In the previous illustration, the company reports $160,000 as the total of its accounts receivable at the end of Year Two. A separate subsidiary ledger should be in place to monitor the amounts owed by each customer (Mr. A, Ms. B, and so on). The general ledger figure is used whenever financial statements are to be produced. The subsidiary ledger allows the company to access individual account balances so that appropriate action can be taken if specific receivables grow too large or become overdue. When a subsidiary ledger is maintained, the accounting system can be programmed so that each entry into the designated general ledger T-account requires an immediate parallel increase or decrease to the appropriate individual account. Thus, a $75 sale on credit to Mr. A raises the overall accounts receivable total in the general ledger by that amount while also increasing the balance listed for Mr. A in the subsidiary ledger. Subsidiary ledgers can be utilized in connection with any general ledger account where the availability of component information is helpful. Other than accounts receivable, they are commonly set up for inventory, equipment, and accounts payable. As might be imagined, big companies maintain subsidiary ledgers for virtually every T-account, whereas small companies are likely to limit use to accounts receivable and—possibly—a few other large balances.
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Before computer systems became common, keeping the total of thousands of individual accounts in a subsidiary ledger in agreement with the corresponding general ledger T-account balance was an arduous task. Mechanical errors (mathematical problems as well as debit and credit mistakes) tended to abound. However, current electronic systems are typically designed so that the totals reconcile automatically. KEY TAKEAWAYS Each year, an estimation of uncollectible accounts must be made as a preliminary step in the preparation of financial statements. Some companies use the percentage of sales method, which calculates the expense to be recognized, an amount which is then added to the allowance for doubtful accounts. Other companies use the percentage of receivable method (or a variation known as the aging method). It determines the ending balance for the allowance. The reported expense is the amount needed to adjust the allowance to this ending total. Both methods provide no more than an approximation of net realizable value based on the validity of the percentages that are applied.
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