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Step by Step Guide To The Month-End Close Process [Includes a Checklist]

February 1, 2023 Tanya Goncalves  
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What does your month-end financial closing process look like? Do you have a system in place or do you “wing it” and hope for the best? Are you searching for a better way of doing things next month?

Never underestimate the significance of monthly closing and the importance of a month-close checklist.  Keeping track of what happened in the previous month can help position your company for future success.

Month-end closing ensures that you have information about your company's financial situation and are ready to report on those figures. It is critical when making short-term decisions and helps your teams work towards your organization's long-term goals. 

Plus, accurate monthly reporting makes year-end closing much easier to understand.

The month-end closing process is critical to any business but can be very time-consuming. Creating the right month-end close checklist allows your team to break out of reporting silos and to focus on more strategic business locations. 

💡Key Takeaways:     

  • Your month-end close process should include recording incoming cash, checking your AR records and reconciling all accounts, including petty cash. 
  • Track all your business transactions, ensure accurate records and mitigate fraud risks. Remain up to date on the financial well-being of your organization. 
  • Your month-end close checklist should include categories, task descriptions, task prioritization, names of the preparers and the reviewers, and offer a full review of financial statements.
  • The benefits of a month-end close checklist are error reduction, improved reporting results, increased efficiency and preparing your company to be audit-ready.
  • Common mistakes companies make during their month-end close process are duplicate data entry, unstandardized processes, delays in information and lack of automation. 

What is the Month-End Close Process?

The month-end close involves your finance and accounting teams collecting, reviewing and reconciling the previous month's transactions and financial activity. 

It provides compliance and financial accuracy while preserving your data's integrity for analysis planning. Spending and trading activity are somewhat predictable, but each month can introduce new issues that you and your teams need to consider. 

That's why we emphasize a solid flow in closing each month, from when the team begins gathering information to crossing the finish line with the final financial report. 

This month-end close checklist outlines not only the transactions, but also the growth of the company for each period. Keep in mind that every basic task has many sub-steps. Also, the timelines depend on the specific situation of your company.

This process involves several steps your team will complete over several days.

What Are The Key Steps In The Month-End Close Process?

1. Prep Work

Email supply about unpaid invoices. Contact your sales representative to ensure no revenue loss and that your sales pipeline metrics are correct. Ensure all manual entries are accurate (but don't worry about checking automatic posts at this early stage.)

2. Reconcile Cash

Check and reconcile cash. If the cash is in transit, note its destination and relationships. We recommend double-checking all payment accounts to ensure everything is organized (including petty cash) and properly pooled.
Review Account Operations: Double-check and adjust accounts payable (AP) and accounts receivable (AR).

3. Accrual Estimates

Review all month-end accruals and track coverage for the next month. Accounts for prepaid expenses such as income.

4. Preliminary and ASC 606 Reviews

Review all manual and automated data flows related to revenue recognition and commissions. Test for validity and conduct preliminary walkthroughs with your team to ensure the information makes sense and is consistent across reports.

5. Conduct Flux Analysis and Adjust

We denote this as "flexing your financials." Review and double-check monthly and quarterly month-end closing results to see how the report compares to the company's growth goals and expectations. If something looks abnormal and needs tweaking, it may grow over the years. ‍

6. Wrap Up and Deliver

Treat these reports as if they are already for issuing. Double-check your reports once more and then deliver them to the executive teams for reviewing and analysis.

Why Is The Month-End Close Process Important?

The month-end close lets your teams track all your monthly business transactions. It is essential to ensure that your accounting data is as accurate and complete as possible.

Accurate monthly data feeds several other accounting procedures. For instance, having an accurate monthly report makes year-end closing much more straightforward.

End-of-month closing benefits include:

  • Create accurate and up-to-date financial records.
  • Organize annual financial statements and save time filing tax returns.
  • Month-close reporting simplifies the process, making it easier to audit.
  • The financial close process identifies areas that need improvement.

Along with that, you can make more informed decisions based on your company's financial activities. It positions your executive team to make cash allocations that benefit each department of the company.

The Ultimate Month-End Close Checklist:

1. Record Incoming Cash

Incoming cash comes in many forms, such as invoice payments, revenue and loans. Record all funds that your company received during the month. This is also a good time to do the following:

  • Review outstanding deposits
  • Verify that all invoices have been sent
  • Count cash on hand

Manually recording incoming cash and taking these other steps can be time consuming and stressful. It’s best to use a software application that automates these tasks. This makes for a more efficient and more accurate month-end closing process. 

2. Review Accounts Payable

Depending on the size of your company and the number of monthly transactions, you may find it difficult—if not impossible—to record transactions as they come to you. But that’s no excuse for mistakes. You still need a system for organizing and maintaining accurate records. 

A review of accounts payable records should include, but is not always limited to:

  • Gathering all necessary records
  • Determining if there are any accounts payable that have been paid 
  • Checking your records against accounts payable to know what has and has not been addressed 

It’s easy to put this step off until the end of the month, but it’s also a costly mistake. Automation software can help you better track accounts payable throughout the month so that there’s less pressure on you as the fiscal calendar turns.

3. Reconcile Accounts

Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that you (or anyone else) didn’t make any mistakes during the month. Even the most experienced and knowledgeable financial professionals slip up now and again. This is why it’s so important to reconcile all of your accounts.

In short, this is the process of comparing your records to account statements, such as from your financial institution. If the numbers match, you’re in good shape. But if they don’t, you have some work to do. It’s time to dig deeper to pinpoint the reason for the difference, you can use this bank reconciliation template to help.

Make the process by putting all your accounts into one of these three categories:

  • Bank accounts (checking and savings)
  • Bank loans or leases (such as for equipment or real estate)
  • Accrued or prepaid accounts

It’s generally best to start with bank accounts, but it’s most important to implement a reconciliation system that works for you. 

Note: If you neglect to reconcile accounts, a simple mistake this month can grow into a bigger problem next month. 

4. Review Fixed Assets

Think of fixed assets as items that add value to your company. Examples include work vehicles, office equipment and real estate (buildings and undeveloped land). Intangible assets also fit into this category, including things such as trademarks, patents, domain names and brand names.

Fixed assets are long-term items that don’t easily convert to cash. Instead, many of these assets generate monthly expenses in the form of depreciation, repairs or amortization. For example, machinery—such as for manufacturing products—is imperative to the success of your business. It’s also valuable. However, over time, you can expect this machinery to depreciate. 

During your month-end closing process, record any expenses associated with fixed assets.

5. Review All Financial Statements

This may be the last thing you do, but it requires your attention nonetheless. Start by reviewing these financial statements:

  • General ledger
  • Profit and loss statement
  • Balance sheet
  • Income statement
  • Cash flow statement

A thorough review allows you to feel confident in your month-end close. It also sets you up for success the next month. 

If you find any errors or areas of concern—such as overspending within a specific department—address them right away.

4 Benefits Of a Month-End Close Checklist

Understanding why month-end close processes are vital to business is the first step in preparing a checklist. Before we discuss the common errors people make with their month-end closing process, let's review the benefits of having a month-end close checklist for closing out the month.

1. Reduces Accounting Mistakes 

Accounting reports contain a large amount of data and are subject to duplicate entries, omissions and other errors. These errors may be legitimate or an attempt to cover up fraud or theft. A month-end checklist helps accountants remember what they might otherwise skip.

2. Improves Results From Accurate Reporting  

Accurate reporting allows top management to identify and correct performance problems. In addition, creditors, investors and analysts can assess the company's overall performance and financial condition. 

By implementing the checklist, the accounting department can produce accurate financial statements on which all stakeholders can rely. A month-end closing checklist helps eliminate errors and omissions and helps ensure that critical balances, such as cash and inventory, are accurate each month. 

3. Increases Efficiency Among Your Teams 

Report generation takes a long time due to large amounts of data. However, delays in issuing financial statements may delay management's awareness of significant performance and liquidity issues that need addressing sooner.

End-of-month checklists reduce the time it takes to organize and submit internal financial reports. A well-thought-out to-do list keeps accountants and management on the same page when it comes to receiving financial reports. 

4. Prepares Your Company for an Audit 

In addition to your company's audit readiness at the end of the month, a checklist also helps you prepare your annual financial statements. Implementing a month-end closing checklist increases efficiency and accuracy, reducing the time, effort and expense involved in preparing for year-end audits.

Common Month-End Close Mistakes - And How To Avoid Them

1. Duplicate Data Entry 

One of the challenges we face in completing month-end closing tasks is that manually entering data is time consuming. While you may have multiple systems in place to help run your business, it is more likely that they will ultimately run independently. 

The team must manually upload data to the accounting system for the accounting department to process month-end goals. Unfortunately, this process is time consuming and error prone, so finding an automated solution is essential.

Even after entering data into the system, your accounting team still needs to ensure the information is accurate across all platforms. Ultimately, this manual process exhausts resources.

When teams manually enter data into the system, there is a high risk of mistakes. Finding a system that can automatically transfer data from one system to another is a great way to smooth out the month-end closing process. Even small mistakes in financial statements can lead to big problems when the information rolls into planning.

Also, if there is an error in the data, using the manual process will take a lot of time and effort to find the cause and fix it. This necessary time delays the release of monthly financial statements as your accounting team must spend time reviewing completed work.

2. Unstandardized Processes 

A month-end closing process should generally include the same steps each month. However, manually integrating data from different departments can present new challenges each time. Standardizing processes ensures accurate and consistent results month after month.

Standardized processes help meet month-end closing goals, even when your accounting team is understaffed. On the other hand, without a systematic way to balance the books, you may encourage employees to look for shortcuts to their responsibilities. 

These workarounds increase the likelihood of errors in your financial data, which can cause problems in the future and take hours to document a reproducible procedure each month. Create checklists of tasks and activities ordered by date. 

Simplify your chart of accounts. Also, review journal entries to determine whether you have taken materiality (significance) into account. If possible, increase the dollar limit for certain transactions to avoid pointless recording.  

3. Late Financial Data 

Another challenge you may face is the speed of producing monthly financial reports. In other words, how long does your accounting department need to prepare statements after the end of the month? 

If the process takes too long, you need a method for improving the efficiency of the month-end closing process. Not having access to information when needed makes it difficult to make decisions and plan for the future.

It is challenging to manage a business without readily available financial statements. Without the right tools, your organization's processes will become less effective and you will lose insight.

Find out why data from a particular source experience frequent delays. Other departments and providers may not understand the need for timely information. 

Employees may need certain types of training or refresher. Another option is to reconcile important accounts more frequently. Doing so reduces your reliance on last-minute records from external accounting. 

4. Understaffed Accounting Teams 

While you may lack the resources to hire more staff, training some employees for crucial steps in the closing process may be a viable option. As long as an experienced financial professional or manager takes responsibility for month-end closing, this alternative can work for your business.

You will also need to evaluate fraud concerns. Mutual staff training can also provide separation of duties and improve a company's internal control environment.

5. Lack of Automation 

Automation is significant in today's business world. Don't rely on spreadsheets and manual processes that don't allow for timely revisions and corrections to your accounting system. Identify tech-savvy associates who can explore executive data needs and current software reporting capabilities. Ask a consultant or cloud coach to advise you on your current processes and the potential for step-by-step automation.

Is That All You Need To Do?

The steps in our guide to the best month-end close are a good start to any month-end close process checklist, but there may be other steps to add. Consider the following:

  • Review revenue and expense accounts
  • Count inventory
  • Review petty cash

The more times you go through the month-end close process, the better you’ll understand what steps to take and how to work more efficiently in the future. 

Conclusion

Are you confident in your ability to take these five steps? Do you believe they’ll improve your month-end close process?

Once you create a month-end close process checklist in Excel, you can use our financial close management software to automate tasks to save time, reduce stress and maintain accuracy. 

Don’t ignore month-end close best practices any longer. A few simple steps can have a profound and positive impact on your business. 

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