Accounts Receivable book

What is Accounts Receivable? Definition

Accounts Receivable

What is Accounts Receivable?

Accounts receivable is the money customers owe a business for the products and services they’ve purchased on credit from the business. It’s all of the invoices your company has generated for goods sold and services offered, added together. So, accounts receivable represents money owed to your company.

What is Accounts Payable?

Accounts payable is the money a company or professional owes for the products and services they have purchased on credit. So, accounts payable represents all the money a company owes. 

Exchanging invoice for money

Accounts Receivable vs. Accounts Payable

The simplest way to remember in the beginning is accounts receivable is money coming in, while accounts payable is money going out.

Speaking of simplicity for a simple, online way to create professional-looking invoices go here.

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Accounts Receivable Management

Accounts Receivable Management is the work a business needs to do to get paid.  

While the definitions in their shortest form are simple – if you’re looking for information about working in an accounts receivable department, it gets a little more complicated.

Working in Accounts Receivable

The work of the accounts receivable department is generally called Accounts Receivable Management, and we can break it down into five main categories, they are:

  1. Credit Management
  2. Billing or Invoicing
  3. Posting Payments
  4. Reconciliations
  5. Collections
8 arm woman with work related items

I’ve seen advertisements for companies looking for accounts receivable staff with much longer lists, but these are the five main areas.  

What is Credit Management?

Credit management is the process your company has for deciding whether or not a customer can purchase on credit and if so how much? Sort of like a credit card but with a business instead of a bank. 

There are several steps in the process of approving or disapproving credit, they include:

  • Information gathering (you need a good credit application for this)
  • Application processing
  • Evaluation and decision making

Once a company has extended credit to a customer that credit needs to be managed.  A credit manager even in a small company will want to watch for several things, such as:

  • Up to date contact information
  • Credit limit violations
  • Late invoices
  • Need for limit increases or decreases


Once credit has been established and product shipped, or service rendered, it’s time to do the billing or create the invoice. Those aren’t two things; billing and invoicing are two words describing the same process, so don’t let that confuse you.  

Whatever you call it at your company, it’s the next step, and another place collection problems are commonly created.  Invoicing errors are the surest way to be certain you don’t get paid on time.

Posting Payments

If you’ve handled your credit management thoroughly and you’ve done your invoicing correctly, and on time, the next step in the accounts receivable management process will be posting payments.  

This subject could use a post of its own but suffice to say this is yet another area where we have the opportunity to create collection problems.  

Here are the top five posting errors I’ve encountered over the years.  

  • Posting to the oldest invoice first.
  • Not posting and posting late. 
  • Posting the wrong date. 
  • Posting overpayments incorrectly.
  • Posting underpayments incorrectly.

You may have noticed I’ve mentioned creating collection problems several times in this article. That’s because I’ve spent a good portion of the last 30 years collecting accounts receivable and I’ve learned that most collection problems are preventable. You can save yourself and your company a lot of grief and money by implementing best practices in your Accounts Receivable department. It’s easy to blame the customer, but more often than not, the issues begin within our own company, not with the customer.


Mistakes will happen, and when they do, you’ll need to be able to reconcile your accounts. That means you need to know how to prove that a given account balance is accurate. You need to be able to “do the math” as they say.

It’s easy if you haven’t made a lot of the kinds of mistakes we talked about earlier. The more posting or invoicing errors, the harder it gets to reconcile. Just think of a two-step math problem or a five-step math problem, which is easier?

In accounts receivable, you’ll want the amount you believe your customer owes to match what your customer believes he owes.

That means your customer agrees he owes the amount on the invoice. If he does not agree, you’ll need to reconcile the difference, i.e., figure out what the problem is. If you can not reconcile the account, you may end up with a collection problem.

And that is the last but mostly avoidable step in the Accounts Receivable Management Process.

Gangster with a bat


Statistically, only about 30% of any given database of customers pay on time. Another 30% or so pay within reasonable terms, and the rest require some level of attention.

That means out of every ten customers, you’ll probably have to do something to collect from 4 of them.

And like everything else we’ve discussed in this article, there are several steps to an effective collections process. These include but are not limited to;

  • Deciding how to measure collection results
  • Identifying late invoices
  • Contacting customers with invoices that are beyond terms
  • Tracking your collection work

Deciding How to Measure Results

There are many ways to measure collections effectiveness. You might measure any or all of these (though we think all is a bit of overkill)

  • DSO – Days Sales Outstanding
  • CEI – Collectible Effectiveness Index
  • Acceptable percentage of bad debt write-offs
  • Acceptable percentage of receivables by aging

Hopefully, you’ll find all of this in your company’s credit policy.  

Identifying Late Invoices

You’ll need two things to decide which invoices are far enough beyond terms to justify contacting the customer. 

  • Familiarity with your company’s credit policy
  • Your aging

Your credit policy will tell you when and your aging will tell you who. Your objective should be to contact every customer that has a balance that falls outside of the parameters established in your credit collection policy.  

Contacting Customers

Deciding how to make contact is your next task. You can use any or all of these tactics;

  • Letter campaign – delivered via email and snail mail
  • Fax a statement, invoice or request for payment status (yes fax is still a thing, though it often goes straight to email these days)
  • Text message
  • Call Campaign

Collection call campaigns have been our bread and butter for the last 30 years, and if you hate making collection calls (and most people do) but need them, we welcome your inquiry.

For additional perspective read Eight Steps to An Effective Dunning Campaign originally published at Tesorio

last updated 12/24/2019 12:33:50 PM

Questions? Call me at 800-201-CA$H (2274) my extension is 110.

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