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Contra Account


A contra account is a type of account in financial bookkeeping that is used to reduce the value of a related account when the two are netted together. It is posted to offset the value in a related account. Typical examples of contra accounts include accumulated depreciation against equipment, and allowance for doubtful accounts against accounts receivable.


The phonetic pronunciation of the keyword “Contra Account” is: Kon-truh uh-kount

Key Takeaways

Here are three main takeaways about Contra Account:

  1. A Contra Account is a type of account in the General Ledger which is primarily used to offset or reduce the balance in another account. It is associated with the main account and used to decrease the value of these assets or increase liabilities, leading to a more accurate financial reporting.

  2. Common examples of Contra Accounts include Accumulated Depreciation, Allowance for Doubtful Accounts, and Sales Returns and Allowances. Each is paired with a specific asset account and used to correct the value of the asset or liability.

  3. The use of Contra Accounts allows companies to retain the historical cost of assets or liabilities in the primary account while displaying the reduced net amount in the balance sheet. It ultimately enhances the transparency and comprehensibility of financial statements.


Contra accounts are essential in business and finance due to their role in accurate financial reporting and assessment. These accounts carry a balance that is opposite to the normal account balance, providing a more precise net balance to reflect a company’s financial health. Contra accounts such as accumulated depreciation, allowance for doubtful accounts and sales returns and allowances, help businesses anticipate losses, subtract from the respective paired accounts and reduce overstatement of assets or revenues. This is particularly important for compliance with accounting principles and in maintaining transparency with investors, creditors and other stakeholders. They are also crucial for internal management to make informed business decisions.


Contra accounts serve an essential role in financial management and accounting as they provide a more nuanced and precise representation of a company’s financial health. Their primary purpose is to hold and offset the value of a related account, enabling businesses to track adjustments to their financial statements without altering the original account balance. As a result, financial professionals can separate increases and decreases in the same primary account, offering an in-depth view of each account’s activities and illuminating areas of notable growth or decline. For instance, suppose a company creates an allowance for doubtful accounts, a common variant of a contra account. This account contains deductions against accounts receivable, thereby indicating the possibility that some customers might not pay their bills. Without the contra account, it would be challenging to maintain a transparent record of anticipated revenue from customers and anticipated losses from unpaid accounts concurrently. Therefore, the use of contra accounts immensely assists in enhancing the transparency, clarity, and comprehensiveness of financial reports, leading to improved financial decision-making and planning.


1. Accumulated Depreciation: This is an example of a contra asset account on the balance sheet. It is linked with the assets which the entity has on its balance sheet. When a company buys an asset like machinery, it depreciates over time. This account helps to track that depreciation and shows the total amount of the asset’s cost that has been depreciated to date. Essentially, the value in the accumulated depreciation account will increase over time, reducing the net book value of the asset.2. Allowance for Doubtful Accounts: This is another example of a contra asset account, typically associated with accounts receivable. It represents a company’s estimate of the amount that will not be collected from customers due to nonpayment or late payment. It is used to reduce the value of accounts receivable to reflect only the amounts that are expected to be received.3. Sales Returns and Allowances: This is a contra revenue account on the income statement. When customers return products or are given refunds, those amounts are recorded in this account. The purpose of this account is to offset the gross revenue that was recorded so that only the net amount of sales is reported.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is a Contra Account?

A contra account is an account used in a general ledger to reduce the value of a related account. These accounts carry a balance that is opposite to the normal account balance. They are utilized to track things like depreciation, amortization, and other reductions to accounts.

What is the purpose of a Contra Account?

The primary purpose of a contra account is to ensure the accuracy of the main account. It can be used to correct a mistake or adjust the value of an asset, liability, or equity account. It also provides more detailed information about transactions.

Can you give an example of a Contra Account in the finance and business industry?

Yes, one common example is the Allowance for Doubtful Accounts, which is a contra asset account that decreases a company’s Accounts Receivable. This account reflects the amount that the company estimates it will not be able to collect from its customers.

Is a Contra Account considered an asset or a liability?

A Contra Account can be either, but it will have a balance that is opposite to its associated account. If it is a contra asset account, it will have a credit balance, which offsets the debit balance of its corresponding asset account. If it’s a contra liability account, it will have a debit balance, offsetting the credit balance of its corresponding liability account.

How is a Contra Account reported on the financial statement?

A contra account is reported on the same financial statement as the associated account. The balance of the contra account is subtracted from the balance of the associated account and the net balance is reported on the financial statement.

Is it possible for a Contra Account to have a zero balance?

Yes, a contra account can have a zero balance if no reducing entries are recorded against the associated account during that accounting period, or if the amounts of the increasing and decreasing entries exactly balance each other out.

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