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Decoding Construction Accounting: Key Differences from General Accounting Practices

Construction Accounting
Welcome to the world of construction accounting, where numbers meet, steel beams, and blueprints come to life! You’ve come to the right place if you’re new to this specialised field or simply curious about its unique quirks. In today’s blog post, we’re diving deep into the fascinating realm of construction accounting and uncovering key differences from general accounting practices. So grab your hard hat and calculator – it’s time to decode construction accounting like never before!

Key Differences between Construction Accounting and General Accounting

Construction accounting and general accounting are two distinct branches of accounting that serve different purposes. While both types of accounting involve the recording, analysing, and reporting financial transactions, they differ in many ways. This section will delve deeper into the key differences between construction accounting and general accounting.

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    Nature of Transactions

    One of the main differences between construction and general accounting lies in their transactions—general accounting deals with various businesses and industries, including service-based companies, retailers, manufacturers, etc.

    On the other hand, construction accounting focuses specifically on financial transactions related to construction projects such as building houses, roads, bridges, etc.

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    Revenue Recognition

    In general accounting practices, revenue is recognised when goods or services are delivered to customers or clients.

    However, in construction accounting, revenue recognition follows a different percentage-of-completion (POC) method. This means that revenue is recognised based on the percentage of work completed on a project rather than upon completion.

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    Revenue Recognition

    The classification of costs also differs between construction and general accounting practices. In general accounting, costs are classified as direct or indirect expenses depending on their relation to production or sale activities.

    In contrast, construction projects require costs to be categorised according to specific cost codes that relate to different stages or elements within a project.

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    Contract Accounting

    Contract management is essential to construction projects since each involves multiple contracts with various entities, such as subcontractors and suppliers. As such, contract-related processes like progress billing and retention payments play a significant role in construction accounting but are irrelevant to general accounting practices.

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    Job Costing

    Job costing is another key difference between these two types of accounting methods. Job costing is used extensively in construction projects where materials and labour costs must be allocated to individual jobs or tasks within a project for accurate tracking and reporting purposes. However, job costing is not commonly used in general accounting, where costs are typically allocated to departments or cost centres.

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    Estimation and Budgeting

    Estimating and budgeting are crucial stages in any construction project. Construction accounting has a strong focus on these processes since they directly impact the financial success of a project. In contrast, general accounting places estimation and budgeting as their transactions are more standardised and predictable. However, job costing is not commonly used in general accounting, where costs are typically allocated to departments or cost centres.

Focus on Projects vs. Focus on Company Finances

One key difference between these two approaches is how they handle risk management. Focusing on projects allows for a more targeted approach to identifying potential risks within each project. However, this can also lead to overlooking broader financial risks that may affect the entire company. On the other hand, prioritising company finances considers all potential risks across various projects and allows for better risk mitigation strategies at a higher level.

Another important aspect that sets these two approaches apart is their impact on cash flow management. Focusing solely on individual projects means closely monitoring expenses related to each one separately but may not provide an accurate overview of overall cash flow needs. Prioritising company finances allows for better forecasting cash flow requirements based on all ongoing projects and other business expenses.

Percentage of Completion Method vs. Completed Contract Method

Percentage of Completion Method:

This method recognises revenue based on the percentage of work completed during a reporting period. If a project is estimated to be 50% complete at the end of a year, 50% of its total revenue will be recognised in that year’s financial statements.

Similarly, costs are also recognised in proportion to the percentage of completion. This allows for a more accurate matching of revenues and expenses, providing a clearer picture of a company’s profitability over time.

Completed Contract Method:

On the other hand, under the CCM method, revenue and costs are deferred until the project is substantially completed. This means that no profit or loss will be recognised until all work on the project has been finished.

While this may seem more straightforward than POC, it can paint an inaccurate picture as it does not reflect how much work has been done. However, this method provides certainty as no estimations are involved – revenue and costs are only recorded once they have been incurred.

Job Costing vs. Process Costing

Job or job order costing is a method of tracking expenses for a specific project or job. This can be useful for construction companies that work on multiple projects simultaneously, as it allows them to allocate costs accurately to each project. The critical feature of job costing is that it tracks costs by each unique job or contract rather than department or process.

On the other hand, process costing involves allocating costs based on the stages of production or manufacturing process. This method is more commonly used in food and beverage production industries, where large quantities of similar products are produced over time. This method may be applied in construction accounting when identical homes or buildings are being constructed.

Importance of Accurate Construction Accounting

One of the main reasons for the importance of accurate construction accounting is that it allows for effective cost management. Construction projects are known for their high costs and tight budgets, making having precise financial data at every project stage essential. Accurate construction accounting enables contractors to monitor costs and identify potential cost overruns early on in the project. This information can then be used to make informed decisions regarding budget adjustments or changes in project plans.


One of the critical reasons for the importance of construction accounting is its ability to provide accurate financial information about a specific project. This includes tracking costs, managing budgets, forecasting cash flow, and identifying potential risks. With this information, project managers can make informed decisions and take necessary actions to keep the project on track.

Furthermore, construction firms often have multiple ongoing projects with different scopes, timelines, and complexities. In such cases, having a robust construction accounting system becomes essential as it allows for efficient management of resources across all projects. This helps prevent cost overruns, delays, and other common challenges faced in the industry.

Another critical aspect of construction accounting is its focus on job costing. Unlike general accounting, where expenses are recorded high (such as utilities or office supplies), construction accounting breaks down costs by specific jobs or tasks. This enables businesses to accurately determine which projects are profitable and require improvement or adjustment.

Effective communication between various stakeholders involved in a construction project is crucial for its success. Construction accounting provides standardised reporting formats that allow contractors to communicate financial information clearly with their clients, suppliers, investors, and other parties involved in the project.

Consulting with a professional accountant or bookkeeper with experience in construction accounting can help you navigate these special considerations effectively.
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