Accounting Cycle

What is Accounting Cycle?

The accounting cycle is a fundamental concept in financial accounting, representing the complete process through which financial transactions are processed, recorded, classified, summarized, and reported within a specific accounting period. Typically, this period spans a fiscal quarter or year, aligning with the entity's reporting requirements. The cycle consists of several sequential steps, each crucial for ensuring the accuracy and reliability of financial statements and reports, which are indispensable for decision-making by management, investors, and other stakeholders.

9 Steps in Accounting Cycle

Step 1: Identify Transactions

The accounting cycle begins with the identification of transactions and events that affect the financial position of the business. These transactions could range from sales, purchases, payments, and receipts to accruals of expenses or revenues. Documentation supporting these transactions, such as invoices, receipts, and bank statements, plays a critical role in this step, providing the necessary evidence and details for recording.

Step 2: Record Transactions in the Journal

Once identified, each transaction is recorded in a journal, often referred to as the book of first entry or general journal. This process involves documenting the transaction's date, amount, accounts affected, and a brief description. The method employed is double-entry bookkeeping, where for every transaction, debits and credits must equal, maintaining the accounting equation (Assets = Liabilities + Equity).

Step 3: Post to the Ledger

The next step involves transferring the journal entries to the general ledger, a comprehensive set of accounts that reflects the financial activities and condition of the business. Each account in the ledger accumulates information about changes due to transactions over the accounting period, facilitating the tracking of balances in key areas such as assets, liabilities, equity, revenue, and expenses.

Step 4: Prepare an Unadjusted Trial Balance

After posting transactions to the ledger, an unadjusted trial balance is prepared to test the equality of debits and credits across all accounts. This compilation helps in identifying any potential errors or discrepancies that occurred during the recording or posting stages.

Step 5: Make Adjusting Entries

Adjusting entries are necessary at the end of the accounting period to account for accruals and deferrals that have not been fully captured through regular transactions. These adjustments ensure that revenues and expenses are recognized in the period to which they relate, adhering to the matching principle of accounting.

Step 6: Prepare an Adjusted Trial Balance

Following the adjusting entries, an adjusted trial balance is prepared. This step verifies the equality of debits and credits after adjustments and serves as the basis for preparing the financial statements.

Step 7: Prepare Financial Statements

The financial statements are the culmination of the accounting cycle, where the adjusted trial balance is used to prepare the income statement, statement of retained earnings, balance sheet, and cash flow statement. These documents provide a comprehensive overview of the financial health and performance of the business for the accounting period.

Step 8: Close the Books

After preparing the financial statements, temporary accounts such as revenues, expenses, and dividends are closed to begin the next accounting period with a clean slate. These accounts are closed to retained earnings to reflect the changes over the period.

Step 9: Prepare a Post-Closing Trial Balance

Finally, a post-closing trial balance is prepared to ensure that all temporary accounts have been successfully closed and to verify the balance of permanent accounts going into the next period. This step marks the completion of the accounting cycle, setting the stage for the next cycle to begin.

Why Accounting Cycle is Important?

The accounting cycle plays a pivotal role in the financial management and operational integrity of businesses of all sizes and across all sectors. Its importance can be understood through several key aspects:

  1. Accuracy and Reliability of Financial Information: By systematically following the steps in the accounting cycle, businesses ensure that every financial transaction is accurately recorded and reflected in the financial statements. This accuracy is crucial for reliable financial reporting, which stakeholders, including investors, creditors, and management, depend on for making informed decisions.
  2. Regulatory Compliance and Accountability: The accounting cycle helps businesses adhere to accounting standards and regulatory requirements. Compliance is not just about following laws; it's about maintaining transparency and accountability in financial reporting, which builds trust among investors, regulators, and the public.
  3. Financial Analysis and Decision Making: With a clear and systematic accounting cycle, businesses can analyze their financial health and performance more effectively. Insights derived from accurate financial statements can inform strategic planning, budgeting, and decision-making processes, enabling businesses to identify opportunities for growth and areas needing improvement.
  4. Cash Flow Management: Through the preparation of the cash flow statement, one of the outcomes of the accounting cycle, businesses can track the flow of cash in and out of the organization. Understanding cash flows is essential for effective liquidity management, ensuring that the business can meet its short-term obligations and invest in its future.
  5. Efficiency and Standardization: The accounting cycle provides a standardized approach to financial recording and reporting, which streamlines these processes and reduces the likelihood of errors. This standardization is particularly beneficial for large organizations and those with complex financial structures.
  6. Historical Records: Completing the accounting cycle for each period provides a historical record of financial transactions. These records are invaluable for both internal analysis and as evidence of compliance and due diligence in the event of audits or legal scrutiny.

Accounting Cycle Timing

The timing of the accounting cycle typically aligns with an organization's fiscal year, which may or may not coincide with the calendar year. However, within the broader annual cycle, organizations also perform accounting processes on a more frequent basis—monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually—to maintain timely and accurate financial records. The frequency can depend on the size of the company, regulatory requirements, and internal needs for financial information.

  • Monthly Cycle: Many businesses, especially those with significant transaction volumes or those that require timely financial information for decision-making, complete a full accounting cycle monthly.
  • Quarterly and Semi-Annually: Quarterly reporting is often driven by external regulatory requirements, especially for public companies, while semi-annual processes might focus on internal management and strategic planning needs.
  • Annual Cycle: The culmination of the accounting year, where a comprehensive set of financial statements is prepared, reflecting the organization's financial performance and position for the entire fiscal year.

Adoption of the Accounting Cycle by Businesses and Startups

Virtually every business or startup, regardless of size, industry, or geography, follows the accounting cycle, albeit tailored to their specific operational and regulatory environment. The complexity and detail of the cycle can vary significantly:

  • Large Corporations typically have complex and detailed accounting cycles due to the breadth of their operations, regulatory requirements, and the need for detailed financial analysis.
  • Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) might adopt a simplified version, focusing on key elements crucial for their financial management and compliance needs.
  • Startups, especially in their early stages, might have a more streamlined cycle. However, as they grow, especially if they seek external funding or aim for public listing, the complexity and rigor of their accounting processes will increase to meet investor and regulatory expectations.

The universal adoption of the accounting cycle is driven by its fundamental role in ensuring accurate, reliable, and transparent financial reporting, which is crucial for the survival, growth, and compliance of businesses in today's economy.


The accounting cycle is a structured and systematic process designed to accurately and efficiently manage and report a business's financial transactions. Its disciplined approach ensures that financial statements are prepared in compliance with accounting principles, providing critical information for analyzing business performance and making informed decisions. Understanding each step of the accounting cycle is essential for professionals in the field of accounting and finance, ensuring the integrity and accuracy of financial reporting.