vs. actual expenses: A budget versus actual expense analysis should be performed at the end of each month and each quarter to be sure your business is adhering to the budget. This analysis uncovers variances that require corrective action and helps determine areas where you can cut back. Schedule this analysis into your monthly duties roster.
- Neglecting reconciliations: When you reconcile your accounts at the end of the month, you validate the information in your books against an external document (the bank or credit card statement). Regularly reviewing business bank accounts against your books helps reduce the incidence of fraudulent transactions. It ensures you discover errors and thus prevents issues from developing. Put a note in your calendar to reconcile your bank and credit card accounts each month.
- Failing to reconcile loan accounts: It’s important to reconcile your loan account each time you receive a statement as this is the easiest way to ensure the liabilities portion of your balance sheet is accurate. Put a note in your calendar to ensure your loan account is reconciled regularly.
- Leaving undeposited funds on the books: Undeposited funds on the books means the payment has been posted but the deposit hasn’t been. This makes revenue look larger than it is, causing incorrect tax payments and inaccurate assumptions about business growth. This error can be avoided with proper workflows.
- A lack of data backup: In case the device that stores your business’ financial information is lost, stolen or hacked, it’s important to have the information backed up. There are many backup options available.
- Not utilizing accounting software: Investing in the right accounting software helps you avoid mistakes and makes it easier to handle your finances. Accounting software ensures you have all the historical data you need to manage your books, payroll and taxes. Choose accounting software that integrates with your bank account and has backup capability.
- Inadequate checks and balances: No one person in the business should handle business funds without oversight. Ensure the person who does the bookkeeping in your business isn’t the same person making deposits for the company. Avoid giving employees signing authority on your business bank accounts. Make sure you review your business’s bank statements, including images of cancelled checks, on a monthly basis.
Accurate accounting information is critical for a business. Though there is no sure way to eliminate all accounting errors, understanding what errors are common and where to look for them is an important first step. Processes and controls help minimize their occurrence. Using good accounting software and preventive controls helps create a less error-prone accounting environment. Accurate books allow you to make informed decisions that will help improve your bottom line. Correction of errors in accounting is crucial.
Need help establishing a good accounting system and/or incorporating accounting software? Looking for business advice? Contact Cook and Company Chartered Professional Accountants. We are based out of Calgary, Alberta, serving clients across Canada and the United States. We provide high-quality tax, assurance and succession planning services for various privately-owned and managed companies. Contact us for a complimentary consultation.