Which Accounting Method Do Most Community Association Boards Use to Manage Financial Matters?

Which Accounting Method Do Most Community Association Boards Use to Manage Financial Matters?

There was once an HOA board president named John who found himself at a quarterly board meeting staring down a long spreadsheet full of numbers. As his fellow board members looked to him for guidance on how to make sense of it all, John felt a bead of sweat drip down his forehead.

Just last month, the community’s trusted treasurer of 10 years had up and retired to Florida, leaving John with the task of choosing a new accounting system for their HOA. John racked his brain trying to remember the differences between cash basis and accrual accounting.

The other board members shifted uncomfortably in the tense silence, waiting for his decision. Which accounting method DO most community association boards actually use to keep proper books and ensure smooth financial sailing? John took a deep breath as he prepared to captain the HMS High Fees into unknown waters. Could HOA board programs helps in John’s situation?

 

 

The Basis for HOA Accounting

John knew he needed to get back to the basics of accounting methods before making a decision. Most accounting falls into one of two methods: cash basis or accrual basis.

Cash-based accounting simply means recording income and expenses when actual cash changes hands. This method is straightforward but doesn’t always paint the most accurate picture of a company’s finances.

Accrual accounting, on the other hand, records income and expenses when they occur, regardless of when money actually exchanges hands. This gives a more realistic view of financial health but can be more complex to implement.

Many small businesses and personal finances use cash basis because of its simplicity. But HOAs have additional complicating factors like assessments, reserves, special projects and unpredictable common area expenses. Is cash basis up for the job?

John rifled through the pages in front of him looking for clues. The HOA’s current record-keeping seemed to land somewhere between the two methods. Some items were carefully accounted for on an accrual basis, while others seemed to just get written down when bills came in or went out. If only they had invested in that HOA software when they had the chance!

As John’s vision began to blur on the third pass through the spreadsheet, the truth became clear – neither pure cash basis nor pure accrual would work smoothly. Like many HOAs, what they needed was a hybrid system tailored to their unique needs. John leaned back in his chair, finally seeing a light at the end of the accounting tunnel.

The Modified Cash Basis Accounting Method for Associations

After considering the options, most community association boards utilize a modified cash-based accounting method to manage financial matters. This method combines elements of cash basis accounting and accrual accounting to create a system tailored for associations.

Cash Basis vs. Accrual

Under a pure cash basis method, income and expenses are recorded when money actually changes hands. This provides an accurate representation of a business’s current cash flow. However, it does not reflect liabilities or other amounts owed.

Conversely, the accrual method records all transactions as they occur, regardless of when money is exchanged. This shows a more holistic view of the financial health and obligations of the business. However, the complexity makes accrual more difficult for small organizations.

The Benefits of Modified Cash Basis

Community associations balance the need to track cash on hand for budgets while also planning for future known expenses. This makes a modified cash basis a natural fit. Some benefits include:

  • Income recorded when received provides a clear cash flow picture
  • Future assessment income can still be estimated
  • Major future liabilities like insurance claims are recorded
  • Reserve expenses and depreciation are logged for future planning
  • Unpaid dues and interest earned are also tracked for accuracy

A modified cash basis requires more work than a pure cash basis. But for HOA and condo boards, the extra visibility into future obligations and overall financial health is well worth the effort.

Are There Other Accounting Methods That Associations Use?

While a modified cash basis is the most common, some associations do utilize other accounting methods. Each comes with its own strengths and limitations.

Full Accrual Accounting

Larger associations may use full accrual accounting similar to major corporations. This meticulously records all transactions as they occur with no cash basis elements. Full accrual provides valuable long-term financial data and visibility of obligations. However, the technical expertise required makes it impractical for many associations.

Cash Basis

Some small, self-managed associations opt for a simple cash-based approach. This greatly simplifies record keeping and works fine if future planning is less important. However, cash-based systems struggle to handle obligations like special assessments. And it provides limited visibility for buyers into the association’s overall financial health.

Other Hybrid Methods

There are other ways associations blend cash and accrual techniques. For example, a technique called modified assessment accounting treats member assessments differently – recognizing income when due rather than when paid. But operationally, this functions much like a modified cash basis.

Streamlining with HOA Management Software

While a modified cash basis is well suited for associations, tracking all the financial details can be cumbersome without the right tools. That’s why many boards leverage HOA management software for smoother accounting.

Benefits of all-in-one platforms include:

  • Centralized owner & property data
  • Integrated billing & collections
  • Budget dashboard tracking in real-time
  • Automated bank feeds & reconciliation
  • Simplified tracking of payables & receivables
  • Reserve study management & forecasting
  • Financial report generation
  • Document storage

Rather than piecing together disjointed spreadsheets, an end-to-end solution combines all critical association data. This eliminates duplication of effort, reduces errors, and makes modified cash-based accounting sustainable in the long term without overburdening community managers.

The innovation and accessibility of modern software means even self-managed HOAs can benefit from these time- and money-saving tools. And partnering with an HOA-specialized technology vendor ensures the platform aligns smoothly with association management best practices. Check out the options available – and start streamlining your HOA financial management processes today!

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