What is the Difference Between a Journal and a Ledger?

Difference Between a Journal and a Ledger

Share This...

Difference Between a Journal and a Ledger

A journal and a ledger are both key tools used in accounting to record financial transactions, but they serve different purposes and are used at different stages of the accounting cycle:

  • Journal: The journal is the first place where financial transactions are recorded, and this process is known as journalizing. Each transaction is recorded in chronological order as it occurs, showing the accounts affected, whether those accounts are debited or credited, and the amounts of the debits and credits. Each entry in the journal typically includes a date, a description or narration of the transaction, and a reference number. This journal is sometimes referred to as the “book of original entry” or the “book of first entry.
  • Ledger: Once transactions have been recorded in the journal, they are then posted or transferred to the ledger. The ledger, or “book of final entry”, organizes these entries by account, so there’s a separate ledger account for each type of asset, liability, equity, revenue, and expense. In each ledger account, debits and credits related to that account are accumulated and their balance calculated. This makes it easier to see the total effect of related transactions on a particular account over a period of time.

In essence, the journal records transactions in chronological order, while the ledger groups transactions by account. This two-step process of recording transactions in the journal first and then posting them to the ledger is an integral part of the double-entry bookkeeping system, which helps ensure accuracy and balance in the financial statements.

Example of the Difference Between a Journal and a Ledger

Let’s consider a simple example where a company, “BrightStar Electronics,” purchases $1,000 worth of inventory on credit from a supplier on May 1, 2023.

Journal Entry:

The transaction would first be recorded in the journal as follows:

DateAccount Titles and ExplanationDebitCredit
May 1, 2023Inventory1,000
Accounts Payable1,000

In the above journal entry, the company debits (increases) its Inventory account by $1,000, and credits (increases) its Accounts Payable account by $1,000. This shows that the company has increased its inventory (an asset) and also increased its accounts payable (a liability), as it owes the supplier money for the inventory.

Ledger Entry:

Next, these transactions would be posted to the ledger, updating the balances of the Inventory and Accounts Payable accounts.

Here’s what the ledger accounts might look like after the transaction:

Inventory Ledger Account

May 1, 2023Purchase on account1,0001,000

Accounts Payable Ledger Account

May 1, 2023Purchase on account1,0001,000

In this example, the journal records the specific transaction and shows the accounts affected, while the ledger shows the ongoing balance in each account after the transaction is recorded.

Other Posts You'll Like...

Want to Pass as Fast as Possible?

(and avoid failing sections?)

Watch one of our free "Study Hacks" trainings for a free walkthrough of the SuperfastCPA study methods that have helped so many candidates pass their sections faster and avoid failing scores...