Accounting for Taxes

Taxes are amounts levied by government on businesses and individuals to finance its expenditures, to regulate the economy, to distribute wealth and for a number of other reasons.

There are different ways in which governments collect and calculate taxes. Direct taxes are taxes that are paid by businesses which also ultimately bear them. They are normally based on the business’s net income. Indirect taxes are taxes which are initially paid by businesses but ultimately transferred to the end users of the taxed product. They are normally based on revenue.

Examples of direct taxes include:

  • Corporation income tax
  • Employer portion of the social security contributions

Examples of indirect taxes include:

  • Sales tax
  • Value added tax
  • Import tax

The main difference between direct tax and indirect tax from the perspective of a business that pays it is that a direct tax results in expense and liability while an indirect tax results in a liability but not an expense.

Direct tax and indirect tax have different accounting implications for a business.

Accounting for direct taxes

Income taxes are levied on a business by applying a percentage to the business’s net income calculated in accordance with the accounting rules given in the relevant tax laws. It results in an amount which is recorded as the business’ expense and liability when it becomes due.

Example 1

Shark, Inc. is a manufacturer of water sports equipment. It sold 990 speed boats in financial year 2014 for $50 million in total. The company’s total expenses for the period amounted to $28 million. Since tax accounting rules are different than the financial accounting rules, net income for the income tax purpose is different than the financial accounting net income. The company’s tax accountant determines that the company’s revenue for the period under tax accounting rules equals $48 million while its allowable expenses are $23 million. Calculate the income tax the company shall pay if the relevant tax rate is 25% and journalize the transaction.


Revenue under tax accounting rules$48,000,000
Less: expenses under tax accounting rules$23,000,000
Net income under tax accounting rules i.e. taxable income$25,000,000
Income tax @ 25% ($25 million * 0.25)$6,250,000

This $6.25 million is the company’s expense for the period which results in a company’s obligation to the government. The transaction is recognized in the company’s books as follows:

Income Tax$6.25 M
Income Tax Payable$6.25 M

Accounting for indirect taxes

Indirect taxes are taxes that are not based on net income. They are normally based on revenue.

In case of indirect taxes on revenue, for example a tax on goods and services, a business is required to collect an amount from its customers on each unit it sells to them and deposit it with the government.

Example 2

ABC, Inc. provides cleaning services to XYZ, Inc. Under the relevant tax laws, ABC is required to collect a sales tax on services from XYZ, Inc. at the rate of 15%. During the financial year 2014, ABC, Inc. provided services worth $3 million to XYZ, Inc. Explain how will ABC, Inc. account for the transaction.


Sales tax ABC, Inc. is required to collect from XYZ, Inc. = 15% * $3 million = $0.45 million

ABC, Inc. shall invoice XYZ, Inc. for an amount which shall be the sum of the sale price and the sales tax, i.e. $3.45 million ($3 million + $0.45 million). ABC, Inc. shall deposit the sales tax of $0.45 million collected from XYZ, Inc. with the government.

ABC, Inc. shall pass the following journal entry:

Accounts receivable/cash$3.45 M
Sales$3 M
Sales tax payable$0.45 M

When ABC, Inc. deposits the $0.45 million with government, its liability related to the sales tax shall extinguish:

Sales Tax Payable$0.45 M
Cash$0.45 M

From the perspective of XYZ, Inc. the sales tax it has paid to ABC, Inc. becomes its expense and shall form part of the cost of cleaning services. ABC, Inc. shall record the transaction as follows:

Cleaning Expense$3.45 M
Accounts Payable/Cash$3.45 M

Written by Obaidullah Jan, ACA, CFA and last modified on