Small Business ResourcesBookkeeping GuideSetting up a chart of accounts


Setting up a chart of accounts

4 min read

Doing your own bookkeeping as a small business owner? Part of this process requires setting up and understanding your chart of accounts (COA).

Done manually, through a tool like Excel, setting up your accounting chart can be extremely cumbersome and error-prone, so using proper accounting software is ideal.

But first, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of the subject: what is a chart of accounts? What does it do? And how do you set one up?

What is a chart of accounts?

In a nutshell, a chart of accounts lists all the accounts used in an organisation’s general ledger.

A standard chart of accounts lets you categorise each transaction in your general ledger by type. For example, a standard COA has subcategories (usually separate tabs in your accounting software) detailing a variety of transactions such as:

  • Income statement accounts – money your business earns.
  • Expense accounts – things you need to pay for.
  • Cost of goods sold (COGS) accounts – the total cost of providing an item for sale.
  • Asset accounts – what you own.
  • Liability accounts – debts you owe.
  • Equity accounts – ownership interest in the business.

Configure the chart of accounts in your accounting software according to the types of financial statements you require and to fit your specific business needs. Within most modern accounting software, there are many different categories that you can choose to display. Essentially, you need to know what your business’s financial incomings and outgoings are, then organise your COA with these in mind.

Tailoring your COA, you should consider whether you want to see your income statement and your liability accounts – or if you’re a service business, you may not need certain elements such as COGS, but instead need to see accounts receivable.

Other COA categories may include, inventory, accounts payable, petty cash, payroll liabilities, and work vehicles.

COA display tabs

Why is a chart of accounts important for small businesses?

By indexing your general ledger into types or categories, accounting charts represent the financial position of your business or organisation. (Unless you memorise all your records, you will have to rely on your dedicated chart of accounts.)

A properly organised chart of account system helps to easily identify your major accounts and the transactions which have been or are yet to be deposited or withdrawn. The system will ensure you have visibility over your entire financial position and can break it down into categories.

So, if you want to drill down into assets, accounts payable, expenses, or any other transaction type, you can do so with your chart of accounts.

Furthermore, your chart of accounts will be integral when reporting on your finances, doing taxes, or creating financial reports for various purposes.

Let’s say you want to sell your business or are seeking a loan or investors – you’re going to need the granular breakdown of your financial health that is made possible by a properly organised chart of accounts.

Using your COA, you can easily create financial statements, a balance sheet or determine things like income tax. Even if you are just going to see an accountant or advisor for advice or a business health check – you’ll need to show them your COA, so they can evaluate your position effectively.

Here, we will show the procedure within Reckon accounting software to give you an example.

Chart of Accounts 6 Step Graphic

1) You can access the chart of accounts from the Administration icon, or from the Navigation bar.
2) The Chart of Accounts will display tabs for every account type.
3) You can personalise your COA by clicking the spanner icon. Now you can select and deselect what you see in your COA.
4) If you want to add a new account, just click on Add. You can designate the account as a header or sub account. You can have up to five sub account levels.
5) You can now edit the account details as required.
6) You can re-order your accounts as you see fit, to suit your business or common needs. Simply click on any account tab and select the reorganise option.

Chart of accounts FAQs

What is included in a chart of accounts?

The most common chart of accounts include: assets, liabilities, equity, revenue, and expenses. (Revenue or expenses are normally listed first, and you can customise the other categories to suit your business.)

Can you explain how the accounts are organised?

Whether alphabetically, in order of importance or according to longevity, a chart of accounts can be organised in many ways. You can also have subcategories, such as accounts payable (invoices payable) under liabilities.

What do I use my chart of accounts for?

Use a well-organised COA to fully understand your company’s financial health, create financial statements, income statements, or balance sheet accounts. You can also use it to apply for bank loans.


How to set up a chart of accounts in your accounting software

You should be able to set up your COA with relative ease using most types of accounting software Having said that, it does take a bit of time and care, as an improperly set up COA will be problematic to say the least.

There you have it, a quick guide to COA, covering why you need one, and how to organise it.

Download our free GST guide

There’s a lot to get your head around when you’re starting a new business, and GST is just one bit most fledgling business owners will need to get to grips with. If you’re looking for help, download our free guide to better understand GST.

GST guide

Track and manage GST with Reckon One

Cancel anytime. Unlimited users.

Made for every small business

Switch and Save

Business Solutions

Find your perfect plan

Simply answer five quick questions so we can suggest the best package for your business

What are you looking for?