What are Accounts Expenses?
An expense in accounting is the money spent, or costs incurred, by a business in their effort to generate revenues. Essentially, accounts expenses represent the cost of doing business; they are the sum of all the activities that result in (hopefully) a profit.
It is important to understand the difference between “cost” and “expense” since they each have a distinct meaning in accounting. Cost is the monetary measure (cash) that has been given up in order to buy an asset. An expense is a cost that has expired or been taken up by activities that help generate revenue. Therefore, all expenses are costs, but not all costs are expenses.
What is an Expense?
An expense is defined in the following ways:
- An expense in office supplies uses up the cash (asset)
- A purchase in capital equipment (e.g., a machine or a building) decreases the book value of the asset over the years through depreciation expense
- A prepaid expense, such as prepaid rent, is an asset that turns into a cash expense as the rent is used up each month
A summary of all expenses is included in the income statement as deductions from the total revenue. Revenue minus expenses equals the total net profit of a company for a given period.
In the double-entry bookkeeping system, expenses are one of the five main groups where financial transactions are categorized. Other categories include the owner’s equity, assets, liabilities, and revenue. Expenses in double-entry bookkeeping are recorded as a debit to a specific expense account. A corresponding credit entry is made that will reduce an asset or increase a liability.
The purchase of an asset such as land or equipment is not considered a simple expense but rather a capital expenditure. Assets are expensed throughout their useful life through depreciation and amortization.
Expenses in Cash Accounting and Accrual Accounting
Expenses are recorded in the books on the basis of the accounting system chosen by the business, either through an accrual basis or a cash basis. Under the accrual method, the expense for the good or service is recorded when the legal obligation is complete; that is when the goods have been received or the service has been performed.
Under cash accounting, the expense is only recorded when the actual cash has been paid. For example, a utility expense incurred in April but paid in May will be recorded as an expense in April under the accrual method but recorded as an expense in May under the cash method – as this is when the cash is actually paid.
Accrual accounting is based on the matching principle that ensures that accurate profits are reflected for every accounting period. The revenue for each period is matched to the expenses incurred in earning that revenue during the same accounting period. For example, sale commission expenses will be recorded in the period that the related sales are reported, regardless of when the commission was actually paid.
Types of Expenses
Expenses affect all financial accounting statements but exert the most impact on the income statement. They appear on the income statement under five major headings, as listed below:
1. Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)
Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) is the cost of acquiring raw materials and turning them into finished products. It does not include selling and administrative costs incurred by the whole company, nor interest expense or losses on extraordinary items.
- For manufacturing firms, COGS includes direct labor, direct materials, and manufacturing overhead.
- For a service company, it is called a cost of services rather than COGS.
- For a company that sells both goods and services, it is called cost of sales.
Examples of COGS include direct material, direct costs, depreciation expense, and production overhead.
2. Operating Expenses – Selling/General and Admin
Operating expenses are related to selling goods and services and include sales salaries, advertising, and shop rent.
General expenses include expenses incurred while running the core line of the business and include executive salaries, R&D, travel and training, and IT expenses.
3. Financial Expenses
These are costs incurred from borrowing or earning income from financial investments. They are expenses outside the company’s core business. Examples include loan origination fees and interest on money borrowed.
4. Extraordinary Expenses
Extraordinary expenses are costs incurred for large one-time events or transactions outside the firm’s regular business activity. They include laying off employees, selling land, or disposal of a significant asset.
5. Non-Operating Expenses
These are costs that cannot be linked back to operating revenues. Interest expense is the most common non-operating expense. Interest is the cost of borrowing money. Loans from banks usually require interest payments, but such payments don’t generate any operating income. Hence, they are classified as non-operating expenses.
The sole purpose of a non-cash expense is to reduce net profit and eventually, taxes. It is not an income statement category. Depreciation is the most common type of non-cash expense because it conforms to the definition that an expense decreases owner’s equity by using up the asset. Depreciation also results in other non-cash effects such as:
- A debit to a depreciation account increases the account balance
- A credit to a contra asset account like accumulated depreciation increases the balance of the depreciation account
- On the income statement, the book value of the asset decreases by the same amount as the accumulated depreciation.
Expenses are income statement accounts that increase the debit side of a contra account. When the expense is recorded, a corresponding credit is recorded to an asset or liability.
Thank you for reading CFI’s guide to Accounts Expenses. CFI is the official provider of the Financial Modeling and Valuation Analyst (FMVA)™ certification program, designed to transform anyone into a world-class financial analyst.
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