Contra Account Definition, Types, and Example

what is a contra asset

Unlike the three previously mentioned contra accounts, contra revenue accounts are not listed in the balance sheet but are written near the top of the income statement. Contra revenue accounts typically offset revenue accounts in a firm’s income statement. Some of the most common contra assets include accumulated depreciation, allowance for doubtful accounts, and reserve for obsolete inventory. Normal asset accounts have a debit balance, while contra asset accounts are in a credit balance.

The balance sheet would show the piece of equipment at its historical cost, then subtract the accumulated depreciation to reflect the accurate value of the asset. Contra assets are accounts in the general ledger—where you enter your transactions—that carry a balance used to offset the account with which it is paired. Instead of debiting the asset account directly, the contra asset account balance will be credited (reduced) separately. Allowance for doubtful accounts is contra asset accounts that offset the accounts receivable. They are used in case some customers won’t be able to pay the money they owe to the business. As mentioned, contra asset accounts are usually listed below their matching asset accounts, and the net values of those assets are written next to the contra accounts.

You can estimate the total to record in the allowance for doubtful accounts based on uncollectible revenue totals from the previous year or you can conservatively estimate the amount. If you keep a lot of inventory in stock, chances are that some of the inventory will become obsolete. This frequently happens to manufacturing companies that sell products with an expiration date since any inventory remaining in stock past the expiration date quickly becomes obsolete. Contra Accounts serve as a reduction to the balance of their corresponding accounts to find their net values. Upgrading to a paid membership gives you access to our extensive collection of plug-and-play Templates designed to power your performance—as well as CFI’s full course catalog and accredited Certification Programs. For the past 52 years, Harold Averkamp (CPA, MBA) has worked as an accounting supervisor, manager, consultant, university instructor, and innovator in teaching accounting online.

For example, if a piece of heavy machinery is purchased for $10,000, that $10,000 figure is maintained on the general ledger even as the asset’s depreciation is recorded separately. This account serves two purposes — tracking total depreciation expenses while providing accounting in 2040 you with the accurate book value of the asset being depreciated. This type of reporting allows anyone analyzing the balance sheet to understand much more about the company and its assets than if they were to simply look at the net value of the depreciated asset.

Offsetting the asset account with its respective contra asset account shows the net balance of that asset. However, some asset accounts need a negative counterpart to reduce the balance of that account. The debit balance of the asset account and the credit balance of the contra asset account determine the net value of the asset. When a contra asset account is first recorded in a journal entry, the offset is to an expense. For example, an increase in the form of a credit to allowance for doubtful accounts is also recorded as a debit to increase bad debt expense. Most accountants choose to record the depreciation over the useful life of an item in the accumulated depreciation contra asset account, which is a credit account.

what is a contra asset

The credit balance in this account is amortized or allocated to Interest Income or Interest Revenue over the life of a note receivable. Contra asset accounts provide business owners with the true value of certain asset accounts. For example, let’s say your accounts receivable balance is currently $11,500, but you’re not entirely sure that you’ll be able to collect the entire balance due. A contra asset is a negative account used in double-entry accounting to reduce the balance of a paired asset account in the general ledger. Asset accounts always maintain a debit balance, so anytime that you increase the value of an asset, such as when you deposit customer payments or invoice a customer, that asset account is debited or increased.

This first criterion means that the car will have a net value or book value of $0 once it is fully depreciated. Treasury stock differs from other stocks in that it has no voting rights, and no dividends are paid to the treasury stock. The main reason is to make the remaining shares more valuable, as their prices are expected to rise after the stock buyback. He’s currently a VP at KCK Group, the private equity arm of a middle eastern family office. Osman has a generalist industry focus on lower middle market growth equity and buyout transactions.

Contra Asset

Examples of fixed assets include buildings, machinery, office equipment, furniture, vehicles, etc. The accumulated depreciation account appears on the balance sheet and reduces the gross amount of fixed assets. By reporting contra asset accounts on the balance sheet, users of financial statements can learn more about the assets of a company. For example, if a company just reported equipment at its net amount, users would not be able to observe the purchase price, the amount of depreciation attributed to that equipment, and the remaining useful life. Contra asset accounts allow users to see how much of an asset was written off, its remaining useful life, and the value of the asset.

what is a contra asset

There are four key types of contra accounts—contra asset, contra liability, contra equity, and contra revenue. Contra assets decrease the balance of a fixed or capital asset, carrying a credit balance. Contra liabilities reduce liability accounts and carry a debit balance.


Over 1.8 million professionals use CFI to learn accounting, financial analysis, modeling and more. Start with a free account to explore 20+ always-free courses and hundreds of finance templates and cheat sheets. Mary Girsch-Bock is the expert on accounting software and payroll software for The Ascent. In other words, accumulated depreciation will be $10,000 each year until the car depreciates to $0 twenty years later. The auditors aim to keep the balances at their adequate levels, but the controller might want to keep them as low as possible to reduce expenses and maximize profit levels.

  1. Your bank account, the inventory you currently stock, the equipment you purchase, and your accounts receivable balance are all considered asset accounts.
  2. The debit balance of the asset account and the credit balance of the contra asset account determine the net value of the asset.
  3. Whether reported as separate lines on the financial report or as a cumulative value, the net amount of the pair of accounts is called the “net book value” of the individual asset.
  4. That is done by crediting accounts receivable by $100 and debiting the contra revenue account sales returns and allowances for $100.
  5. Contra liability accounts are less commonly used than contra asset accounts.

Contra liability accounts are less commonly used than contra asset accounts. Contra liability accounts are mainly used by corporations that issue bonds frequently. That is because some of the bonds are issued at a discount, so this reduces the balance of their bonds payable.

Contra asset accounts can be used in a variety of areas, but there are three contra asset examples that you should pay close attention to. At the end of year 20, the car and the accumulated depreciation accounts will be written off from the balance sheet, as the car will be a fully depreciated asset. If you’re using accounting software, you’ll be able to create contra accounts when setting up your chart of accounts. The most common contra equity account is called “treasury stock.” This special account decreases the number of shares outstanding in the market because the company repurchases some of the shares from its buyers. Therefore, it reduces the value of shareholders’ equity by the amount paid for those repurchased stocks. For example, if the balance of accumulated depreciation increases from $20,000 to $50,000, this means that the depreciation expense amounts to $30,000, which will be listed in the income statement.

A contra liability is an account in which activity is recorded as a debit balance and is used to decrease the balance of a liability. Contra Liability a/c is not used as frequently as contra asset accounts. It is not classified as a liability since it does not represent a future obligation. As mentioned, contra asset accounts usually have a negative value which is the same as a credit balance. That is to completely or partially offset the balance of their related asset accounts. Asset accounts usually have a positive value which is the same as a debit balance.

Contra liability accounts

Note that in accounting, the term “book value” is also used interchangeably with net value. Last, for contra revenue accounts there are sales discounts, sales allowances, or sales returns. These contra revenue accounts tend to have a debit balance and are used to calculate net sales. Accountants use contra accounts rather than reduce the value of the original account directly to keep financial accounting records clean. If a contra account is not used, it can be difficult to determine historical costs, which can make tax preparation more difficult and time-consuming. Reserve for obsolete inventory is a contra asset account used to write down the inventory account if inventory is considered obsolete.

Why are contra asset accounts important for businesses?

Contra liability, equity, and revenue accounts have natural debit balances. These three types of contra accounts are used to reduce liabilities, equity, and revenue which all have natural credit balances. Therefore, for these three, the debit balance actually represents a negative amount. Key examples of contra asset accounts include allowance for doubtful accounts and accumulated depreciation. Accumulated depreciation reflects the reduction in value of a fixed asset.

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