What is Accounts Payable?

Legal Definition
Accounts payable is money owed by a business to its suppliers shown as a liability on a company's balance sheet. It is distinct from notes payable liabilities, which are debts created by formal legal instrument documents.

An accounts payable is recorded in the Account Payable sub-ledger at the time an invoice is vouched for payment. Vouchered, or vouched, means that an invoice is approved for payment and has been recorded in the General Ledger or AP subledger as an outstanding, or open, liability because it has not been paid. Payables are often categorized as Trade Payables, payables for the purchase of physical goods that are recorded in Inventory, and Expense Payables, payables for the purchase of goods or services that are expensed. Common examples of Expense Payables are advertising, travel, entertainment, office supplies and utilities. A/P is a form of credit that suppliers offer to their customers by allowing them to pay for a product or service after it has already been received. Suppliers offer various payment terms for an invoice. Payment terms may include the offer of a cash discount for paying an invoice within a defined number of days. For example, 2%, Net 30 terms mean that the payer will deduct 2% from the invoice if payment is made within 30 days. If the payment is made on Day 31 then the full amount is paid.

In households, accounts payable are ordinarily bills from the electric company, telephone company, cable television or satellite dish service, newspaper subscription, and other such regular services. Householders usually track and pay on a monthly basis by hand using cheques, credit cards or internet banking. In a business, there is usually a much broader range of services in the A/P file, and accountants or bookkeepers usually use accounting software to track the flow of money into this liability account when they receive invoices and out of it when they make payments. Increasingly, large firms are using specialized Accounts Payable automation solutions (commonly called ePayables) to automate the paper and manual elements of processing an organization's invoices.

Commonly, a supplier will ship a product, issue an invoice, and collect payment later, which describes a cash conversion cycle, a period of time during which the supplier has already paid for raw materials but hasn't been paid in return by the final customer.

When the invoice is received by the purchaser, it is matched to the packing slip and purchase order, and if all is in order, the invoice is paid. This is referred to as the three-way match. The three-way match can slow down the payment process, so the method may be modified. For example, three-way matching may be limited solely to large-value invoices, or the matching is automatically approved if the received quantity is within a certain percentage of the amount authorized in the purchase order.
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
Short-term debt that a company owes to its suppliers for products received before payment is made. Accounts payable entries are listed under "Current Liabilities" in the business' balance sheet and the items are removed once the account has been paid.
Illustrative case law
See, e.g. United States v. Richman, 93 F.3d 1085 (2d Cir. 1996).
See also
Legal Definition
Trade credit created by a supplier when it permits a client to pay in the future for goods or services that have already been delivered by the supplier. Payables are a common source of shortterm financing for many industrial and service companies. A client company is generally required to arrange payment within 7 to 180 days, though in some cases terms may extend even further. In exchange for granting the payment extension, the supplier explicitly or implicitly charges a financing cost. See also ACCOUNTS RECEIVABLE.