What is accrual accounting, when do I need to pay attention to this, and what are the impacts?
Short answer: You must do your accounting on an accrual basis when your revenue is more than $10 million, below that you're best to be on a cash basis.
Now for the longer answer :)
At the heart of accrual accounting is the principle of trying to show your revenue (in your P&L) in the time period that you've earned it, not when you've invoiced it, nor when you've been paid for the work.
So typically: you do the work (ie you've earned it), then send an invoice, then collect the cash.
As an example, if you do some consulting in February you might send an invoice for your work in early March for $5,000 + GST and get paid in April.
If you're operating on an accrual basis, then you include your invoice for $5,000 + $500 GST in your January - March BAS and pay the ATO their $500 GST ... even though you, yourself, may not yet have been paid by your customer.
Because of the cash juggling of most small businesses, the ATO provide a small business concession and allow you to operate on a cash basis if your income is below $10 million (noting you can choose to be on an accrual basis at any time).
The choice of operating on a cash or accrual basis is made when you first start your business / setup your company. For the reasons above we generally recommend being setup as cash initially.
When you've reached the $10 million revenue threshold, take note of the timing and notify the ATO of the change (or we take care of this for you) ... you would typically do this from the start of the next financial year.
Note that when changing from cash to accrual your first GST paid through your BAS may be larger than the previous quarter's as any invoices that were issued ... but not yet received will now have their GST owing.
- Choosing an accounting method [ATO website]