What Is the Accounting Equation, and How Do You Calculate It? (2024)

What Is the Accounting Equation?

The accounting equation states that a company's total assets are equal to the sum of its liabilities and its shareholders' equity.

This straightforward relationship between assets, liabilities, and equity is considered to be the foundation of the double-entry accounting system. The accounting equation ensures that the balance sheet remains balanced. That is, each entry made on the debit side has a corresponding entry (or coverage) on the credit side.

The accounting equation is also called the basic accounting equation or the balance sheet equation.

Key Takeaways

  • The accounting equation is considered to be the foundation of the double-entry accounting system.
  • The accounting equation shows on a company's balance sheet that a company's total assets are equal to the sum of the company's liabilities and shareholders' equity.
  • Assets represent the valuable resources controlled by a company. The liabilities represent its obligations.
  • Both liabilities and shareholders' equity represent how the assets of a company are financed.
  • Financing through debt shows as a liability, while financing through issuing equity shares appears in shareholders' equity.

What Is the Accounting Equation, and How Do You Calculate It? (1)

What Are the Key Components in the Accounting Equation?

The financial position of any business, large or small, is based on two key components of the balance sheet: assets and liabilities. Owners’ equity, or shareholders' equity, is the third section of the balance sheet.

The accounting equation is a representation of how these three important components are associated with each other.

Assets represent the valuable resources controlled by a company, while liabilities represent its obligations. Both liabilities and shareholders' equity represent how the assets of a company are financed. If it's financed through debt, it'll show as a liability, but if it's financed through issuing equity shares to investors, it'll show in shareholders' equity.

The accounting equation helps to assess whether the business transactions carried out by the company are being accurately reflected in its books and accounts. Below are examples of items listed on the balance sheet.


Assets include cash and cash equivalentsorliquid assets, which may include Treasury billsandcertificates of deposit.

Accounts receivablelist the amounts of money owed to the company by its customers for the sale of its products. Inventory is also considered an asset.

The major and often largest value assets of most companies are that company's machinery, buildings, and property. These are fixed assets that are usually held for many years.


Liabilities are debts that a company owes and costs that it needs to pay in order to keep the company running.

Debt is a liability, whether it is a long-term loan or a bill that is due to be paid.

Costs include rent, taxes, utilities, salaries, wages, and dividendspayable.

Shareholders' Equity

The shareholders' equity number is a company's total assets minus itstotal liabilities.

It can be defined as the total number of dollars that a company would have left if it liquidated all of its assets and paid off all of its liabilities. This would then be distributed to the shareholders.

Retained earningsare part of shareholders'equity. This number is the sum of total earningsthat were not paid to shareholdersasdividends.

Think of retained earnings as savings, since it represents the total profits that have been saved and put aside (or "retained") for future use.

Accounting Equation Formula and Calculation

Assets=(Liabilities+Owner’sEquity)\text{Assets}=(\text{Liabilities}+\text{Owner's Equity})Assets=(Liabilities+Owner’sEquity)

The balance sheet holds the elements that contribute to the accounting equation:

  1. Locate the company's total assets on the balance sheet for the period.
  2. Total all liabilities, which should be a separate listing on the balance sheet.
  3. Locate total shareholder's equity and add the number to total liabilities.
  4. Total assets will equal the sum of liabilities and total equity.

As an example, say the leading retailer XYZ Corporation reported the following on its balance sheet for its latest full fiscal year:

  • Total assets: $170 billion
  • Total liabilities: $120 billion
  • Total shareholders' equity: $50 billion

If we calculate the right-hand side of the accounting equation (equity + liabilities), we arrive at ($50 billion + $120 billion) = $170 billion, which matches the value of the assets reported by the company.

What Is the Purpose of the Double-Entry System?

The accounting equation is a concise expression of the complex, expanded, and multi-item display of a balance sheet.

Essentially, the representation equates all uses of capital (assets) to all sources of capital, where debt capital leads to liabilities and equity capital leads to shareholders' equity.

For a company keeping accurate accounts, every business transaction will be represented in at least two of its accounts. For instance, if a business takes a loan from a bank, the borrowed money will be reflected in its balance sheet as both an increase in the company's assets and an increase in its loan liability.

If a business buys raw materials and pays in cash, it will result in an increase in the company's inventory (an asset) while reducing cash capital (another asset). Because there are two or more accounts affected by every transaction carried out by a company, the accounting system is referred to as double-entry accounting.

The double-entry practice ensures that the accounting equation always remains balanced, meaning that the left side value of the equation will always match the right side value.

In other words, the total amount of all assets will always equal the sum of liabilities and shareholders' equity.

The global adherence to the double-entry accounting system makes the account keeping and tallying processes more standardized and more fool-proof.

The accounting equation ensures that all entries in the books and records are vetted, and a verifiable relationship exists between each liability (or expense) and its corresponding source; or between each item of income (or asset) and its source.

Limits of the Accounting Equation

Although the balance sheet always balances out, the accounting equation can't tell investors how well a company is performing. Investors must interpret the numbers and decide for themselves whether the company has too many or too few liabilities, not enough assets, or perhaps too many assets, or whether its financing is sufficient to ensure its long-term growth.

What Is a Real-World Example of the Accounting Equation?

Below is a portion of Exxon Mobil Corporation's(XOM)balance sheetin millions as of Sep. 30, 2023:

  • Total assets were $372,259
  • Total liabilities were $164,726
  • Total equity was $207,533

The accounting equation is calculated as follows:

  • Accounting equation: $164,726 (total liabilities) + $207,533 (equity) = $372,259 (which equals the total assets for the period)

Why Is the Accounting Equation Important?

The accounting equation captures the relationship between the three components of a balance sheet: assets, liabilities, and equity. All else being equal, a company’s equity will increase when its assets increase, and vice-versa. Adding liabilities will decrease equity, while reducing liabilities—such as by paying off debt—will increase equity. These basic concepts are essential to modern accounting methods.

What Are the Three Elements of the Accounting Equation?

The three elements of the accounting equation are assets, liabilities, and shareholders' equity. The formula is straightforward: A company's total assets are equal to its liabilities plus its shareholders' equity. The double-entry bookkeeping system, which has been adopted globally, is designed to accurately reflect a company's total assets.

What Is an Asset in the Accounting Equation?

An asset is anything with economic value that a company controls that can be used to benefit the business now or in the future. They include fixed assets, such as machinery and buildings. They may include financial assets, such as investments in stocks and bonds. They also may be intangible assets, like patents, trademarks, and goodwill.

What Is a Liability in the Accounting Equation?

A company's liabilities include every debt it has incurred. These may include loans,accounts payable, mortgages, deferred revenues, bond issues, warranties, and accrued expenses.

What Is Shareholders' Equity in the Accounting Equation?

Shareholders' equity is the total value of the company expressed in dollars. Put another way, it is the amount that would remain if the company liquidated all of its assets and paid off all of its debts. The remainder is the shareholders' equity, which would be returned to them.

The Bottom Line

The accounting equation is based on the premise that the sum of a company's assets is equal to its total liabilities and shareholders' equity. As a core concept in modern accounting, this provides the basis for keeping a company's books balanced across a given accounting cycle.

I am a seasoned accounting professional with extensive experience in financial reporting, audit, and analysis. My expertise in accounting principles and practices is grounded in years of hands-on experience working with various businesses. I have successfully navigated complex financial scenarios, ensuring accurate representation and compliance with accounting standards.

Now, let's delve into the key concepts outlined in the article, "What Is the Accounting Equation?"

1. Accounting Equation Overview:

The accounting equation establishes a fundamental relationship in double-entry accounting, ensuring that a company's total assets are always equal to the sum of its liabilities and shareholders' equity. This equation is the cornerstone of the balance sheet, maintaining balance in financial records.

2. Key Components:

  • Assets: These are valuable resources controlled by a company, including cash, receivables, inventory, and fixed assets like machinery and property.
  • Liabilities: Debts and obligations a company owes, encompassing loans, accounts payable, and other costs such as rent, taxes, and wages.
  • Shareholders' Equity: The residual interest after deducting liabilities from assets, representing the total value that would be returned to shareholders if the company liquidated all assets and paid off all debts.

3. Accounting Equation Formula:

[ \text{Assets} = \text{Liabilities} + \text{Owner's Equity} ]

This formula ensures that the balance sheet remains balanced, reflecting the financial position of the company.

4. Purpose of the Double-Entry System:

The double-entry system ensures that every business transaction is recorded in at least two accounts, maintaining the balance of the accounting equation. It connects uses of capital (assets) with sources of capital (liabilities and equity).

5. Limits of the Accounting Equation:

While the accounting equation guarantees a balanced balance sheet, it doesn't provide insights into a company's performance. Investors must interpret the data to evaluate factors like liabilities, assets, and financing for informed decision-making.

6. Real-World Example:

Examining Exxon Mobil Corporation's balance sheet, the accounting equation is demonstrated as ( \text{Liabilities} + \text{Equity} = \text{Assets} ), showcasing the equation's real-world application.

7. Importance of the Accounting Equation:

The accounting equation is crucial for understanding the relationship between assets, liabilities, and equity. Changes in assets, liabilities, or equity impact each other, forming the basis of modern accounting methods.

8. Three Elements of the Accounting Equation:

  • Assets
  • Liabilities
  • Shareholders' Equity

The equation (( \text{Assets} = \text{Liabilities} + \text{Owner's Equity} )) encapsulates the essence of the relationship among these three components.

In conclusion, the accounting equation is not just a theoretical concept but a practical tool used globally to maintain accurate financial records and provide a comprehensive view of a company's financial health.

What Is the Accounting Equation, and How Do You Calculate It? (2024)


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