Balance Sheet

Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary

Definition: Balance Sheet

Balance Sheet

Quick Summary of Balance Sheet

A statement of the financial position of an entity showing assets, liabilities and ownership interest.

What is the dictionary definition of Balance Sheet?

Dictionary Definition

A financial report that summaries a company’s assets (what it owns), liabilities (what it owes) and owner or shareholder equity; at a given time.

The balance sheet is a statement showing the financial position of a business at a certain date – usually the end of the financial year. The idea is to have a single simple document which offers a way of measuring the financial position of the business and to judge its creditworthiness and value as an investment.

The balance sheet will show the balances of the business’s accounts separated into liabilities (capital invested, creditors, reserves for tax bills, provisions for staff pensions, etc.) and assets (land, buildings, machinery, stock, cash, investments, amounts due from debtors).

Full Definition of Balance Sheet

Balance Sheet is one of the major financial statements, the others being the income statement, statement of changes in equity and statement of cash flows.

Unlike the other financial statements, the balance sheet is accurate only at one specific moment in time, usually at the close of an accounting period.

If you are a proprietor of or a partner in a small business (especially a home business) and your business has not grown to a point where you actually need an accountant, you can construct financial statements for your business on your own to find out what your business is really worth.

A balance sheet is a snapshot of the financial position of a company. On the left side are the assets, and on the right side are the liabilities and owners’ equity. Thus the balance sheet represents the fundamental accounting equation: Owners Equity (or Net Worth) = Assets – Liabilities (or Net Assets). The assets are listed in the order they can be converted to cash; the liabilities, in the order they must be liquidated. Thus the balance sheet shows whether the company is liquid, ie, whether it can meet its short-term obligations. The balance sheet also shows the company’s leverage, ie, the ratio between capital supplied by creditors and capital supplied by owners. The balance sheet has several drawbacks, however. Some asset values on the balance sheet are historical and don’t accurately reflect current values. Moreover, not all of the company’s assets (like customer loyalty) and not all of its actual liabilities (like off-balance sheet items) are reflected in the balance sheet. Despite these negatives, a balance sheet is a primary tool for both credit and equity analysts.

One of the main components of a company’s Report and Accounts, the balance sheet provides a snapshot of everything the company owes and owns at the end of the financial year in question.

On a specific date it lists:

  • tangible assets
  • intangible assets
  • stock
  • debtors
  • cash
  • bank creditors
  • trade creditors
  • share capital
  • reserves

Where the profit and loss account tells you how the company has performed in the previous year, the balance sheet reveals things about its fundamental health, like whether it can pay its debts and how good its cash management is. A ‘strong’ balance sheet is one where liabilities (including borrowings) are considerably outweighed by assets (including cash).

Significance: If the company is having problems, the balance sheet (together with the cash flow statement) will tell you whether it can stand the strain.

The first thing you have to be careful about is to make sure that you don’t mix up your personal finances.

There are two sides to a balance sheet:

  • Left side: Assets, which reflects a compact accounting of the things the company owns and from which it derives its value. These include tangible assets such as plants, property and equipment, and intangible assets, such as patents and trademarks.
  • Right side: Liabilities and Shareholders’ Equity, which describes the means by which the assets have been financed, either through debt and other owings (liabilities) or through the equity that shareholders stumped up, along with retained earnings (shareholders’ equity).

The two sides are inextricably linked through the basic accounting equation:

Assets = Liabilities + Shareholders’ Equity

Another way of stating that equation is:

Shareholders’ Equity = Assets – Liabilities

In other words, the accounting value of a company that is attributable to its shareholders is equal to the total value of its assets less the value of all the liabilities it carries (that is why shareholders’ equity is sometimes referred to as ‘net assets’).

One way to think about this is in business liquidation, if the owners sell all the assets and repay all outstanding liabilities, shareholders’ equity is an accounting estimate of what is left for the owners.

Many investors don’t spend enough time examining the balance sheet, but it’s extremely useful, not least because it enables one to assess the level of a company’s indebtedness. Prudent investors avoid companies that are highly leveraged, as a high debt load can cripple a  company and puts equity owners’ value at risk.


  1. CASH. Allocate Cash for your business and separate it from your personal Cash. If possible open a separate bank account into which you will deposit all incoming funds and from which you will pay out all disbursements.
  2. CASH EQUIVALENTS OR NEAR CASH / SHORT-TERM INVESTMENTS. If you start generating oodles of cash from your business, don’t let it lie idle in a checking account. Place it in a time deposit (e.g., 30 / 60 / 90 /etc days). Keep it separated from your personal cash. If you need it for your personal expenses, record it as a withdrawal from the business’ Cash and a Drawing from the business’ Equity.
  3. ACCOUNTS RECEIVABLE. One way of growing your business is to extend credit to customers. However, be sure they are reliable and will pay on the due date.
  4. ALLOWANCE FOR BAD DEBTS or DOUBTFUL ACCOUNTS. If you happen to extend credit to somebody unreliable (e.g., has not been able to pay for as long as 90 days or more), take the amount out of ACCOUNTS RECEIVABLE and record it as an allowance in the Balance Sheet and as an EXPENSE in the Income Statement (how to construct a Small Business Income Statement will be discussed in later posts).
  5. INVENTORIES. In this account, list the cost of all goods (not the selling price) already produced and ready for sale.
  6. PREPAID EXPENSES or SUPPLIES. Into this account goes payments of expenses in advance (e.g., insurance) and supplies not yet consumed (e.g., raw materials not yet turned into finished products).
  7. LONG-TERM INVESTMENTS. Consider placing your surplus cash in long-term financial instruments (bonds, stocks, etc). Some bonds (held for 5 or more years) are tax-free.
  8. LAND / BUILDING. Consider owning your own place of business.
  9. FURNITURE & FIXTURES / EQUIPMENT. Consider improving your business premises (impressive reception area, customers’ lounge, etc) and upgrading your equipment.
  10. ACCUMULATED DEPRECIATION. Depreciation can be a useful tax shield, depending on the treatment (please refer to UNDERSTANDING ACCOUNTING TALK 8: Balance Sheet Assets).
  11. INTANGIBLE ASSETS. Spend some of your surplus cash in building a brand name (catchy & memorable corporate / product logo, mascot, high profile endorser, etc).

Things To Remember

  1. Read the footnotes, as many, if not all, of the line items in the balance sheet, are expanded upon with more detail there.
  2. Not all debt a company may be liable for will show up on the balance sheet. Always remember Enron!
  3. Different industries have different balance sheets, financial institutions being the most prominent example. Banks, for instance, show the deposits from their customers as a liability (which it is, the bank owes that money to the customers) and loans issued as assets. Both of these are debt obligations running in opposite directions and belong in different portions of the balance sheet.
  4. Book value is a synonym for equity and is the “net worth” of the company (what it has left after all liabilities are paid from all assets — go back to the equation above and solve for equity). However, if there is a lot of goodwill as part of the assets, well, you can’t spend goodwill, so it’s an “intangible” asset. Tangible book value removes goodwill and other intangible assets (such as intellectual property like patents) from the assets before subtracting out liabilities and is a stricter (more conservative) look at the net worth of the company.

Examples of Balance Sheet in a sentence

Mercedes needed a strong balance sheet.

Draw up a balance sheet and profit and loss account for Google.

Companies need to focus on both sides of the balance sheet: spending and earning, debits and credits.

Balance Sheet FAQ's

What Is A Balance Sheet?

A quantitative summary of a company’s financial condition at a specific point in time, including assets, liabilities, and net worth. The first part of a balance sheet shows all the productive assets a company owns, and the second part shows all the financing methods (such as liabilities and shareholders’ equity). also called statement of condition.

How Is A Balance Sheet Laid Out?

The balance sheet is either laid out in a side-to-side manner, with the assets on the left and liabilities and equity on the right or in a vertical manner, with assets listed first, then equity and liabilities.

Assets are listed in order of liquidity, starting with current assets (those which can be converted into cash within one full reporting cycle, usually one year) and starting with cash, the most liquid of assets. As one moves down through the list, one comes across less liquid assets, such as:

accounts receivable which must be collected from customers before they are cash, and
inventory which must be converted into goods and/or sold before they become cash.
Long-lived assets include plant, property, & equipment (usually net of accumulated depreciation), goodwill, long-term investments, etc.

Liabilities are listed in order of when they come due, starting with those due within an accounting period (usually one year), such as accounts payable and the portion of long term debt due within that period. Long term liabilities include borrowings from banks, bonds issued,

Finally, shareholder equity, is given. This includes:

retained earnings (earnings not paid out as dividends or used to repurchase shares),
stock at par value (the stated value of stock, such as $0.02 per share),
additional paid-in capital (what was paid to the company for its shares in excess of par value), and
treasury stock (stock repurchased by the company on the open market, a negative number).

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

Page URL
Modern Language Association (MLA):
Balance Sheet. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd.
August 16, 2022
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):
Balance Sheet. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. (accessed: August 16, 2022).
American Psychological Association (APA):
Balance Sheet. Retrieved August 16, 2022
, from website:

Definition Sources

Definitions for Balance Sheet are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 28th November, 2021 | 0 Views.