Journal Entry for Correction Of Errors and Counterbalancing

On the “Accounting Changes” topic I have revealed the Change in accounting prinsiples and Changes in accounting estimates and reporting entity. On this post you learn about journal entry for correction of errors and counterbalancing with a comprehensive case examples.

Some erroneous entries may not need correction journal entries for they have been counterbalanced, but in many case we also find errors that still need correction entries eventhough they were discovered after the closing. Knowing what error needs correction entry and what error doesn’t is critical. So, I am trying to cover those issue through this post.

Mistakes due to errors in arithmetic, poor estimates, or carelessness usually require adjusting, corrective entries. Very often these entries require a debit or credit to the beginning-of-period Retained Earnings. Such entries are calledprior period adjustments.

Some errors affect only the balance sheet. For example, a note payable may have been entered as an account payable, or the purchase of a machine was debited to Land instead of to Machine. Such errors require a correcting entry to reclassify these items under their proper account titles. If comparative balance sheets are prepared that include the year in which the error was made, the balance sheet for that year should be restated to reflect the correction.

Case Example: (Note: For simplification, we will ignore taxes)

In 20X1 a building was purchased for $100,000 and the entry was:

[Debit]. Machine = 100,000
[Credit]. Cash = 100,000

The error was discovered in 20X2. The correction is:

[Debit]. Building = 100,000
[Credit]. Machine = 100,000

As you probably know that all expense and revenue items flow into ‘Retained Earnings‘ at the end of each period via the closing process. Thus each period begins with a “clean slate” for the expense and revenue accounts.

Accordingly, if an error occurs that affects only income statement accounts, and the error is discovered in the same period, a correction must be made. However, if it is discovered in a future period, no correction is necessary because the original accounts have been closed.

Example:

In 20X1 the payment of a telephone bill was debited to Advertising Expense.

If the error is discovered this year, the correction would be:

[Debit]. Telephone Expense = xx
[Credit]. Advertising Expense = xx

If the error is discovered after this year, no correction would be needed since these accounts have been closed.

Next, Let us have a look at errors that affect both the balance sheet and the income statement……

 

Journal Entry For Errors That Effect Both Balance Sheet and Income Statement

These come in two types:

  1. Counterbalancing errors are self-correcting over 2 years
  2. Non-counterbalancing errors take more than 2 years to self-correct, and sometimes may never self-correct.

 

[Info_Box]FYI: Most errors are counterbalancing.[/Info_Box]

Example:

A company fails to accrue wages on December 31, 20A, but instead records them at the time of payment in January of 20B.

Thus, in 20A the company erred in NOT making the following entry:

[Debit]. Wages Expense = xx
[Credit]. Wages Payable = xx

In 20B the company erred by the following:

[Debit]. Wages Expense = xx
[Credit]. Cash = xx

This is an error because these wages ARE NOT an expense of 20B, they are an expense of 20A. Briefly put, 20B and its income statement DO NOT “deserve” this expense.

Based upon the above analysis, we can conclude as follows:

  1. For 20A: (a) “Expenses” were understated, (b) “net income” was thus overstated, (c) “retained earnings” was overstated (because net income flows into retained earnings), and (d) “wages payable” was understated.
  2. For 20B: (a) “Expenses” are overstated, (b) “net income” is thus understated, (c) “wages payable” is correct, and (d) “retained earnings” is also correct.

Why is Retained Earnings now correct?” you may ask.

Here is why:

Last Year Retained Earnings was overstated because the “net income was overstated. This year net income was understated, causing an understatement in retained earnings. Therefore, the understatement and overstatement offset each other, thus leaving retained earnings correct. This is referred to as “counter-balancing”.

In light of the above we can now understand what corrective action, if any, need be taken for counterbalancing errors:

  1. If the error is discovered in the second period before closing entries have been made, an entry must be made to correct retained earnings. This is because the counterbalancing action (which would self-correct the retained earnings) takes place at closing, and we are still before closing. This correction entry is called a prior period adjustment.
  2. If, however, the error is discovered after closing, no corrective entry is needed—retained earnings has self-corrected via the counterbalancing action of closing, the other balance sheet accounts are correct, and the income statement accounts have zero balances due to closing.

Let us try another example………

On December 31, 20A, Company E failed to accrue its telephone expense because it failed to debit Telephone Expense and credit Accounts Payable. In January of 20B, when it received the phone bill, it then made the following entry:

[Debit]. Telephone Expense = 100
[Credit]. Cash = 100

The effect of the error on the 20A statements is as follows:

  1. Income statement: Expenses understated, net income overstated.
  2. Balance sheet: Liabilities understated, retained earnings overstated (because the net income was overstated).

If the error is discovered in 20B before closing, a correction entry would be made, as follows:

[Debit]. Retained Earnings = 100
[Credit]. Telephone Expense = 100

Notes:

  1. Retained Earnings is debited because it was overstated in 20A.
  2. Telephone Expense is credited because 20B does not “deserve” the telephone expense belonging to 20A.

If the error is discovered in 20B after closing, no correction entry is needed because the books are now correct.

Retained earnings has been counterbalanced (this year’s overstatement of expense causing an understatement in retained earnings offsets last year’s overstatement), the other balance sheet accounts are correct, and the expense accounts have been closed. The effect on the 20B statements would be the following:

  1. Income statement: Expenses overstated, net income understated.
  2. Balance sheet: Correct.

For better understanding, let’s take a look at several additional examples involving counterbalancing errors, in various cases. (Note: again, for simplification, we ignore taxes).

Counterbalancing Case-1: (Insurance)

At the beginning of 20A, Company E bought a 2-year insurance policy for $2,000 and debited Insurance Expense and credited Cash for the full $2,000. It should have debited Prepaid Insurance. No adjusting entries were made at the end of 20A to reduce the expense to $1,000 and to recognize the asset prepaid insurance of $1,000.

The effect of this error on the 20A statements would be:

  1. Income statement: Expenses overstated, net income understated.
  2. Balance sheet: Assets understated, retained earnings understated.

If the error is discovered in 20B before closing, the correction entry is:

[Debit]. Insurance Expense = 1,000
[Credit]. Retained Earnings = 1,000

(Insurance Expense is debited because 20B “deserves” an expense of $1,000.)

If the error is discovered after closing, no correction is needed—retained earnings has been counterbalanced. In this case, the effect on the 20B statements is:

  1. Income statement: Expenses understated, net income overstated.
  2. Balance sheet: Correct.

Counterbalancing Case-2: (Prepayment/Deposit for Rent)

On the last day of 20A, Company E received a $100,000 prepayment of 20B rent for a building it rented to a tenant.

It debited Cash and credited Rent Revenue for this amount. It should have credited “Unearned Renta liability“. The effect of this error on the 20A statements is:

  1. Income statement: Revenue overstated, net income overstated.
  2. Balance sheet: Liabilities understated, retained earnings overstated.

If the error is discovered in 20B before closing, the correction is:

[Debit]. Retained Earnings = 100,000
[Credit]. Rent Revenue = 100,000

(Rent Revenue is credited because 20B “deserves” this revenue.)

If the error is discovered after closing, no correction is needed—the error has been counterbalanced. In this case, the effect on the 20B statements is:

  1. Income statement: Revenue understated, net income understated.
  2. Balance sheet: Correct.

 

Counterbalancing Case-3: (Interest)

At the end of 20A, Company E failed to accrue interest of $500 on a note receivable via an entry debiting Interest Receivable and crediting Interest Revenue. At the beginning of 20B, when it received the cash, it then debited Cash and credited Interest Revenue. The effect of this error in 20A is:

  1. Income statement: Revenue understated, net income understated.
  2. Balance sheet: Assets understated, retained earnings understated.

If the error is discovered in 20B before closing, the correction entry is:

[Debit]. Interest Revenue = 500
[Credit]. Retained Earnings = 500
(Note: Interest Revenue is debited because 20B does not “deserve” this interest)

If the error is discovered after closing, no correction is necessary—retained earnings has been counterbalanced, the other balance sheet accounts are correct, and the income statement accounts have all been closed. In this case, the effect on the 20B statements is:

  1. Income statement: Revenue overstated, net income overstated.
  2. Balance sheet: Correct.

 

Counterbalancing Case-4: (Inventory)

At the end of 20A, Company E understated its ending inventory by $20,000. This also causes the beginning inventory of 20B to be understated by the same amount. As we know, when the ending inventory is understated, cost of goods sold will be overstated and thus net income will be understated. When the beginning inventory is understated, the opposite effect will occur. Thus the effect of this error on 20A is:

  1. Income statement: Ending inventory understated, net income understated.
  2. Balance sheet: Assets understated, retained earnings understated.

If the error is discovered in 20B before closing, the correction entry is:

[Debit]. Inventory = 20,000
[Credit]. Retained Earnings = 20,000

If the error is discovered after closing, no correction is needed—the opposite effect that takes place this year (as discussed) counterbalances retained earnings. In this case, the effect on the 20B statements is:

  1. Income statement: Beginning inventory understated, net income overstated.
  2. Balance sheet: Correct.

Counterbalancing Case-5: (Inventory Purchase)

Near the end of 20A, Company E purchased merchandise FOB destination for the amount of $5,000. The goods did not arrive until 20B and were thus correctly not included in the ending inventory of 20A. However, the company incorrectly recorded the purchase in 20A via the following entry:

[Debit]. Purchases = 5,000
[Credit]. Accounts Payable = 5,000

This is incorrect because the purchase does not belong to 20A; it belongs to 20B. We know that when purchases are overstated, cost of goods sold is also overstated, thus causing net income to be understated (which in turn understates retained earnings).

Accordingly, the effect on the statements for 20A is:

  1. Income statement: Purchases overstated, net income understated.
  2. Balance sheet: Liabilities overstated, retained earnings understated.

If the error is discovered in 20B before closing, the correction entry is:

[Debit]. Purchases = 5,000
[Credit]. Retained Earnings = 5,000

(Purchases is debited because 20B “deserves” this purchase.)

If the error is discovered after closing, no correction is needed—the error has counterbalanced. In this case, the effect on 20B is:

  1. Income statement: Purchases understated, net income overstated.
  2. Balance sheet: Correct.

 

Okay, we have just learnt counterbalancing in various cases. Next, let us take a look at non-counterbalancing errors. Such errors take longer than two periods to self-correct, and in certain cases, may never self-correct. Thus correction entries are needed in the second period even after closing entries have been made.

Non-counterbalancing case-1: (Capitalization on Repair of Plant Asset)

Company E purchased a machine with an estimated useful life of 5 years on January 1, 20A, for $20,000, thus requiring annual depreciation expense of $4,000. By mistake the entire $20,000 was expensed instead of capitalized, and the entry WAS:

[Debit]. Miscellaneous Expense = 20,000
[Credit]. Cash = 20,000

Accordingly, expenses were overstated by $16,000 (20,000 instead of 4,000). The effect on the 20A statements is:

  1. Income statement: Expenses overstated, net income understated.
  2. Balance sheet: Assets (machine) understated by $16,000, retained earnings understated by $16,000.

If this error is discovered in 20B before closing, an entry will have to be made to recognize the asset machine, to recognize the related accumulated depreciation, and to correct retained earnings. The entry is:

[Debit]. Machine = 20,000
[Credit]. Accumulated Depreciation = 4,000
[Credit]. Retained Earnings = 16,000

In addition, a second entry must be made to record depreciation expense for 20B, as follows:

[Debit]. Depreciation Expense = 4,000
[Credit]. Accumulated Depreciation = 4,000

 

If the error is discovered in 20B after closing, a correction entry must still be made because the error has not yet counterbalanced (it will take 4 years for the counterbalancing to occur). The correction entry is:

[Debit]. Machine = 20,000
[Credit]. Accumulated Depreciation = 8,000
[Credit]. Retained Earnings = 12,000

(Note: Accumulated depreciation is now $8,000, representing 2 years of depreciation. Retained earnings needs a correction of only $12,000 because its shortage has been reduced from $20,000 due to 2 years of depreciation on the machine).

Non-counterbalancing Case-2: (Plant Asset Purchase Entered to the wrong account)

Early in 20A, Company E purchased a machine with a 5-year life for $20,000. BY MISTAKE the debit was to Land instead of to Machine, and no depreciation was taken. The effect on the 20A statements is:

  1. Income statement: Depreciation expense understated, net income overstated.
  2. Balance sheet: Assets overstated, retained earnings overstated.

If the error is discovered in 20B before closing, the following correction entry must be made:

[Debit]. Machine = 20,000
[Debit]. Retained Earnings = 4,000
[Credit]. Accumulated Depreciation = 4,000
[Credit]. Land = 20,000

In addition, an entry must be made for the 20B depreciation:

[Debit]. Depreciation Expense = 4,000
[Credit]. Accumulated Depreciation = 4,000

If the error is discovered after closing, a correction MUST STILL be made—the error has not yet counterbalanced. The correction entry is:

[Debit]. Machine = 20,000
[Debit]. Retained Earnings = 8,000
[Credit]. Land = 20,000
[Credit]. Accumulated Depreciation = 8,000

Since the error was not discovered until after closing and the 20B financial statements have already been issued, they would be incorrect, as follows:

  1. Income statement: Expenses (depreciation) understated, net income overstated.
  2. Balance sheet: Assets overstated (because no depreciation has been taken), retained earnings overstated.

So, this is the end of the “Changes and Error Correction Journal Entry” series. Remember; practice make perfect. You will master it.

Author: Lie Dharma Putra

Putra is a CPA. His last position, in the corporate world, was a controller for a corporation in Costa Mesa, CA. After spending 15 years as a nine-to-five employee, he decided to serve more companies, families and even individuals, as a trusted business advisor. He blogs about accounting, finance and tax, during his spare time, and helps accounting students (around the globe) to understand the subject matter easier , faster. Follow him on twitter @LieDharmaPutra or add him to your circle at Google Plus Lie+

12 thoughts on “Journal Entry for Correction Of Errors and Counterbalancing”

  1. Pak Putra,..kalo misalnya telah dilakukan tutup buku tahun lalu dan telah dibuat laporan keuangannya..ternyata tahun ini ditemukan bukti2 transaksi tahun lalu yang belum tercatat…lalu,apa yang harus dilakukan??
    bagaimana perlakukan akuntansinya??

  2. Mr. Putra,

    I have 1 question 2u. let say; rent paid amounted $560 has been recorded in the cash book as $650. i dunno how to correct this error. in my opinion, i think we should debit cashbook $90 and credit suspense account $90 but my fren thinks that we suppose to debit cashbook $90 and debit cashbook $90. plz help me, i’m really confuse rite now. thanx in advance.

  3. Hello Mr. Putra

    Can you show some examples including tax. Or if you can suggest some other websites were I can get some examples for Accounting error with tax it would really help me . I am doing my CPA after a gap of 10 years of graduating . It is like starting afresh. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

  4. My challenge is slightly different–we have a capital lease that was expensed each year for the life of the lease (5 years). Although time has counterbalanced the error, in comparing the impact of expensing the lease versus showing the appropriate depreciation and interest expense on an annual basis our retained earnings are understated by $2,936.00, as properly accounting for the lease produced a greater charge against earnings than the improper recording. If I were to do a prior period adjustment, I would debit Retained Earnings for $2,936.00, but what would be my credit? Remember the underlying asset has been fully depreciated.

  5. Please help me with this.
    An accounts officer has wrongly reported Accumulated Depreciation of 245,000.00 as 36,126.00 and also failed to report the corresponding Depreciation charged for the year in the income statement. How do I correct it?

  6. Please I need help on this
    A short term loan was understated by GHS 20000 leaving a balance of GHS 50000 at the end of 2016. This error was discovered upon receiving a statement from the financial institution. I want to prepare the first quarter report hence the need to correct this error before I begin. Thank you

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