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What is Accounts Receivable (AR)? How Businesses Use Them

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Accounts Receivable (AR) represents the money customers owe to a company, listed as a current asset in the financial statements. 

Effective management of AR is essential for maintaining a healthy cash flow and reducing financial risks.

Tools like QuickBooks, Xero, and FreshBooks help automate and streamline AR processes.

If you are a business owner or manager, you need to understand accounting basics like accounts receivable (AR). Understanding this is crucial for managing your company's liquidity and ensuring a healthy cash flow. This article explains AR, how they differ from accounts payable, and why they are critical in financial reporting and planning. We also offer practical strategies for effective AR management, which is essential for minimizing credit risk and enhancing financial stability.

What Is Accounts Receivable?

Accounts Receivable refers to the money that customers owe to a company for products or services provided on credit, usually in the short term. It is considered a liquid asset, part of the company’s working capital, for finance purposes.

How Is AR Recorded on Financial Statements?

Because ARs are legal obligations for customers to pay, they are expected to be converted into cash in the short term. This is why AR is listed as a current asset in a company’s balance sheet or general ledger. The balance of AR - also called receivables balance - reflects the total amount customers owe the company, which is recorded as a debit to the AR account and has not yet been credited on the statement date.

Accounts Receivable vs Accounts Payable

While accounts receivable represent money owed to a company, accounts payable are the obligations or the money a company needs to pay to its suppliers and creditors. Both are essential for managing cash flow but serve opposite functions in financial accounting.

Why Managing Accounts Receivable Is Important

Managing your accounts receivable (AR) can be a game-changer for any business. It's the key to keeping your cash flow healthy and your operations running smoothly. 

If you only consider cash as your spending power, you are limited in what your business can do. You might not be able to invest in new opportunities or upgrade your infrastructure, which could hinder your growth. 

However, by including AR as a current asset, you can show lenders that you have a steady stream of income coming in, Which can make it easier to secure loans that you can use to scale up your business and achieve your goals. 

Statrys mobile application dashboard showing a total balance in a business account.

Impact on Cash Flow

Efficient AR management helps ensure that cash inflows are timely, enhancing the company's ability to plan cash flow to meet its financial obligations without resorting to excessive borrowing. 

 Risks Associated With Poor AR Management

Poor management of accounts receivable can lead to a buildup of bad debts, adversely affecting the company’s profit margins, financial creditability, and overall financial health. 

Chasing past due invoices, getting proof of payment, and maximizing the certainty of your business’ finances is absolutely critical.

The Role of AR in Strategic Financial Planning

Strategic use of AR enables companies to optimize their cash management, align their budgeting processes, and make informed decisions on investments, expansions, or cost management strategies.

Accounting data like this can aid in assessing customer creditworthiness and establishing credit limits, which directly influences risk management and capital allocation decisions. In essence, AR is not just about tracking amounts owed but also about leveraging this data for broader financial strategy and planning.

Strategies for Effective Accounts Receivable Management

Implementing strategies for AR management can significantly enhance a company’s liquidity and reduce financial risks.

Best Practices for Reducing Days Sales Outstanding (DSO)

Reducing Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) is crucial for enhancing liquidity and ensuring a steady cash flow. Here are some best practices:

  1. Clear Credit Policies: Establish and communicate clear credit terms from the outset. Ensure your terms of credit are understood and agreed upon by all parties, minimizing misunderstandings and disputes.
  2. Credit Checks: Conduct thorough credit checks before extending credit to new customers. This reduces the risk of defaults and late payments, improving DSO.
  3. Early Payment Incentives: Offer discounts or other incentives for early payments to encourage customers to settle their invoices sooner than the due dates, reducing time and effort spent chasing outstanding invoices.
  4. Automated Reminders: Implement automated systems to send invoice reminders before and after the due date. Prompt communication can prevent overdue payments and maintain cash flow.
  5. Regular Reviews: Regularly review the AR process and customer payment patterns. This helps identify any potential issues early, allowing for timely interventions.

Developing a Credit Policy

Developing a robust credit policy is more than just a set of rules; it's a strategic framework that guides your business’ credit and collections processes. This policy not only defines who is eligible for credit but also sets clear conditions under which credit is extended, helping to mitigate risk and optimize financial operations. 

Here are the key components of a comprehensive credit policy:

  1. Credit Evaluation: Establishing criteria for assessing the creditworthiness of potential customers. This might include credit score requirements, financial health indicators, and past payment behaviors. This evaluation helps in minimizing the risk of bad debts and improving overall financial stability.
  2. Credit Limits: Determining how much credit to extend to different customers based on their credit evaluation. This is crucial for maintaining a balance between sales growth and risk management.
  3. Payment Terms: Defining clear and concise payment terms, including due dates, early payment incentives, and penalties for late payments. Well-defined terms ensure better cash flow management and reduce the days' sales outstanding (DSO).
  4. Collections Process: Outlining the steps to be taken when payments are overdue. This includes the timeline for sending reminders, the method of communication (emails, calls, letters), and escalation measures for delinquent accounts, which could involve collection agencies or legal action.

Best Accounting Software to Manage Accounts Receivable

To streamline the management of Accounts Receivable, several accounting software solutions are available that automate and enhance the efficiency of the AR and AP process. 

Here are some of the top choices:

Widely recognized for its comprehensive features that cater to small businesses, QuickBooks facilitates easy tracking of AR and integrates with other financial functions seamlessly.

Known for its user-friendly interface, Xero allows businesses to monitor their invoices and receivables efficiently with real-time updates and automated reminders.

Ideal for freelancers and small businesses, FreshBooks offers simple invoicing and AR management tools that help keep finances in check without complicating the process.

A dropdown of some supported currencies by the Statrys business account.

Conclusion

Managing accounts receivable effectively is crucial for maintaining a healthy cash flow and ensuring financial stability. Businesses should adopt strategic accounting practices to enhance their financial health and operational efficiency.

FAQs

What Is an Example of Accounts Receivable?

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An example of accounts receivable is a water company that bills its clients after they use their water. The water company records an account receivable for unpaid invoices as it waits for its clients to pay these bills.

What Is Accounts Receivable vs Payable?

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Who Pays Accounts Receivable?

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 Is Accounts Receivable an Asset or Expense?

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What Is a Good Accounts Receivable Turnover Ratio?

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