Traditional bookkeeping was performed using one of two systems. Accountants and bookkeepers used the systems to manually calculate company books and present financial statements in accordance with federal regulations. The two main systems still exist in today's digital era, but it's much easier to perform bookkeeping tasks for your company on the computer than by hand. Many business owners opt to do their own bookkeeping or outsource the duty to off-site accounting professionals.
The single-entry bookkeeping system is used for businesses that have minimal or uncomplicated transactions. This system records cash sales and business expenses that are paid when incurred. This system is not traditionally used for businesses that have accounts receivable, accounts payable or many capital transactions. Bookkeeping entries under this system don't match transactions to corresponding accounts, which can make tracing revenues and expenses more difficult. In essence, the single-entry system consists of a cash sales journal, a cash disbursements journal and your bank statements. An entry is made to the sales journal when revenue is received, and an entry is made to the disbursement journal when an expense is paid. Your journal entries should reconcile with your bank account transactions.
Double-entry bookkeeping systems are used for businesses that routinely have more complex transactions. Companies that collect income through accounts receivable and receive merchandise and inventory on credit are better-suited for this method. This system posts single transactions as an income or expense item, then creates a second entry to trace the transaction to a corresponding account. For example, if you receive income from a customer, the revenue is posted as income and also traced to the customer's account. In the event you are audited or need to know where income and expense payments generated, you'll have a paper trail to find the information quickly. This system uses debits and credits, which is the accountant's language of increases and decreases to each account affected by your transactions.
Many small-business owners use bookkeeping software to keep track of financial activities. Programs such as QuickBooks and Sage -- formerly Peachtree -- use the double-entry bookkeeping system, but you won't necessarily need to be well versed in the method to use the software. These programs are relatively user-friendly and prompt you to enter information to complete and post your transactions. Various versions of the software exist, ranging from basic to professional capacities, and you can purchase the software in desktop, online or cloud versions.
If the whole idea of single-entry and double-entry bookkeeping methods makes you queasy, you might benefit from virtual bookkeeping services. A virtual bookkeeper eliminates the need for expensive CPA fees or an in-house bookkeeping employee. Most virtual bookkeepers accept your sales invoices, expense receipts and payroll ledgers electronically. The bookkeeper posts your transactions to appropriate journals and ledgers, and emails you a copy of your reports. Virtual bookkeepers are typically CPAs or degreed accountants who tend to have lower fees than private CPA firms.