What is a Contra Asset Account? Definition, Types, Example, and More

Definition

A contra account is an account that companies use to reduce the value of a related account. It usually nets off against related accounts and provides an opposite effect to the balance. Therefore, contra accounts are the reverse accounts that decrease a specific account’s balance.

For example, if an account has a debit balance, a contra account will have a credit balance. Thus, netting off both will result in the final amount for the account.

Contra accounts are a significant part of a company’s financial statements. These accounts can significantly reduce balances on the balance sheet.

However, the details for contra accounts usually exist on the notes to the financial statements. These accounts do not appear on the balance sheet itself. However, these can cause a reduction in other balances on the statement.

Overall, contra accounts are offsetting balances that are the opposite of specific accounts. There are several examples of contra accounts, including accumulated depreciation, accumulated depletion, accumulated amortization, allowance for receivables, etc. These are all examples of contra-asset accounts, which are the prevalent type of contra accounts.

What is a Contra Asset Account?

A contra-asset account is an account that opposes the balances of other asset accounts. As mentioned, a company will usually have debit balances in its asset accounts.

However, a contra-asset account usually has a credit or nil balance. This account offsets the balance in the respective asset account that they pair with on the balance sheet.

Contra asset accounts get their name “contra” because they include a credit balance. These go against the normal asset accounts, which have a debit balance.

In essence, contra-asset accounts have a negative balance while other asset accounts have a positive balance. Both of these accounts offset each other to represent a net balance on a company’s balance sheet.

Although contra-asset accounts have credit balances, they do not appear in liabilities or equity. Usually, credit balances include items from one of those two natures.

Therefore, contra-asset accounts differ from other accounts that have a credit balance. Contra asset accounts are negative assets in essence. However, accounting standards refer to them as contra accounts.

Every contra asset account on a company’s accounting records will also have a pairing account. For example, accumulated depreciation will go along with related assets.

Similarly, allowance for receivables will pair with accounts receivable balances. These balances cannot offset asset accounts that do not relate to them.

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What are the types of Contra Asset Accounts?

Contra asset accounts have several types. Companies don’t need to maintain all these accounts. Instead, the existence of contra-asset accounts for companies will differ based on a company’s requirements.

However, there are some prevalent contra-asset accounts that may exist for all companies. Some of these include the following.

Accumulated Depreciation

Accumulated depreciation is the most prevalent type of contra-asset account. It represents all the depreciation related to an asset or the company’s overall assets. Usually, companies add to the accumulated depreciation account after every accounting period.

The accumulated depreciation account plays a vital role in representing the accurate value of an asset in the financial statements.

The accounting entries for accumulated depreciation are as follows.

DateParticularsDr.Cr.
 DepreciationXXXX 
 Accumulated Depreciation XXXX

Accumulated Amortization

Accumulated amortization is an account similar to accumulated depreciation. This account only relates to a company’s intangible assets rather than tangible.

Any company that owns intangible assets such as software, patents, etc., will maintain an accumulated amortization account. Similar to depreciation, this account plays a significant role in representing the book value of a company’s assets.

The accounting entries for accumulated amortization are as follows.

DateParticularsDr.Cr.
 AmortizationXXXX 
 Accumulated Amortization XXXX

Allowance for Receivables

Allowance for receivables is an account that companies maintain to record possible bad debts. However, this account does not represent actual irrecoverable debts.

Regardless of that, allowance for receivables accounts will exist for all companies that have account receivable balances. This account helps companies present a more accurate accounts receivable balance on the financial statements.

The accounting entries for allowance for receivables are as follows.

DateParticularsDr.Cr.
 Bad Debt ExpenseXXXX 
 Allowance for Receivables XXXX

Obsolete Inventory

Companies that hold inventories for a long time may face accumulating obsolete inventory. It refers to any items that are no longer relevant or usable.

Therefore, these companies must maintain an obsolete inventory reserve account to net off any unusable stock from the account. This requirement also comes from the accounting standard for inventories.

The accounting entries for obsolete inventory are as follows.

DateParticularsDr.Cr.
 Obsolete Inventory ExpenseXXXX 
 Obsolete Inventory Reserves XXXX

Discount on Notes Receivable

Notes receivables are promissory notes that include a promise from a borrower to repay a lender. For companies, these represent receivables from various parties.

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Sometimes, the current value of a note receivable will fall compared to its face value. This process will give rise to a contra asset account which is the discount on notes receivables.

The accounting entries for a discount on notes receivables are as follows.

DateParticularsDr.Cr.
 Financial ExpenseXXXX 
 Discount on Notes Receivables XXXX

Example

A company, ABC Co., purchased a depreciable asset worth $100,000. The company expects the asset to have a useful life of 10 years. ABC Co. records depreciation on a straight-line basis. After each accounting period, the company records a depreciation expense of the asset. The accounting entries for the transaction will be as follows.

DateParticularsDr.Cr.
 Depreciation $10,000 
 Accumulated Depreciation  $10,000

In the above example, depreciation is an expense account. On the other hand, accumulated depreciation is a contra-asset account. This account will offset the asset’s value by $10,000 each year.

For example, after six years, the asset’s book value on the balance sheet will be $40,000. This amount will include the asset’s original cost of $100,000. However, it will also have a negative accumulated depreciation of $60,000, offsetting that cost.

What is the importance of Contra Asset Accounts?

Contra asset accounts are necessary for companies for various reasons. The most prominent of these include allowing companies to present a more accurate picture of their assets.

Contra asset accounts help companies record any reductions to their non-current and current assets. By doing so, they can bring their asset accounts to a more accurate position.

Contra asset accounts also provide a clear picture of the companies’ accumulation of assets. Similarly, these accounts can also be essential in various calculations.

As mentioned, companies do not represent these accounts on the balance sheet. However, they will still appear on the notes to the financial statements with necessary disclosures.

Contra asset accounts also help companies keep their general ledgers organized. By recording reductions in a separate account, companies can get better insights into their actual accounts.

Similarly, it allows companies to retrieve original account balances without complicated calculations. For stakeholders, looking at both accounts is also crucial in their decision-making process.

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Is Bad Debt Expense a Contra Account?

No, “Bad Debt Expense” is not a contra account. Instead, it is an expense account that appears on the income statement. It represents the estimated uncollectible amount from credit sales made during a period.

However, the “Allowance for Doubtful Accounts” (or “Allowance for Uncollectible Accounts”) is a contra account related to the concept of bad debts. This contra-asset account reduces the accounts receivable balance on the balance sheet to its net realizable value. The Allowance for Doubtful Accounts carries a credit balance that reduces the total amount of accounts receivable to show the amount that the company expects to collect.

Is Accounts Receivable a Contra Account?

No, “Accounts Receivable” is not a contra account. Accounts Receivable is an asset account that represents the amount of money due to a business for goods or services that have been delivered or used but not yet paid for by customers.

A contra account associated with Accounts Receivable is the “Allowance for Doubtful Accounts” (or “Allowance for Uncollectible Accounts”). The Allowance for Doubtful Accounts is a contra-asset account that carries a credit balance to offset (or reduce) the accounts receivable asset account. It represents the estimated amount of accounts receivable that the company expects may not be collected, thus providing a more accurate picture of the amount of receivables that are expected to turn into cash.

Is Treasury Stock a Contra Account?

Yes, “Treasury Stock” is considered a contra-equity account. A contra account carries a balance that is opposite to the normal balance of its related main account.

Treasury stock represents shares of a company’s own stock that it has repurchased from shareholders but not retired. Instead of increasing assets or decreasing liabilities (as would be typical when spending cash), buying treasury stock reduces shareholders’ equity. Specifically, it is contra to shareholders’ equity because it decreases the total shareholders’ equity on the balance sheet.

Is Premium on Bonds Payable a Contra account?

No, “Premium on Bonds Payable” is not a contra account. Rather, it is an adjunct account or a valuation account that is added to the face value of the bonds to arrive at the carrying value (or book value) of the bonds on the balance sheet.

When bonds are issued at a price greater than their face value (or par value), the excess is termed as a “premium.” This premium is recognized because the market rate of interest at the time of issuance is lower than the stated rate of interest on the bonds.

Conclusion

Contra accounts are accounts that offset related accounts. Contra asset accounts are a type of contra account that net off against asset accounts. Similarly, there are several types of these accounts. These include accumulated depreciation, accumulated amortization, allowance for receivables, obsolete inventory, and discount on notes receivables.