Equity Accounts – It’s Your Money
Equity is the difference between assets and liabilities as shown on a balance sheet. In other words, equity represents the portion of assets that are fully owned by the owners (stockholders, partners, or proprietor) of a business.
When I prepare financial statements, I always review the general ledger (GL) account numbers that the client has coded on the check register. Whenever I see a balance sheet GL account number, I automatically double-check it. The reason I do this is that the balance sheet is the least understood part of the financial statements for most clients. This is especially true regarding the equity section. In a way, this is rather strange, since the equity section represents the owner’s share of the business. I would want to keep a very close eye on my investment and, to do that effectively, I would need to know the nature of each equity account and how to interpret the changes in those accounts as they occur.
If I am a sole proprietor, it’s not as crucial because everything in the equity section is mine. That’s not to diminish the importance of knowing what the accounts mean, as there are other good reasons to track the increases and decreases that occur within them. However, if I am a partner in a partnership or a stockholder in a corporation, it is my responsibility to protect my investment interest from mistakes and/or deliberate misstatements. This can be a challenge and accounting knowledge is required.
The equity section title in a sole proprietorship is most commonly called “Owner’s Equity”. The accounts within this section are usually laid out in this fashion:
Current Year Capital Contributions
Net Profit or Loss
Look at the accounting model chart and find the equity section. An increase to the equity section requires a “credit” entry, while a decrease requires a “debit” entry. Following this “accounting logic”,
it makes sense that a contribution of personal money to the business requires a debit entry to Cash and a credit entry to Current Year Capital Contributions. On the other hand, if cash is removed from the business for personal reasons, a debit entry to Owner’s Draw and a credit entry to Cash would be required.
Furthermore, if the business showed a profit, that would indicate an increase in equity (credit), or if it showed a loss, that would indicate a decrease (debit) in equity.
Since the Owner’s Equity account (a credit balance account) is an “accumulation account”, all the other accounts are closed out at the end of the year into the Owner’s Equity account. This makes perfect sense when you follow the journal entries required to close out the accounts. For Instance:
Net Profit or Loss is automatically closed into Owner’s Equity at the end of the year by your computer. If a journal entry were written, it would look like this:
As you can see the function of the sole proprietor equity accounts is not complicated or difficult to understand.
Depending on how many partners there are, partnership equity accounts usually are organized as follows under the title, “Partner’s Equity”:
Partner A, Capital Account
Partner B, Capital Account
Partner C. Capital Account
Net Profit or Loss
All the increases or decreases occur within the partner’s capital accounts. In other words, the partner capital accounts are the equity accounts. If a partner makes a capital contribution, then his/her capital account is increased (credit). If the partner takes a distribution, then the capital account is decreased (debit). If the business has a profit or a loss at the end of the year, then that profit
or loss is distributed among the partners at whatever ownership interest or other arrangement is appropriate.
General partners who work in the business are paid a management fee called a “guaranteed payment”. This fee is a legitimate business expense and therefore acts to lower the net profit of the business. This fee is similar to a salary paid to a working stockholder in a corporation, except, according
to U.S. tax law, a fee paid to a working partner cannot be run through payroll. It is treated as a draw, subject to self-employment taxes. Both the general partner’s guaranteed payment and share of the profits are taxable and subject to self-employment taxes.
Sometimes a business may not have enough cash to make a distribution to the partners even though the business realized a profit. Partners may have a rude awakening to discover that they still have to pay taxes on those profits regardless of whether they received any money.
Another scenario to be aware of if you are a non-working general partner or a limited partner is this one: You and your partner contributed an equal amount of cash for working capital. The reason for investing your money is because you expect to share in the profits. Your partner is a working partner and is entitled to receive a management fee for services rendered. You need to keep an eye on the books because there may never be a profit to share in if your partner simply continues to increase his/her management fee. It can be a sticky situation because the working partner may feel he/she is never making enough money to justify all the work he/she has to do. It is best to define what the management fee is going to be in the partnership agreement beforehand.
Corporation (Primarily closely held corporations)
Closely held (private) corporation equity accounts are a little more complicated than a sole proprietorship or partnership. These are the typical accounts found in the corporation equity section under the title, “Stockholder’s Equity”:
Common and/or Preferred Stock
Net Profit or Loss
Retained Earnings is similar to the Owner’s Equity account in that the Net Profit or Loss is closed into that account at the end of each accounting year. Paid-in-Capital is the account used to record capital contributions made by stockholders. Keep in mind, as in the examples above, that increases to an equity account are credits. For example:
If dividends were paid the journal entry would look like this:
When common stock is sold or issued to raise money or acquire property:
When Net Profit is closed out for the year:
These accounts are also found on public corporations, however they may have additional equity accounts that are necessary to explain more complex activities.
You can see that the equity accounts in all three business entities function in a similar manner. From year to year, there should be continuity. This means there should be a logical explanation for any increases or decreases in theequity accounts. As an investor or owner, you have a right to know the reasons for any changes. If there has been a mistake, willful or otherwise, it is most likely going to show up in the equity section. Stay vigilant and protect your investment.