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Accounts payable is a file or account that contains money that a person or company owes to suppliers, but hasn't paid yet (a form of debt). When you receive an invoice you add it to the file, and then you remove it when you pay. Thus, the A/P is a form of credit that suppliers offer to their purchasers by allowing them to pay for a product or service after it has already been received.
In household, 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 or credit cards. 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.
Commonly, a supplier will ship a product, issue an invoice, and collect payment later, which creates 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. Certain companies, most famously Dell , have been able to profit handsomely by reversing the conversion cycle: they receive payment before they ship the product. Instead of granting credit to their customers, they receive it from them.
When the invoice arrives 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.