Small Business Bookkeeping Guide

8. What Does it Mean to ‘Close the Books’? When Should You Close Them?

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Business Finance

What Does it Mean to ‘Close the Books’? When Should You Close Them?

Mar 13, 2023 • 7 min read
Muslim bookkeeper closes the books
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      At the end of a specific period, bookkeepers will “close the books,” or wrap up everything for a given month, quarter, or year. This concept might seem complex, but the process can be simple if you keep your books organized throughout the year. 

      Simply put, closing the books means ensuring that every transaction or expense is recorded and all of the information that a bookkeeper needs to put together their reports—like income statements and balance sheets—is present. 

      By “closing the books,” a bookkeeper can seal financial records for a period of time and know that they’ll be accurate and orderly when reviewed again.

      When to close the books.

      When should you close the books?

      Different organizations close their books at various parts of the year. You can review your books on a monthly basis or go over them at quarterly or annual intervals. Many small businesses have unique processes for closing the books at different periods. 

      For example, a company would ensure that its expenses and income transactions are accurate on a monthly basis and then conduct a quarterly review ahead of an important meeting with the board or investors. 

      Then, after the end of the year, the company’s accountants would close the books so that the financials and taxes can be prepared.  

      The books are typically developed by an accounting professional and then reviewed by the business owner or executive. Once this person signs off on their accuracy, then they can be considered closed. This adds extra layers of protection and accountability to show the books are correct and in order. 

      Process for closing books.

      How to close the books.

      If you’ve kept up with your bookkeeping throughout the year, the process for closing your books is simple.

      In this case, your bookkeeping software will already have generated preliminary account balances for you, and closing the books consists of verifying the accuracy of these preliminary balances, as well as checking and recording any transactions that don’t run through your external accounts.

      Step 1: Reconcile to your bank statements

      Start by reconciling your balance sheet accounts to any external statements such as bank statements or business credit card statements.

      To do this, obtain your year-end statements and compare the year-end balance on your statements to the year-end balance for the corresponding accounts on your books.

      If an account’s balance on your books matches the bank statement balance for that account, great!

      If not, you’ll have to compare, line by line, the transactions in your books with the transactions on your statement, starting with the last date the account balance in your books matched the account balance in your statements. Common issues include:

      • Posting date discrepancies between your statements and your software
      • Missed or double-counted transactions in your software

      Step 2: Check the accuracy of other accounts

      Once you’ve gone through the process above for all accounts kept at a financial institution, the balances for these accounts in your bookkeeping software should match—or have explainable differences with—the balances on your statements.

      Now, your focus turns to accounts whose transactions aren’t reflected on a bank or credit card statement. There are plenty of accounts that don’t run through a statement and your business likely has several. Accounts receivable is a common example.

      The details of checking these kinds of accounts differ with the accounts themselves, but the concept is the same: Think of all the events that affect the account’s balance and ensure that all of these events have been captured in your software.

      Step 3: Record necessary journal entries

      Finally, you may need to record some journal entries to properly close your books. A common one is depreciation expense on fixed assets. 

      To create this journal entry, first determine what your depreciation expense should be for the year. You can use a fixed asset software to calculate it for you. Then, record the transaction in your bookkeeping software by debiting and crediting the proper accounts—in this case, depreciation expense and accumulated depreciation, respectively.

      If this sounds confusing, consider reaching out to a professional accountant or bookkeeper to help you close your books.

      Advanced situations

      When does closing the books become complicated?

      While closing the books is often a straightforward process, there are times when it can become complicated to wrap up a financial period in a company’s history. A few examples of complications include:

      • The person in charge of bookkeeping didn’t categorize expenses, leading to ambiguity about where the money went. 
      • There’s a backlog of several months when various invoices and costs weren’t recorded, turning a simple process into a large project.
      • Your business uses a complicated accounting process (like accrual-based accounting) that follows a strict set of rules and multi-entry documentation. 

      Fortunately, many of these factors are in your control. You can set up clear categorization for better insight into your business and prevent a backlog of invoices from building up. Good organization and attention to detail are the antidotes to overwhelming bookkeeping projects. 

      About the author
      Logan Allec

      Logan Allec is a CPA and owner of tax relief company Choice Tax Relief, which negotiates with the IRS and state revenue departments on behalf of business owners who have fallen behind on their individual, corporate, or payroll tax obligations. With over a decade of experience consulting with business owners about their tax issues, Logan has seen almost everything when it comes to tax negotiations with the IRS and state tax authorities. Prior to starting his own tax resolution practice, Logan was in a managerial capacity at a Big 4 professional services firm, handling tax issues for billion-dollar companies. In addition to running Choice Tax Relief, Logan also owns the personal finance blog Money Done Right, which educates thousands of readers a day about making, saving, and investing money. Logan also runs a YouTube channel on which he publishes weekly videos about what everyday Americans need to know about taxes and tax relief. He has been a licensed CPA since 2010 and holds a master's degree in business taxation from the University of Southern California. Logan lives in the Los Angeles area with his family. When he's not working, he enjoys playing basketball, taking his kids to Disneyland, and discovering new hot sauces to enjoy.

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