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Account Payable, Payables, and Accounts Payable
Definition, Meaning Explained, Example Transactions

 

An account payable is a bill to be paid, or money otherwise owed to a creditor. Accounts payable is a liabilities account, representing all such payables due for payment in the near term.

Does the firm manage its accounts payable obligations effectively? Financial metrics such as Accounts Payable Turnover provide an answer.

What Is An Account Payable?

An account payable is a liability for an amount owed to a creditor, usually for the purchase of goods or services.

Consider a buyer who makes a purchase and takes delivery of the goods, but does not pay the seller immediately. The seller is, therefore, selling "on credit." As a result, buyer and seller now have a creditor-debtor relationship. And, the relationship lasts until the buyer pays.

The buyer's accounting system recognizes the short-term debt as an account payable. This debt enters the buyer's records in a liabilities account, Accounts payable. The unpaid purchase price sits in Accounts payable for the life of the debt. Then, when the buyer pays, the Accounts payable balance decreases by the same amount.

Account Payable Explained in Context

Sections below further define, describe and illustrate account payable. Note that the term appears in context with related terms and concepts, including the following:

Accounts Payable
Payables
Account Receivable
Receivables
Journal Entries
Ledger
Income Statement
Balance Sheet
Payable Efficiency
Metrics for Accounts Payable
Accounts Payable Turnover
Days Payable Outstanding

 

Contents

Related Topics

  • For more on the closely associated concepts Accounts Receivable and Receivables, see the article Account Receivable.
  • See the articles Accrual Accountingfor an overview of the role of accrual concepts in business commerce--from the perspective of both buyer and seller.
  • The article Double Entry System explains the role of Debit and Credit transactions in keeping track of accrued items, and for keeping the balance sheet balanced.
 

What Are Payables and Receivables?

Under accrual accounting, firms track some of their debts under the name payables. Accounts payableis an example.And, they refer to some of the monies owed them as receivables, such as Accounts receivable. Note that both receivables and payables are legally binding obligations, owed by one party to another.

Accounts payable is typically not the totality of the firm's short-term debt. Short-term debt appears in separate "accounts" with a name including payable, such as:

  • "Employee wages payable."
  • "Short-term notes payable."
  • "Loan interest payable."
  • "Taxes payable."
  • "Portion of long-term debt payable this period."

What is the Meaning of Accounts Payable?

Accounts payable is an accounting system account holding the sum of all current account payable items. Bookkeepers and accountants credit and debit "Accounts payable" as the firm incurs and pays off debts for buying goods and services. As a result, the current balance of this account is the sum of payables the firm currently owes to sellers.

In the accounting system, the firm's debts appear in two major categories:

  • Firstly, Accounts payable is a Current Liabilities account.The term "current" means these debts are due in the near term (within a year or less).
  • Secondly, the other significant "Liabilities" account class, of course, is "Long-Term Liabilities." These debts are not due for complete payoff in the next year.

Accounts Payable is Possible Only Under Accrual Accounting

The Accounts payable concept only applies where firms practice accrual accounting with a double-entry accounting system. Note that in the more straightforward alternative approach, cash basis accounting, there are only two kinds of transactions: cash inflows and cash outflows. Companies using cash-basis accounting can, of course, incur debts and bills they must pay in the short term. And, they may even refer informally to these debts as "Accounts payable." Nevertheless, under cash-basis accounting, such obligations are outside the accounting system until the debtor pays with cash.

By contrast, when the buyer's firm uses accrual accounting, the buyer creates an Account payable when purchasing goods or services on credit. From the time when the sale closes, seller and buyer have a creditor-debtor relationship. This relationship lasts until two events occur: Firstly, purchase delivery, and secondly, payment of the bill. As a result, during the life of the debt, both parties record and track debt-related transactions as the following sections show.

Account Payable Journal Entries

Consider a purchase by a retail merchant, Woofer Pet Supplies. On 2 September, Woofer purchases pet food merchandise inventory from its supplier, Ajax Wholesale Feed Company. Ajax charges Woofer $1,180 for the order. Woofer does not pay Ajax immediately, however. Consequently, Ajax gives Woofer an invoice marked "Payable" for that amount.

Woofer's bookkeeper or accountant, therefore, makes two journal entries for the purchase:

  • Woofer creates a new "account payable" and adds (credits) its value to Accounts payable. Note that Accounts payable is a liabilities account,and therefore its balance increases with a credit transaction.
  • The second entry required in a double-entry system is a simultaneous debit to the asset account, Merchandise Inventory. Asset account balances increase with a debittransaction.

Exhibit 1 below shows how these transactions appear in the buyer's journal.

Woofer Pet Supplies
Journal for Fiscal Year 20YY
Date Account Debit
Credit
2-Sep-20YY
2-Sep-20YY
 103  Merchandise Inventory
 200      Accounts payable
$1,180  
$1,180

Exhibit 1. The buyer purchases merchandise inventory on credit, which requires two journal entries. Firstly, the buyer debits (increases) Merchandise Inventory, a Current assets account. Secondly, the buyer credits (increases) a Current liabilities account, Accounts payable.

At the same time, in the seller's back office, Ajax keeps track of the creditor-debtor relationship with two journal entries:

  • Ajax applies a $1,180 debit (increase) to one of its asset accounts, Accounts Receivable.
  • Ajax simultaneously applies a $1,180 credit (increase) to its own Sales Revenue account.

The debt is now "on the books" in both companies.

How Does Buying Create an Accounts Payable Transaction?
Example Journal Entries

Three days later, on 5 September, Woofer uses a bank debit card to pay Ajax the full $1,180 due. As a result, Woofer's accountant makes two journal entries simultaneously:

  • The buyer (Woofer) decreases (debits) the Accounts payable balance.
  • The buyer decreases (credits) the balance in its own Current Assets account, Cash.

Exhibit 2 below shows how these transactions appear in the buyer's journal.

Woofer Pet Supplies
Journal for Fiscal Year 20YY
Date Account Debit
Credit
5-Sep-20YY
5-Sep-20YY
 200  Accounts payable
 150      Cash
$1,180  
$1,180

Exhibit 2. The buyer pays cash to cover the debt to the seller with two transactions. Firstly, the buyer debits (decreases) accounts payable, because the buyer has now cleared the debt, and secondly, the buyer credits (decreases cash) for the amount of the payment.

Notice that both companies treat the bank card payment as a cash transaction.

On the seller's side, Ajax accountants increase (debit) their Current asset account, Cash, and decrease (credit) another of their asset accounts, Accounts receivable. Note that the seller claims "Sales Revenues" immediately at the time of the sale. Not until the buyer pays, however, does the seller's new asset value flow from the seller's Accounts receivable into a Cash account.

The Buyer's Viewpoint

On the buyer's side, Woofer accountants now post these transactions to the general ledger. The ledger has a "T-account" format, showing the transaction history of each account.

A small part of Woofer's Accounts payable ledger presence might look like the T account in Exhibit 3:

 

Exhibit 3. Accountants post Accounts payable transactions from the journal to a ledger account (T-account). The T-account show the balance and all transaction activities in "Accounts payable."

Before the purchase on 1 September, Woofer's Accounts payable balance stood at $1,700. After Woofer incurs the account payable (2 September) and then pays the $1,180 debt (5 September), the Accounts payable balance returns to $1,700.

Which Financial Metrics Measure Accounts Payable Efficiency?
Accounts Payable Turnover and Days Payable Outstanding

Analysts use the company Accounts payable balance to address questions like these:

Is the company:

  • Managing to maintain sufficient liquidity to support operations and meet short-term spending needs?
  • Managing its Accounts payable liabilities efficiently?
  • Accounts payable status benefitting or harming financial performance and financial position?

Financial metrics in the following sections use data from the Income statement and Balance sheet to address these questions.

Two Accounts payable Efficiency Metrics: APT and DPO

Analysts use two different metrics to measure a firm's ability to manage cash flow and meet immediate payable obligations:

  • Accounts payable turnover APT.
    APT is a liquidity metric.The calculation returns a frequency. APT is, therefore, the number of times per accounting period the firm pays off its suppliers.
  • Days payable outstanding DPO
    DPO is an activity and efficiency metric.
    The DPO calculation returns a duration—measured in days. DPO is, therefore, the average number of days the firm takes to pay off its suppliers.

The Accounts Payable Turnover APT
Measuring Payoff Frequency

The Accounts payable turnover APT metric uses Income statement and Balance sheet figures to measure the company's Account payable payoff performance. Note that APT is a frequency—the number of times per accounting period the company pays off its suppliers. Analysts call APT a liquidity metric because it measures the company's ability to manage cash flow and meet immediate needs.

An annual result of APT = 13.4 signals that the company pays off its "Accounts payable" bills 13.4 times per year.

Calculating Accounts Payable Turnover

APT derives from Income statement Cost of Goods Sold and Balance sheet Accounts payable. The Exhibit 4 Balance sheet and Exhibit 5 Income statement below both include the source location of these data. For this example:

Cost of Goods Sold = $22,043,000
Accounts payable = $1,642,000

From these input data, Accounts payable turnover calculates as a ratio:

APT = Cost of Goods Sold / Accounts payable
        = $22,043,000 / $1,642,000
        = 13.4 payoffs / year

What Does the APT Result Mean?

An APT result of 13.4 means the firm pays off its suppliers about monthly, or a little faster. That is not surprising in a business environment where most creditors require payment "net 30 days" from receipt of invoice.

One might think that a rule for APT would be just "the higher, the better." However, financial officers will probably disagree with that rule.

  • A very high APT rate could mean that the firm is having trouble obtaining credit.
  • A very high APT rate could also mean that the firm is not making good use of funds (e.g., not holding onto funds that could otherwise be earning interest before payoff).

Analysts agree, however, that a much lower APT result, such as 3 - 5 payoffs per year is indeed a negative result.

  • A meager APT rate could mean that the firm's creditors are extending unusually long credit terms, such as "net 60 days.
  • A very low APT could also mean, only, that the firm is overdue paying its bills.

The Days Payable Outstanding Metric DPO
Measuring Payoff Duration

The APT metric is a frequency, the number of payoffs per period. Analysts also refer to another measure that communicates approximately the same thing as "Accounts payable turnover," but expresses the result as a duration, "Days payable outstanding DPO." DPO is, in other words, a measure of time, the average number of days per payoff. A DPO result of DPO = 27.2means that the firm takes requires an average 27.2 days to pay off its suppliers.

Calculating Days Payable Outstanding

The activity and efficiency metric, Days payable outstanding (DPO) uses the same input data as the liquidity metric, APT: Firstly, Cost of Goods Sold from the Income statement and secondly, Accounts payable from the Balance sheet. Alternatively, DPO is the APT result divided by the number of days per period.

Using Cost of Goods Sold and Accounts payable figures from Exhibits 4 and 5, the DPO input data are as follows:

Cost of Goods Sold = $22,043,000
Accounts payable = $1,642,000

Accounts payable turnover APT calculates as a ratio:

DPO = Number of days * (Accounts payable / Cost of Goods Sold)
          = 365 * ($1,642,000 / $22,043,000)
          = 27.2 days

Also, using instead the APT figure from above as input, DPO calculates as:

DPO = Number of days / APT
= 365 / 13.4
= 27.2 days 

What Does the DPO Result Mean? Where Should You Use DPO Instead of APT?

  • When focusing on using resources efficiently, the DPO activity and efficiency metric version of this information is more helpful.
  • When focusing on the company's liquidity, the APT frequency version is more helpful, even though both metrics carry precisely the same information.

Which Other Financial Metrics Reflect Accounts Payable Balance?
3 Liquidity Metrics and 2 Leverage Metrics

Other financial metrics also reflect the Accounts payable debt. In these metrics, however, Accounts payable plays a lesser role than it does in APT and DPO.

Other Liquidity Metrics Involving Accounts Payable

Several other liquidity metricsuse the Balance sheet figures for Current Assets and Current Liabilities. As a Current liability, Accounts payable also contributes to these metrics.

     • Working capital
     • Current ratio
     • Acid-test ratio

Other things being equal, the more significant the Accounts payable component, the lower the firm's liquidity "score." Working capital, for instance, is the following difference:

Working capital = Current assets – Current liabilities

Thus, a larger Accounts payable means more substantial Current liabilities and therefore less working capital.

For more on these liquidity metrics and example calculations, see the Encyclopedia article Liquidity Metrics.

Leverage Metrics Involving Accounts Payable

Two frequently used leverage metrics also reflect Current Liabilities debt, including Accounts payable:

     • Total debt to assets ratio (debt ratio)
     • Total debt to equities ratio

 

Other things being equal, the larger the firm's Accounts payable balance, the higher the firm's leverage score. For more on leverage metrics and example calculations, see Leverage Metrics.

What is the Accounts Payable Role in the Firm's Financial Structure?
Accounts Payable Adds to Financial Leverage

Company funding results primarily from two kinds of sources: owners and creditors. Owner-supplied funds are the firm's Equities, while Creditor-provided funds are the firm's liabilities. For some companies, owners provide the majority of funding, while for others creditors supply most. As a result, the balance of funding between these two sources is a measure of the firm's level of leverage. And leverage, in turn, describes how owners and creditors share business risks and rewards.

Two structures within the company's Balance sheet define the company's level of leverage: Financial structure and Capital structure. Note that Accounts payable and other short-term debt:

  • Are part of the firm's financial structure.
  • Are not part of the firm's capital structure.

Financial structure compares the relative magnitudes of various Balance sheet liabilities and equities. For a highly leveraged company, therefore, lender-supplied funds (liabilities) are large relative to owner-supplied funds, "Equities."

  • In a healthy economy, when business volume is, and inflation is under control, companies benefit from high leverage. In such conditions, firms earn more with borrowed funds than they pay for debt service.
  • The reverse is true when the economy is weak, and business is slow. Consequently, in that case, a high leverage company spends more on debt service than it earns from using borrowed funds.

For quantitative examples, see the article Capital and Financial Structure.

Capital Structure vs. Financial Structures

A company's "Financial structure" differs from its "Capital structure" (capitalization) only in that "Financial structure" includes short-term liabilities, while "Capital structure does not."

  • Metrics that measure leverage under financial structure (such as the total debt to equities ratio mentioned above) result in higher leverage ratings when Accounts payable is larger.
  • A highly leveraged business benefits from its debt when sales are strong, and the economy is healthy. However, the debt burden penalizes the business, instead, when sales and the economy are weak.

Where Does Accounts Payable Appear on the Balance Sheet?
Example Balance Sheet

Accounts payable appears on the Balance sheet under Current liabilities, along with other short-term debts. On the end-of-period Balance sheet, Accounts payable shows the sum of all accounts (still) payable, as Exhibit 4 below shows.

Grande Corporation                                   Figures in $1,000's
Balance Sheet at 31 December 20YY   
ASSETS
Current Assets
   Cash
   Short-term investments
   Accounts Receivable
      Less allowance doubtful accts
      Net accounts receivable
   Notes receivable short term
   Inventories
      Raw materials
      Work in progress
      Finished goods/merchandise
      Operating & office supplies
            Total Inventories
   Prepaid exp, insurance, def taxes
          Total Current Assets




1,969
   137



    611
1,692
3,664
      19


1,369
  137


1,832
     20





5,986
  265
















9,609
Long-Term Investments and Funds
   Common stock held
   Preferred stock held
   Bonds Held / Sinking funds
   Other Long-Term Investments
          Total Long-Term Investments
    
  493
  184
  364
  419





1,460
Property, Plant & Equipment
   Factory Manufacturing Equipment
      Less accumulated depreciation
      Net factory mfr equipment
   Store Equip / Selling Assets
      Less accumulated depreciation
      Net store/selling equipment
   Computer systems
      Less accumulated depreciation
      Net computer systems
           Total Property, Plant & Equip
 
5,983
 2,782

5,456
 1,292

4,721
 2,370




3,201

4,164


  2,351










9,716
Intangible Assets
   Copyrights
   Trademarks and Patents
   Goodwill
          Total Intangible Assets
    
1,014
108
  100




1,222
Other Assets
                    Total Assets
         68
22,075
LIABILITIES
Current Liabilities
   Accounts payable
   Notes payable, short-term
   Current portion of long-term debt
   Accrued expenses, Interest payable
   Unearned revenues
   Taxes payable Other withholding
          Total Current Liabilities



 1,642
    912
    349
     146
     274
    141








3,464
Long-Term Liabilities
   Bank notes payable
   Bonds payable, other LT liabilities
          Total Long-Term Liabilities
                    Total Liabilities
     
912
 4,562



 5,474
8938
OWNERS EQUITY
Contributed Capital
   Preferred stock
   Common stock
   Contributed capital excess of par
          Total Contributed Capital

Retained Earnings
          Total Owners Equity


3,798
4,184
 1,457





9,439

 3,698








13,137
          Total Liabilities and Equities
    22,075
 

Exhibit 4. A Balance sheet with a high level of detail. This example represents about the maximum information must firms present in the Annual Report Balance sheet.


Input Data For Accounts Payable Metrics on Income Statement
Income Statement Example

Some "Accounts payable" financial metrics above use input data from the Income statement in Exhibit 5, below.

Grande Corporation                                   Figures in $1,000's
Income Statement for Year Ended 31 December 20YY   
Revenues
Gross sales revenues
   "Less" returns & allowances
      Net sales revenues
Cost of goods sold
   Direct materials
   Direct labor
   Manufacturing Overhead
      Indirect labor
      Depreciation, mfr equipment
      Other mfr overhead
      Net mfr overhead
         The Net cost of goods sold
Gross Profit








5,263
360
  4,000


33,329
    346


6,320
  6,100




 9,623



32,983








 22,043
 10,940
Operating Expenses
Selling expenses

   Sales salaries
   Warranty expenses
   Depreciation, Store equip
   Other selling expenses
          Total selling expenses
General & Admin expenses
   Administrative salaries
   Rent expenses
   Depreciation, computers
   Other general & admin expenses
      Total general & admin exp
           Total operating expenses
Operating Income Before Taxes
  

  4,200
  730
  120
   972


1,229
180
179
   200






6,022





  1,788













  7,810
  3,130
  Financial revenue & Expenses
  Revenue from investments
      Less interest expense
      Net financial gain (expense)
  Income before tax & ext items
  Less income tax on operations
    Income before extraordinary items
 



118
  511



  (393)
 2,737
  958
1,779
Extraordinary Items
   Sale of land
   Less initial cost
      Net gain on sale of land
      Less income tax on the gain
         Extraord items after tax
 
610
  145



465
  118





  347
Net Income (Profit)       2,126
 

Exhibit 5. Detailed example Income statement, showing how Revenue and Expense account items represent the Income statement equation: Income = Revenues – Expenses.