Many companies, and all publicly traded corporations, use the accrual basis of accounting to keep track of and record revenue and expenses. Unlike cash basis accounting, which records expenses when the company pays for them, the accrual method records them when the company earns the revenue or incurs the expense. This causes a significant difference in wages expense and is the underlying reason for the wages payable account in these companies.
Wages expense is the account that the bookkeeper or accountant uses to record the labor costs of the company. You may also refer to it as salary expense or payroll expense, depending on the organization's preference. Those businesses that use the cash basis of accounting record this expense as it is paid to the employees. Companies that use the accrual method of accounting record wages expense as the cost is incurred, which is not necessarily when the company pays the employee. A debit to this account, under the accrual basis, requires a credit to the wages payable account for any amounts not paid.
Wages payable is a liability account that shows the amount that the company owes to employees for hours they have already worked, but for which the company has not yet issued a paycheck. This account directly corresponds to the wages expense account. Usually the company pays the wages payable to the employees in the pay period following the one in which the work was recorded.
The primary difference between wages expense and wages payable lies in the type of accounts that they are. Wages expense is an expense account, whereas wages payable is a current liability account. A current liability is one that the company must pay within one year. The company presents its expense accounts on the income statement and its liability accounts on the balance sheet.
Accounting for Both
To account for wages expense, the bookkeeper or accountant debits the account for the amount of labor costs during the relevant period. When you have a debit, there must be a corresponding credit, or credits, to make the accounting equation balance. The company then credits several payable accounts for taxes it owes to FICA, the state and federal governments, the health insurance provider, the 401(k) custodial company and wages payable. For example, a debit to wages expense for $10,000 may result in debits of $500 for FICA taxes, $300 for federal taxes, $200 for state taxes, $1,000 in health insurance premiums, $300 in 401(k) deposits and $7,700 in wages payable. At the end of the year, the company will present this account on its balance sheet as a liability.