Accounts payable definition: Understanding Accounts Payable AP With Examples and How to Record AP

Accounts payable definition: Understanding Accounts Payable AP With Examples and How to Record AP

Accounts payable definition

Concrete guidelines are essential because of the value and volume of transactions during any period. Depending on a company’s internal controls, an AP department either handles pre-approved purchase orders or verifies purchases after a purchase. The AP department also handles end-of-month aging analysis reports that let management know how much the business currently owes.

Accounts payable definition

Paying invoices in a timeframe that keeps cash flow liquid and obligators satisfied is a common challenge. Automated processing helps companies easily achieve this balance while giving their accounting team more time to spend on other tasks. The accounts payable department also works to reduce costs by developing strategies to save a business money. For example, paying an invoice within a discount period that many vendors provide. For example, if a company purchases goods for $780, it will record a $780 credit under accounts payable, and a $780 debit to the expense account. Once the company has paid the invoice, it will debit accounts payable by $780, and record a $780 credit to cash.

Is Accounts Payable a Business Expense?

Other types of payables that are not considered accounts payable are wages payable and notes payable. Accounts Payable is presented as a current liability on a company’s balance sheet. It includes a collection of short-term credits extended by vendors and creditors for goods and services a business receives. Accounts payable is not to be confused with accounts receivable (AR), which refers to the payments a company is due to receive from its customers. As such, accounts receivable is recorded on the balance sheet as an asset, and represents money owed to a company when its customers purchase goods or services with payment due on a future date.

Accounts payable definition

Any amounts owed to suppliers that are immediately paid in cash are not considered to be trade payables, since they are no longer a liability. Non-trade payables, such as accrued expenses, dividends payable, or wages payable, are recorded in other accounts in order to more easily identify them. Accounts payable (AP) is a short-term debt and a liability on a balance sheet where a business owes money to its vendors/suppliers that have provided the business with goods or services on credit.

Is Accounts Payable a Debit or Credit Entry?

For example, if an invoice has a date of September 1 and should be paid in 30 days, then it is logged in as of September 1, so that the accounting system will pay it on September 30. All supplier invoices are immediately routed to the payables department as soon as they are received. This can be a difficult processing step, since invoices might have been sent to the person authorizing a purchase, or perhaps to a subsidiary.

Managerial approval might be required at this stage with the approval hierarchy attached to the bill value. Larger businesses or any business that requires staff to travel may have their AP department manage their travel expenses. The travel management by the AP department might include making advance airline, car rental, and hotel reservations. While the business size ultimately determines the role accounts payable plays, AP fulfills at least three essential functions besides paying bills.


When a company pays their supplier, the company needs to debit accounts payable so that the credit balance can be decreased. Accounts payable is a liability since it is money owed to one or many creditors. Accounts payable is shown on a businesses balance sheet, while expenses are shown on an income statement. Additionally, internal controls and audits are required to ensure safety and security among your organization. Having internal controls helps mitigate risk by creating a system of checks and balances within your AP department–systems that monitor the data entry controls, payment entry controls, and obligation to pay controls.

  • They are typically responsible for more than just paying incoming bills and invoices.
  • Like Accounts Payable, AR could refer to the department responsible for this money.
  • Hence, accountants say that under the accrual method of accounting expenses are reported when they are incurred (not when they are paid).
  • AP is also a direct line of contact between a business and its vendor representatives.

Often, the accounting software will limit each employee to performing only the functions assigned to them, so that there is no way any one employee – even the controller – can singlehandedly make a payment. The efficiency and effectiveness of the accounts payable process will also affect the company’s cash position, credit rating, and relationships with its suppliers. Many small businesses track accounts payable, sometimes abbreviated as A/P, monthly. The increased frequency helps small businesses take advantage of any early-payment discounts included on invoices and resolve credits due to inventory returns.

Audits of accounts payable

Accounts Payable refers to a business’s obligations to suppliers and creditors for purchases made on an open account. It specifically refers to any amounts owed expected to be paid within one year or less (usually due in 30 to 60 days). Additionally, Accounts Payable could refer to the department responsible for these expenses. ”, this might also refer to the department within an organization that processes payments to third parties. Large organizations will have a dedicated department focusing solely on accounts payable management, whereas smaller organizations may have a single team managing both accounts payable and accounts receivable.

Although some people use the phrases “accounts payable” and “trade payables” interchangeably, the phrases refer to similar but slightly different situations. Trade payables constitute the money a company owes its vendors for inventory-related goods, such as business supplies or materials that are part of the inventory. The term accounts payable can also refer to the person or staff that processes vendor invoices and pays the company’s bills. That’s why a supplier who hasn’t received payment from a customer will phone and ask to speak with “accounts payable.”