Should a Balance Sheet be Equal?

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Key Takeaways:

  • A balance sheet is designed to always be equal or “balanced”. This is the fundamental accounting equation.
  • The balance sheet equation is: Assets = Liabilities + Shareholder’s Equity. This must always be true.
  • An unbalanced balance sheet indicates errors in the accounting records that should be reviewed and corrected.
  • A balanced balance sheet provides confidence that debits and credits are properly recorded.
  • Specific accounts are impacted if a balance sheet is out of balance.
  • Steps like auditing and tallying can help identify and fix balance sheet errors.


A company’s balance sheet provides a snapshot of its financial position at a given point in time. It details the company’s assets, liabilities, and shareholders’ equity. But why is it called a balance sheet? This name stems from the fact that the balance sheet is always meant to balance.

Specifically, the fundamental accounting equation underlying every balance sheet is:

Assets = Liabilities + Shareholders’ Equity

This equation must always be satisfied in order for the balance sheet to be considered balanced. If the two sides of the equation do not match, it indicates an error exists in the company’s accounting records.

Balancing a balance sheet is critical for ensuring the accuracy and validity of a company’s financial statements. It provides confidence that all transactions have been properly recorded and accounted for within a given time period.

This article will examine the importance of a balanced balance sheet in depth. It will look at the causes and implications of an unbalanced balance sheet, steps to identify and correct balance sheet errors, and best practices for maintaining balance sheet equality. Understanding these key aspects provides critical insight into proper accounting procedures and financial reporting.

Why is a Balanced Balance Sheet Important?

A balanced balance sheet is important for several key reasons:

Validates Accuracy of Accounting Records

  • When the balance sheet balances, it provides a strong indication that all accounting transactions have been properly recorded and classified within the accounting records.
  • Debits should equal credits across the books. An unbalanced sheet means errors likely exist in transaction posting.

Promotes Reliability of Financial Reporting

  • Auditors, investors, creditors and other stakeholders rely on accurate balance sheets to understand a company’s financial health.
  • An unbalanced sheet undermines confidence in the accuracy of reported asset, liability and equity balances.
  • Balance sheet errors could mask problems like unauthorized transactions or asset misappropriations.

Adheres to Accounting Concepts and Regulations

  • A balanced sheet complies with fundamental accounting concepts like the duality principle. This states that every transaction impacts at least two accounts.
  • Industry regulations require the balance sheet to balance as a critical control check. Non-compliance may trigger audits or penalties.

Allows Trend Analysis

  • Properly balanced sheets over multiple periods allow meaningful analysis of trends in assets, liabilities, and shareholder equity.
  • Unbalanced sheets make period-over-period comparisons unreliable and could invalidate ratio analysis.

In summary, balance sheet equality helps validate transaction accuracy, promotes reliable reporting, adheres to accounting rules, and enables robust trend analysis. This drives informed decision making.

What Does an Unbalanced Balance Sheet Indicate?

When the fundamental accounting equation of Assets = Liabilities + Equity does not hold true, it is a sign of errors in the accounting records that should be addressed. Some common indications of an unbalanced balance sheet include:

  • The equity section does not tally to the difference between assets and liabilities. Shareholders’ equity should be a plug figure that balances the sheet. When it does not, the underlying accounts likely have incorrect balances.
  • Net income does not match the change in shareholder equity between periods. The income statement and balance sheet are connected. If they are out of alignment, it points to potential errors.
  • Debits and credits do not equal each other. This could occur from missing or duplicated transactions, booking entries to the wrong accounts, or mathematical mistakes.
  • Suspense accounts have abnormal balances. A suspense account balance left uncleared at end of period may reveal unresolved discrepancies.
  • Footing errors exist across account balances. Accounts may not properly tally to their sub-ledgers or prior ending balances due to calculation errors.

Any of these conditions indicate that the transactions within the accounting system are likely not being recorded, classified, or summarized properly. This will distort the accuracy of financial statements until the underlying errors are fixed.

How are Specific Accounts Impacted by an Unbalanced Balance Sheet?

Certain accounts are more likely to be the source of balance sheet errors. Common problem areas include:

Suspense, Clearing, or Adjustment Accounts

  • Errors like posting debits as credits or vice versa often hit suspense accounts.
  • Uncleared or unposted adjusting entries will throw off equality.

Fixed Assets

  • Incorrect depreciation calculations or classifications will cause fixed asset balances to be off.


  • Understated shrinkage or inventory adjustments can skew inventory asset valuation.

Accounts Receivable/Payable

  • Forgetting to record credit sales or purchases alters receivables and payables.
  • Incorrect aging of receivables can impact bad debt expense and net receivables.

Accumulated Depreciation

  • Depreciation expense impacts assets and retained earnings in offsetting ways. Errors will imbalance the sheet.


  • Incorrect net income for the period, dividends paid, or beginning equity balances will skew equity.

While errors can occur anywhere, carefully eyeing these accounts when the balance sheet is out of balance can often uncover the culprit.

What Steps Help Identify and Fix Balance Sheet Errors?

When a balance sheet is out of balance, a systematic process should be followed to identify and correct the errors:

1. Recheck Accounting Equation

Carefully reverify that Assets = Liabilities + Equity. Recalculate to rule out mathematical errors.

2. Audit Account Balances

Scrutinize suspense, clearing and adjustment accounts. Review changes in fixed assets, inventory, AR/AP for possible errors.

3. Review Accounting Records

Examine details of journal entries, sub-ledgers, and historical balances for discrepancies. Trace unusual transactions.

4. Perform Walkthroughs

Walk through processes for key transactions to uncover potential misapplications of policies.

5. Confirm Balances

Verify ending balances match prior periods or third-party account statements.

6. Correct Errors

Make adjusting entries, reclassify transactions, or fix mathematical problems as the source of errors become clear.

7. Establish Controls

Implement added controls like automated checks, improved account reconciliations, or increased oversight to prevent future errors.

With dedication and vigilance, these steps will guide the researcher to the source of errors so corrections can be made and the balance sheet can be equalized. Preventative controls will then help ensure it stays balanced.

What are Best Practices for Maintaining a Balanced Balance Sheet?

Companies should make balance sheet equality a top priority by implementing these best practices:

  • Perform accounting equation checks – Recalculate Assets = Liabilities + Equity regularly to validate continued balance.
  • Follow robust closing procedures – Thoroughly reconcile and adjust all temporary and permanent accounts to ensure proper closing.
  • Use balance sheet substantiation – Require supporting documentation and management approval for all balance sheet transactions.
  • Implement system access controls – Limit access to prevent unauthorized changes that could manipulate account balances.
  • Conduct independent reviews – Have a secondary person validate reporting entries and balances for errors.
  • Standardize procedures – Document accounting processes and policies to ensure consistency.
  • Train personnel regularly – Refresh employees on balance sheet accounting protocols through continual training.
  • Perform audits – Conduct internal and external audits regularly to verify balance sheet accuracy.

With strong controls, rigorous procedures, and trained personnel in place, companies can have an increased level of assurance that the balance sheet will remain balanced. This in turn promotes reliable financial reporting.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the accounting equation?

The fundamental accounting equation that underlies the balance sheet is:

Assets = Liabilities + Shareholders’ Equity

This equation must always balance for the balance sheet to be considered equal.

What causes a balance sheet to become unequal?

Common causes of an unbalanced balance sheet include mathematical errors, improperly recorded transactions, misclassified entries, unresolved suspense account balances, incorrect beginning account balances, and omitted or duplicate transactions.

Does an unbalanced balance sheet mean fraud has occurred?

Not necessarily, but it does increase the risk of fraud if errors go undetected. An unbalanced sheet often just indicates oversights in accounting policies and procedures that should be addressed. However, unauthorized manipulations of account balances could be one reason for inequality.

What is the impact if the balance sheet does not balance?

An unbalanced balance sheet undermines the accuracy and reliability of the company’s financial statements. It implies transactions have been potentially misrecorded, which misstates asset, liability, and equity account balances. This distorts the true financial picture.

Can minor balance sheet errors be ignored?

No, even small discrepancies should be corrected. Left unaddressed, minor errors accumulated over time can grow into material misstatements. Unbalanced sheets violate accounting rules and concepts.

How can balance sheet errors be prevented?

Some best practices to promote balance sheet equality include performing regular accounting equation checks, following standardized closing procedures, implementing system access controls, conducting audits, and training personnel thoroughly on balance sheet accounting protocols.


A balance sheet that balances is critically important for accurate financial reporting. When the accounting equation of Assets = Liabilities + Shareholders’ Equity does not hold true, it undermines the validity of the financial statements. Furthermore, an unbalanced balance sheet implies that errors exist somewhere in the company’s recorded transactions.

While occasional errors may slip through, companies should have strong controls and procedures in place to facilitate balance sheet equality. This provides assurance that all transactions have been properly captured and classified within the accounting records. Maintaining equality promotes reliability and bolsters stakeholder confidence in the accuracy of financial reporting. A balanced balance sheet reflects disciplined accounting practices

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