Bookkeeping – Recurring Entries (Lesson 65)

Lesson 65

Every day bills arrive from vendors that are mere repetition like the electric or phone bill.   They basically recur every so often (mostly monthly).   The bookkeeper must create a new entry as a part of his/her  daily functions.   This repetition consumes time and is a nuisance.   In addition, because they repeat so frequently, bookkeepers often perform this task last and will sometimes forget to make the entry thus failing to pay the bill timely incurring late charges.   To save time and reduce errors, bookkeepers should take advantage of technology and create recurring entries.   As with any benefit there exists some drawbacks and with recurring entries this means inaccurate reports due to false assumptions.

This lesson explains what is a recurring (repeating) entry and provides a long list of examples.   Next I’ll explain the advantages of creating recurring entries and how to recognize errors related to recurring entries.  As with most things in life, there are drawbacks to using recurring entries.

Recurring Entry Definition

Repetitive bills with consistent frequency and a comparable dollar value are called recurring transactions.   A perfect example is a loan payment.   First it meets the test of repetition,  i.e.  same vendor for the same function.   Secondly, the issue of consistent frequency is obvious as many loan agreements stipulate the same amount for several months into the future.   As to the issue of comparative dollar amounts, most loan payments are the exact same amount every month.

So a recurring (repeating) transaction must meet three tests.

  1. Repetitive – The transaction keeps on occurring from the same vendor for the same service or product;
  2. Consistent Frequency – The transaction repeats itself in a regular cycle.   Most are monthly like rent or loan payments but others may occur as needed like trash disposal or restocking certain supplies; AND 
  3. Comparative Dollar Value – The dollar amounts of the bills must be similar in value from one cycle to the next.   It is OK that they are different, but an excessive deviation like 20% or more can create serious issues with clerical errors as the bills arrive.   The greater the variance the less effective a recurring entry is for a bill.

The following is a long list of recurring transactions: 

Facilities                                                                Insurance                                                                     
.  – Rent                                                                     – General Liability

.  – Cleaning                                                              – Property
.  – Linens (Door Mats ,Cleaning  Supplies)            – Umbrella
.  – Utilities:                                                              – Worker’s Compensation
.      – Electric                                                            – Auto
.      – Gas
.      – Water                                                              Office
.      – Sewage                                                             – Communications:
.      – Trash/Waste Disposal                                          – Phone
.  – Cam (often quarterly)                                              – Cell Phones
.                                                                                     – Internet
Loan  Agreements                                                    – Technology:   
.  – Auto Payments                                                        – Maintenance

.  – Equipment                                                               – Warranties
.  – Bank Notes                                                              – Retainer
.  – Line of Credit (Interest only)                               – Equipment Leases
Other                                                                     Capital
.  – Advertising                                                         – Depreciation
.  – Banking (monthly fees)                                      – Amortization
.                                                                                – Owner Payments

Every one of the above types of expenses customarily meets the three criteria for a recurring transaction.   Notice that cost of sales type of transactions rarely     if ever meet the criteria?   This is because it is uncommon to have a direct cost that follows a set pattern.   There is one that is close though, payroll.

Payroll, especially management salaries meets the three tests.   It is repetitive, is paid every payroll period and the amount paid is certain.   The problem with preparing the payroll as a recurring entry is in legal compliance.   If a report is accidentally prepared and released prior to the actual payday the business then becomes committed to the transaction.   There are some IRS tax consequences and state legal issues too.  So I advise against posting payroll prior to the actual payday.

So why prepare entries in advance anyway?

Advantages of Recurring Entries

Over time bookkeepers learn that the actual entry process takes time.   The information has to be posted to the proper journal; the accounts selected must be correct; and the description must have adequate detail so that a reader several years from now can clearly understand the economic transaction.   Creating a recurring entry reduces this workload, increases overall accuracy and acts as a prompt to review the actual transaction in the future.

The key is in the initial creation of the entry.   Modern technology allows the bookkeeping to create a recurring (repeating) entry from an initial entry.   Often the recurring function is selected (QuickBooks uses the term ‘Memorized’) and the entry is created for the current period (month).   Once created the software queries the future conditions such as:

* Date of the month to automatically recreate the entry;
* How many periods or copies into the future for the entry; AND
* Shall the entry be automatically posted or does the bookkeeper want to be prompted to post the entry?

Examples

Rent – When the lease for the space is signed, the bookkeeper can create a recurring entry to pay the lease five days before the due date.   If the lease is for 36 months, have the entry repeat itself 35 times.   There is no need to have it prompt for entry, automatic creation is appropriate.   Make sure the debit and credit are correct;  in this case it would appear as follows:

Purchases Journal
Date          ID                     Ledger          Control ID   Description                                 DR             CR

ZZ/23/16   Rent-Main St.   Facilities/Rent                  Monthly Rent per/contract       1,425.00
.                 Rent-Main St.   A/P              Main St.       R/E Monthly Rent per/contract                 1,425.00
.                                                                                                                                    $1,425.00 $1,425.00

When the recurring function is engaged, the entry looks exactly the same except the month (ZZ)  in the date field advances in monthly units.

Now instead of having to enter the entry it is automatically reproduced by the accounting software each month.   Imagine the ease of this for the volume based entries like depreciation, amortization and loan payments.   In addition, the information is already there when the company advances to the next month.   In this case the rent is posted to the income statement and the queue exists to pay the rent during the third or fourth week of the month.

So recurring entries save time, reduce errors and prompts the bookkeeper to pay the bills on time.   However there are some disadvantages.

Disadvantages Of Recurring Entries

There are a few disadvantages related to recurring entries.   They include 1) a learning curve for the accountant, 2) a high error rate with bills that change in value from month to month and 3) an increased likelihood of misinterpreting reports.   The following sections elaborate on these further.

Learning Curve

Most accountants don’t utilize recurring entries and some don’t understand them.   So imagine how difficult it is for a bookkeeper to comprehend this concept.   So a multiple bookkeeper office for the same company where everyone enters data, if one creates recurring entries and the other isn’t aware or understands them; the entries often are generated twice and I’ve seen them paid twice.   So recurring entries are a sophisticated tool and every member of the accounting team in the office should be aware of how it works.

Increased Error Rate With Changing Bills

One of the three tests to qualify as a recurring entry is the comparative dollar amount.  This means that the value changes very little from month to month.   A good example is the electric bill.   It is always very similar from month to month but it is different in the exact total.   The recurring entry sets this dollar amount to match the original or first entry.   So accountants have to pay attention to the actual bill amount and simply open the recurring entry (in QuickBooks you simply click on that entry in the utilities or accounts payable account) and change the dollar amounts for both the debit and credit.

If you fail to make the change, the final check cut to pay the bill will not match the actual amount due.

Misinterpreting Reports

A big drawback is pulling a financial report from the future.   The report will include the recurring transaction data thus skewing the financial results.   Invariably management will not understand the concept of recurring entries dated into the future.   Here is an example:

The owner of ACME wants a year to date income statement and generates a report dated for the year ending December 31.   Seems innocent enough.   However, expecting a profit there is a loss.   Looking at the details he discovers rent for 12 months, a lot of utility costs; and depreciation that is way more than expected.

Again the software assumes that the user understands the difference between a year to date report and a report with a year’s worth of information presented. This same problem occurs when creating vendor reports and ledger reports.  If the user doesn’t fully understand the report’s parameters and limitations.   There is often a misinterpretation.

Summary

Recurring (repeating) entries are transactions that meet three tests; 1) they are repetitive;  2) consistently occurring like weekly, monthly or quarterly and 3) relatively comparative in dollar value from one transaction to the next.   By posting the entry one time and initiating the recurring function with the accounting software a bookkeeper can save time and reduce the error rate from inputting data.   There are some drawbacks and they include a learning curve, a high error rate with fluctuating bills and a possible misinterpretation of financial statements.   Overall it is a great accounting tool if used wisely.   ACT ON KNOWLEDGE.

If you have any comments or questions, e-mail me at dave (insert the usual ‘at’ symbol) businessecon.org.  I would love to hear from you. If interested in my services as an accountant/consultant; click on ‘My Services in the footer of this article. 

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About David J Hoare 427 Articles
I spent 12 Years as a Certified Public Accountant, Over 20 Years of Practice in Accounting and Consulting, Controller in Management of Closely Held Operations, Masters of Science in Accounting, Prepared over 1,000 Business Tax Returns and Hundreds of Individual Returns