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Debits and credits

In double entry bookkeeping, debits and credits (abbreviated Dr and Cr, respectively) are entries made in account ledgers to record changes in value resulting from business transactions. Generally speaking, the source account for the transaction is credited (that is, an entry is made on the right side of the account's ledger) and the destination account is debited (that is, an entry is made on the left side). Total debits must equal total credits for each transaction; individual transactions may require multiple debit and credit entries to record.

The difference between the total debits and total credits in a single account is the account's balance. If debits exceed credits, the account has a debit balance; if credits exceed debits, the account has a credit balance. For the company as a whole, the totals of debit balances and credit balances must be equal as shown in the trial balance report, otherwise an error has occurred.

Accountants use the trial balance to prepare financial statements (such as the balance sheet and income statement) which communicate information about the company's financial activities in a generally accepted standard format.


The first known recorded use of the terms is Venetian Luca Pacioli's 1494 work, Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita (translated: Everything That Is Known About Arithmetic, Geometry, Proportions and Proportionality). Pacioli devoted one section of his book to documenting and describing the double-entry bookkeeping system in use during the Renaissance by Venetian merchants, traders and bankers. This system is still the fundamental system in use by modern bookkeepers.

One theory is that in its original Latin, Pacioli's Summa used the Latin words debere (to owe) and credere (to entrust) to describe the two sides of a closed accounting transaction. Assets were owed to the owner and the owners' equity was entrusted to the company. At the time negative numbers were not in use. When his work was translated, the Latin words debere and credere became the English debit and credit. Under this theory, the abbreviations Dr (for debit) and Cr (for credit) derive from the original Latin. However, Sherman casts doubt on this idea because Pacioli uses Per (Latin for "from") for the debtor and A (Latin for "to") for the creditor in the Journal entries. Sherman goes on to say that the earliest text he found that actually uses "Dr." as an abbreviation in this context was an English text, the third edition (1633) of Ralph Handson's book Analysis or Resolution of Merchant Accompts and that Handson uses Dr. as an abbreviation for the English word "debtor." (Sherman could not locate a first edition, but speculates that it too used Dr. for debtor.) The words actually used by Pacioli for the left and right sides of the Ledger are "in dare" and "in havere" (give and receive). Geijsbeek the translator suggests in the preface: 'if we today would abolish the use of the words debit and credit in the ledger and substitute the ancient terms of "shall give" and "shall have" or "shall receive," the personification of accounts in the proper way would not be difficult and, with it, bookkeeping would become more intelligent to the proprietor, the layman and the student.'

Jackson notes that "debtor" need not be a person, but can be an abstract operator (cf. "divisor" in math) " became the practice to extend the meanings of the terms ... beyond their original personal connotation and apply them to inanimate objects and abstract conceptions...".

Aspects of transactions

To determine whether one must debit or credit a specific account we use either the accounting equation approach which consists of five accounting rules or the traditional approach based on three rules (for Real accounts, Personal accounts, and Nominal accounts) to determine whether to debit or to credit an account.

Whether a debit increases or decreases an account depends on what kind of account it is. An increase to an asset account is a debit. An increase to a liability or to an equity account is a credit.

Conversely, a decrease to an asset account is a credit. A decrease to a liability or equity account is a debit.

Debits and credits occur simultaneously in every financial transaction in double-entry bookkeeping. In the accounting equation—Assets = Liabilities + Equity—if an asset account increases (a debit), then either another asset account must decrease (a credit), or a liability or equity account must increase (a credit).

For example, when the customer of a bank deposits money into his bank account two things change: the customer's cash-in-hand (asset) decreases and the customer's bank account balance increases. The decrease in the cash-in-hand asset is a credit while the increase in the bank account balance is a debit of equal magnitude.

The bank views the transaction from a different perspective but follows the same rules: the bank's vault cash (asset) increases, which is a debit; the increase in the customer's account balance (liability from the bank's perspective) is a credit. A customer's periodic bank statement generally shows transactions from the bank's perspective, with bank deposits characterized as credits and withdrawals as debits.

Debits are traditionally entered on the left-hand side of a ledger and credits on the right-hand side.

Commercial understanding

When dealing with one's own business, one must set up various accounts to record all transactions that may take place. When the owner of a business refers to their bank account, they are referring to the business's account, not to their personal account. In addition, all accounts referred to in bookkeeping belong to the business, not to other businesses, regardless of their title. For instance, if a business expects to receive money from another person or company and the account is labelled "Receivable A", this does not imply that the account in question belongs to "Receivable A". It is merely a recording of a current asset (a receivable) of one's own business. Therefore, when assessing any transaction, the transaction is from the point of view of one's own business or the business in question.

All accounts must first be classified as one of the five types of accounts (accounting elements). To determine how to classify an account into one of the five elements, the definitions of the five account types must be fully understood i.e. the definition of an asset according to IFRS is as follows, "An asset is a resource controlled by the entity as a result of past events from which future economic benefits are expected to flow to the entity". To understand this definition we can break it down into its constituent parts with an example:

A business will most often have more than one asset account. An essential asset account in any business is the business's bank account (see: "Accounts pertaining to the five accounting elements" below for more examples) The same applies to liability accounts i.e. if I have borrowed money from two sources (called creditors or payables), then I must open two accounts to represent this present liability, called 'Creditor/Payable A' and 'Creditor/Payable B'. In this manner I may have multiple, different accounts. However all these accounts are all classified as one of the five types of accounts, therefore my entire business can be described in terms of its assets, expenses, liabilities, income and equity/capital (see extended accounting equation). This is the extent of "my" business in relation to accounts, regardless of the business' practices (the business may be a retail franchise, furniture shop, restaurant, etc.). With respect to my business, each of the five accounting elements will have a monetary value, and this can be used to assess the financial position of my business at any time (my success, failure, or any other attributes that I might need to know).

Traditionally, transactions are recorded in two separate columns of numbers (known as a ledger or "T-account"): debit transactions in the left hand column and credit transactions in the right hand column. Keeping the debits and credits in separate columns allows each column to be recorded and totaled independently. Accounts within the general ledger are known colloquially as "T-accounts" due to the "T" shape that the table resembles. Each column of a ledger account lists transactions affecting that account.


The words debit and credit are both used differently depending on whether they are used in a bookkeeping (accounting) sense, or non-accounting sense.

In a non-accounting sense, "debit" is:

In a non-accounting sense, "credit" is

The reason why individuals see debits and credits in the above manner, is that the bank statement presented by the bank to the customer is the bank's view of the account. The bank views money in a chequing account as money the bank owes to the customer, i.e. a liability, and in the rules of accounting, an increase to a liability account is a credit. Likewise, when a bank lends money to a customer and places the money into the customer's chequing account, the bank has increased its obligation to pay that money, which is a liability, and this increase is a credit and appears in the credit column of a bank statement.

When recording numbers in accounting, a debit value is placed on the left side of a ledger for a debited account and a credit value is placed on the right side of a ledger for a credited account. A debit or a credit either increases or decreases the total balance in each account, depending on what kind of accounts they are.

Each transaction (say, of value £100) is recorded by a debit entry of £100 in one account and a credit entry of £100 in another account. When people say, "debits must equal credits" they do not mean that the two columns of any ledger account must be equal. If that were the case, every account would have a zero balance (no difference between the columns) which is often not the case. The rule that total debits equal the total credits applies when all accounts are totaled.

More than two accounts may be affected by the same transaction. A transaction for £100 can be recorded as a £100 debit in one account and as multiple credits that total £100 in other accounts.


I owe creditors A and B £100 each. Thus my liability account for Creditor A has a credit balance of £100 and the same for Creditor B.

I pay them off from my bank chequing account, which from my point of view is an asset. I withdraw £200 from my bank account and split it to pay off the two liabilities. In my records, "Creditor A" is one account, "Creditor B" is another account, and "Bank" is a third account. The following transactions affect all three-ledger accounts:

When I write two £100 cheques for a total of £200, the balance in my bank account is reduced by £200. Based on the law of accounting, a decrease in my cash asset is a credit. The total credit for my asset balance is greater than the total debit. Thus, in my records, my "Bank" ledger account has an asset credit balance, which is reduced by the credit for £200. Amounts in my records for the two creditors are liabilities, which are reduced by the two debits totaling £200.

Therefore, for this transaction, the total amount debited = 200 and the total amount credited = 200. When all three accounts are totaled, the total debits equal the total credits.

At the end of any financial period (say at the end of the quarter or the year), the total debits and the total credits for each account may be different and this difference of the two sides is called the balance. If the sum of the debit side is greater than the sum of the credit side, then the account has a "debit balance". If the sum of the credit side is greater, then the account has a "credit balance". If the two sides do equal each other (this would be a coincidence, not as a result of the laws of accounting), then we say we have a "zero balance".

Debit cards and credit cards are creative terms used by the banking industry to market and identify each card. From the cardholder's point of view, a credit card account normally contains a credit balance, a debit card account normally contains a debit balance. A debit card is used to make a purchase with one's own money. A credit card is used to make a purchase by borrowing money.

From the bank's point of view, when a debit card is used to pay a merchant, the payment causes a decrease in the amount of money the bank owes to the cardholder. From the bank's point of view, your debit card account is the bank's liability. A decrease to the bank's liability account is a debit. From the bank's point of view, when a credit card is used to pay a merchant, the payment causes an increase in the amount of money the bank is owed by the cardholder. From the bank's point of view, your credit card account is the bank's asset. An increase to the bank's asset account is a debit. Hence, using a debit card or credit card causes a debit to the cardholder's account in either situation when viewed from the bank's perspective.

General ledger is the term for the comprehensive collection of T-accounts (so called because there was a pre-printed vertical line in the middle of each ledger page and a horizontal line at the top of each ledger page, like a large letter T). Before the advent of computerised accounting, manual accounting procedure used a book (known as a ledger) for each T-account. The collection of all these books was called the general ledger.

"Day Books" or journals are used to list every single transaction that took place during the day, and the list is totalled at the end of the day. These daybooks are not part of the double-entry bookkeeping system. The information recorded in these daybooks is then transferred to the general ledgers. Modern computer software now allows for the instant update of each ledger account – for example, when recording a cash receipt in a cash receipts journal a debit is posted to a cash ledger account with a corresponding credit in the ledger account for which the cash was received. Not every single transaction need be entered into a T-account. Usually only the sum of the book transactions (a batch total) for the day is entered in the general ledger.

The five accounting elements

There are five fundamental elements within accounting. These elements are as follows: Assets, Liabilities, Equity (or Capital), Income (or Revenue) and Expenses. The five accounting elements are all affected in either a positive or negative way. A credit transaction does not always dictate a positive value or increase in a transaction and similarly, a debit does not always indicate a negative value or decrease in a transaction. An asset account is often referred to as a "debit account" due to the account's standard increasing attribute on the debit side. When an asset (e.g. an espresso machine) has been acquired in a business, the transaction will affect the debit side of that asset account illustrated below:

The "X" in the debit column denotes the increasing effect of a transaction on the asset account balance (total debits less total credits), because a debit to an asset account is an increase. The asset account above has been added to by a debit value X, i.e. the balance has increased by £X or $X. Likewise, in the liability account below, the X in the credit column denotes the increasing effect on the liability account balance (total credits less total debits), because a credit to a liability account is an increase.

All "mini-ledgers" in this section show standard increasing attributes for the five elements of accounting.

Summary table of standard increasing and decreasing attributes for the five accounting elements:


Each transaction that takes place within the business will consist of at least one debit to a specific account and at least one credit to another specific account. A debit to one account can be balanced by more than one credit to other accounts, and vice versa. For all transactions, the total debits must be equal to the total credits and therefore balance.

The general accounting equation is as follows:

The equation thus becomes A – L – E = 0 (zero). When the total debts equals the total credits for each account, then the equation balances.

The extended accounting equation is as follows:

In this form, increases to the amount of accounts on the left-hand side of the equation are recorded as debits, and decreases as credits. Conversely for accounts on the right-hand side, increases to the amount of accounts are recorded as credits to the account, and decreases as debits.

This can also be rewritten in the equivalent form:

where the relationship of the Income and Expenses accounts to Equity and profit is a bit clearer. Here Income and Expenses are regarded as temporary or nominal accounts which pertain only to the current accounting period whereas Asset, Liabilities and Equity accounts are permanent or real accounts pertaining to the lifetime of the business. The temporary accounts are closed to the Equity account at the end of the accounting period to record profit/loss for the period. Both sides of these equations must be equal (balance).

Each transaction is recorded in a ledger or "T" account, e.g. a ledger account named "Bank" that can be changed with either a debit or credit transaction.

In accounting it is acceptable to draw-up a ledger account in the following manner for representation purposes:

Accounts are created/opened when the need arises for whatever purpose or situation the entity may have. For example, if your business is an airline company they will have to purchase airplanes, therefore even if an account is not listed below, a bookkeeper or accountant can create an account for a specific item, such as an asset account for airplanes. In order to understand how to classify an account into one of the five elements, a good understanding of the definitions of these accounts is required. Below are examples of some of the more common accounts that pertain to the five accounting elements:

Asset accounts are economic resources which benefit the business/entity and will continue to do so. Cash, bank, accounts receivable, inventory, land, buildings/plant, machinery, furniture, equipment, supplies, vehicles, trademarks and patents, goodwill, prepaid expenses, prepaid insurance, debtors (people who owe us money, due within one year), VAT input etc.

Liability accounts record debts or future obligations the business/entity owes to others. Accounts payable, salaries and wages payable, income taxes, bank overdrafts, trust accounts, accrued expenses, sales taxes, advance payments (unearned revenue), debt and accrued interest on debt, customer deposits, VAT output etc.

Equity accounts record the claims of the owners of the business/entity to the assets of that business/entity. Capital, retained earnings, drawings, common stock, accumulated funds, etc.

Income accounts record all increases in Equity other than that contributed by the owner/s of the business/entity. Services rendered, sales, interest income, membership fees, rent income, interest from investment, recurring receivables,donation etc.

Expense accounts record all decreases in the owners' equity which occur from using the assets or increasing liabilities in delivering goods or services to a customer - the costs of doing business. Telephone, water, electricity, repairs, salaries, wages, depreciation, bad debts, stationery, entertainment, honorarium, rent, fuel, utility, interest etc.

Quick Services business purchases a computer for £500, on credit, from ABC Computers. Recognize the following transaction for Quick Services in a ledger account (T-account):

Quick Services has acquired a new computer which is classified as an asset within the business. According to the accrual basis of accounting, even though the computer has been purchased on credit, the computer is already the property of Quick Services and must be recognised as such. Therefore, the equipment account of Quick Services increases and is debited:

As the transaction for the new computer is made on credit, the payable "ABC Computers" has not yet been paid. As a result, a liability is created within the entity's records. Therefore, to balance the accounting equation the corresponding liability account is credited:

The above example can be written in journal form:

The journal entry "ABC Computers" is indented to indicate that this is the credit transaction. It is accepted accounting practice to indent credit transactions recorded within a journal.

In the accounting equation form:

A = E + L 500 = 0 + 500 (The accounting equation is therefore balanced)


The process of using debits and credits creates a ledger format that resembles the letter "T". The term "T-account" is accounting jargon for a "ledger account" and is often used when discussing bookkeeping. The reason that a ledger account is often referred to as a T-account is due to the way the account is physically drawn on paper (representing a "T"). The left side (column) of the "T" for Debit (Dr) transactions and the right side (column) of the "T" for Credit (Cr) transactions.

Contra account

All accounts have corresponding contra accounts depending on what transaction has taken place e.g., when a vehicle is purchased using cash, the asset account "Vehicles" is debited as the vehicle account increases, and simultaneously the asset account "Bank" is credited due to the payment for the vehicle using cash. Some balance sheet items have corresponding contra accounts, with negative balances, that offset them. Examples are accumulated depreciation against equipment, and allowance for bad debts (also known as allowance for doubtful accounts) against accounts receivable. United States GAAP utilizes the term contra for specific accounts only and doesn't recognize the second half of a transaction as a contra, thus the term is restricted to accounts that are related. For example, sales returns and allowance and sales discounts are contra revenues with respect to sales, as the balance of each contra (a debit) is the opposite of sales (a credit). To understand the actual value of sales, one must net the contras against sales, which gives rise to the term net sales (meaning net of the contras).

A more specific definition in common use is an account with a balance that is the opposite of the normal balance (Dr/Cr) for that section of the general ledger. An example is an office coffee fund: Expense "Coffee" (Dr) may be immediately followed by "Coffee - employee contributions" (Cr). Such an account is used for clarity rather than being a necessary part of GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles).

Real, personal, and nominal accounts

Real accounts are assets. Personal accounts are liabilities and owners' equity and represent people and entities that have invested in the business. Nominal accounts are revenue, expenses, gains, and losses. Accountants close nominal accounts at the end of each accounting period. This method is used in the United Kingdom, where it is simply known as the Traditional approach.

Transactions are recorded by a debit to one account and a credit to another account using these three "golden rules of accounting":

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