Accrual versus cash basis- which is right for my business?

Apr 10, 2024

Deciding between accrual or cash-based accounting can be a big deal for your business. Understanding the nuances of each method is crucial to making an informed choice that aligns with your company’s needs. In this guide, I’ll explain these concepts to ensure that you can make the best decision for your business’s financial management.

Accrual Basis and Cash Basis In A Nutshell

At its simplest, accrual basis accounting is like taking a snapshot of your business’s financial activities. Revenue is recorded when it’s earned, and expenses are recorded when they’re incurred, regardless of when the money actually changes hands.

Imagine sending an invoice; under accrual accounting, the sale is recorded right away, even if payment is received much later. On the flip side, cash basis accounting is akin to tracking the actual movement of cash in and out of your business. Revenue is recognized when you receive payment, and expenses are recognized when they are paid.

If you think of your business as a cash register, then cash-based accounting only cares about the moments when cash drops into or out of the register.

Choosing What’s Right for Your Business

Consider Complexity and Size

Small Businesses: Cash basis is often favored by small businesses because of its simplicity and direct reflection of cash flow. It’s straightforward: you look at your bank balance, and it tells you the story of your business’s financial health without needing to account for income or expenses that haven’t yet resulted in cash movement.

Growing and Complex Businesses: Accrual basis, however, offers a more accurate picture of a company’s financial health by aligning income and related expenses in the same period. This is crucial for businesses that have inventory, offer credit to customers, or engage in complex financial transactions. It provides a better perspective for making strategic decisions, even though it’s more complex to maintain.

Regulatory Requirements and Financial Reporting

Tax Implications: The IRS allows small businesses (with revenues under a certain threshold) to choose either method, but there are specific conditions and limitations to consider. As of 2020, companies with average annual gross receipts of $26 million or less can choose either method. However, businesses with sales exceeding $25 million on average over a three-year period are required to use accrual basis accounting.

Financial Reporting: If you plan to seek financing or attract investors, accrual accounting might be necessary. Banks and financial institutions often require financial statements based on accrual accounting to understand the business’s true financial position.

Long-term Strategic Planning

Future Growth: A significant majority of startups (67%) use accrual-basis accounting. If you anticipate rapid growth or plan to do business on credit, starting with accrual accounting might save you the trouble of transitioning from cash-based accounting later on.


In essence, if your business operations are straightforward, cash flows are closely tied to actual transactions, and regulatory requirements don’t dictate otherwise, the cash basis might be the right choice for you. It’s easier to manage and understand. However, if your business is more complex, dealing with credit transactions, or you have plans for significant growth, the accrual basis will provide a more comprehensive view of your financial health and is likely the better option.

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