I'm trying to learn the correct terminology for the place where I see ALL the "accounts" AND their balances in an accounting app.

I use QuickBooks and if I want to see all of this, I click "Chart of Accounts" which includes all accounts used in my books to manage my company's finances i.e. asset, liability, expense accounts, etc.

If I'm not mistaken though, "Chart of Accounts" doesn't always include balances. I think it's usually just a list of all the accounts in a particular organization's books. Or am I wrong about this? Does a "Chart of Accounts" always have account balances as well?

If "Chart of Accounts" is not the correct terminology, what is the name of the list that shows all the accounts AND their balances?

I don't think it's the balance sheet because that doesn't show ALL the accounts. I think the balance sheet is more of a bird's eye view that shows the big picture including assets, liabilities, etc. but I don't think it shows all the accounts.

Anyway, I'd appreciate some help getting my terminology right. Thanks.

  • 1
    This is probably more Accountancy than Personal Finance, but from here, here and [here [PDF]](executiveeducationinc.com/wp-content/uploads/…) it looks like the CoA was simply essentially a reference list of accounts in use. In the days of paper, keeping a [up-to-date, consistent] balance against each would be impossible. So, historically, CoA probably doesn't include balances. – TripeHound May 17 '18 at 7:07
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    This page uses the term "Chart of Accounts Balances" but – in explaining why some accounts don't show balances – explains that even when they do, the numbers may not be meaningful (post-dated transactions will be include, so you don't see the figures "as at" some date). My guess is there isn't a universal term for "with balances" because that display wouldn't (in general) be meaningful without having generated Trial Balances first. – TripeHound May 17 '18 at 7:14
  • Thank you very much for your detailed explanations. If you can post your response as an answer, I'll accept it. I'd like you to get credit for your response. Thanks again! – Sam May 17 '18 at 20:51
  • Because of time-zone differences, it looks like ApplePie beat me to it (which is fine: they're a CPA and I'm just slightly knowledgeable amateur :-)). – TripeHound May 18 '18 at 7:02

A chart of accounts is literally a list of account numbers, names and other properties (e.g. type of account, can hold interco balances or not, currency, etc).

I believe you are looking for a trial balance which lists all accounts with their debit or credit balance. A proper trial balance should have equal debits and credits but may or may not list all accounts if no transactions were posted in them or if the balance is 0. This is system dependant, however.

Source: Im a CPA and built a chart of account for a Tier 1 bank.

  • Yes! Thank you. Not sure if you're familiar with QuickBooks. I think QB may only be popular in the States. If you're an American, you're probably familiar with it. Why would they call it "Chart of Accounts" in the application which actually gives you every single account along with their actual balances? – Sam May 18 '18 at 1:28
  • @Sam its not wrong per se if you have a chart of accounts to bring up the associated balance as well. In fact, it may even be useful. Its just that commonly in accounting you want both to know the balance and check for any issues with your debits and credits (e.g. incorrect totals, debit in credit only account and vice versa, etc). That specific view is called a trial balance and is closely monitored during month ends in corporate accounting. Also, ive only worked in corporate settings for large financial institutions so I am not familiar with QB although I know its a popular product for SMEs – ApplePie May 18 '18 at 1:38
  • @Sam Another potential problem with "instantaneous" balances is -- as the link in my second comment to your question mentions -- it may include future-dated entries. In some cases (particularly for personal finance), this might be useful (so you know what you've committed to spending), but (a) you won't necessarily know your "here-and-now" balance, nor (b) whether some of those entries are days, weeks, or months ahead. The process of "creating trial balances" (as I understand it) removes all those wrinkles and checks for consistency. – TripeHound May 18 '18 at 6:59

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