Cloud Accounting Xero

Xero Tips & Tricks: Dealing With Credit Cards With Subaccounts

Written by Patti Scharf

Many credit cards, such as Chase or Bank of America, set up credit card accounts in such a way that the companyXero can have one corporate account (i.e., one combined billing) for all activity. While that’s all well and good, there is a challenge here that drives accountants insane. Cloud accounting systems will only pull in ONE bank feed per account. So if you have a corporate account with 15 subaccounts, how do you setup all the other subaccounts in Xero?

The initial impulse for accountants is to shake their fist at these annoying subaccounts, but credit card companies have the following good reasons to set things up this way:

  • To help businesses track the activity for each user (so you know who was responsible for which charges); and
  • To simplify payment for the company (one payment, so the company doesn’t have to manage 15 different credit card bills and write 15 different checks to their credit card company for all of their 15 sales representatives).

The challenge is to figure out how to set up the accounting properly so you can live harmoniously with this feature.

Method 1

Here is the simplest, cleanest, and easiest way I’ve found to resolve this issue for accounts with few subaccounts and/or a low volume of activity.

1) Pay attention to how you use your cards.

In our firm, we’ve gone so far as to make sure that all of our auto-recurring charges are set up on one card and we try to keep the activity on the other card(s) to a minimum so that as much activity as possible flows through automatically.

Of course, this probably won’t help you with your clients’ activities, but it’s helped our own firm save time.

2) Set up the bank feed for the most active card on the account.

The advantage in doing this is that if you have one card that is extremely active but another card that is only used periodically, you’ll capture the bulk of the activity through the automatic bank feeds right off the bat.

3) Download and manually import the activity for the other card(s) into the same Xero credit card account.

At first, it may seem strange to be importing transactions into an account that is already receiving automatic bank feeds, but think about it—your goal is to get to the combined billing that the credit card company is doing.

This really only takes a couple minutes per subaccount, and in the end you’ll have one complete accounting for all activity on the account that is easy to reconcile, just like any other bank account or credit card that doesn’t have subaccounts.

Check out my last article, Fixing Monthly Statements, for tips on how to do this if you’re not yet familiar with importing credit card statements manually.

This is the fastest and easiest way I’ve found to handle most pesky multi-account credit cards, but if you have many subaccounts, a lot of activity, and/or if you rely on the accounting information to be automatically updated every single day, you may prefer to use Method #2.

Method 2

This method requires a bit more advance setup, as well as some tweaking of the Xero reports, but it’s still a very effective way of managing credit cards with subaccounts in Xero, particularly accounts with a lot of activity.

The first thing to keep in mind is that Xero has a flat account structure. This means you don’t have “subaccounts” as you might find in QuickBooks Desktop or online. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t create your own version and modify reports to make the system bow to your bidding. Here’s how you can do that:

1) Set up each subaccount as its own account in the Chart of Accounts.

You might find it helpful to use the last four digits of each person’s card number as an addendum to the corporate card number.

Keep in mind that these accounts are treated as “bank” accounts in Xero, so don’t be thrown when they show up that way in the Chart of Accounts.

COA Structure

2) Set up a bank feed for each separate card.

Although Xero cannot attach multiple bank feeds to one account, you can certainly create multiple accounts and then attach one feed to each of those. By doing this, you can avoid having to manually import transactions as you would under Method #1.

You simply set up the bank feed in Xero and then select the appropriate card to match the account you are setting up.

Bank Feed

Once all of the bank feeds are set up, the transactions for each card will pull “automagically” into Xero.

Once a feed has been assigned to an account, Xero will indicate that the bank account is “Already Connected” and gray it out so that you will not be able to assign that feed to another account without breaking the original feed.

3) Reconcile the credit card.

This is where a lot of people tend to trip themselves up. You have to keep in mind that the activity on the individual cards is being rolled up into the corporate card that is being used for billing purposes, so you’ll need to break down this process into one extra step before you can reconcile the account:

  • Move the detail to the Corporate account.

In the following example, you’ll see how transactions for Roadrunner’s subaccount have been pulled in for the past three months. But nowhere in this list of transactions are there any payments that may have been made against the purchases. If left unattended, this balance will just continue to grow and grow forever.

credit cards with subaccounts

You will need to transfer the balance from this card to the main corporate account at the end of each ending statement date.

TransferDoing so will zero out the activity for this card at the end of each period and roll up the debt to the corporate card, where finance charges are assessed and payments are made.

  • Repeat this process for every sub account.
  • Reconcile the top-level corporate account as usual.

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About the author

Patti Scharf

Patti is a blogger, speaker, and thought leader in the accounting technology industry and is the co-founder and Chief Controller for Catching Clouds LLC. She is a CPA and holds several current software certifications: Xero, Bill.com (Guru), QuickBooks Online, and FreshBooks and was previously an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor. She absolutely loves designing effective accounting systems for ecommerce businesses and is committed to advancing the artistry of accounting through the use of technology.

30 Comments

  • Thank you for sharing both of these methods. Your detailed explanation not only provides a choice for handling credit card transactions but will help users decide on the best method to fit their specific situation.

  • Hi Patti,

    Thank you for sharing your Tips and Tricks for Dealing With Credit Cards With Sub-Accounts within Xero. We really appreciate the definitions and methods chosen to illustrate. Very helpful.

    We would add: Method Two can also be extended to include the reconciliation of Bank Feed transactions for Master Savings, Healthcare, Retirement, and Investment Accounts, etc. by sub-accounts defined by type of activity, investment vehicles and/or employee distributions, etc.

    Creating multiple Balance Sheet formats and additional reporting is helpful. Xero’s Practice Report Template releases will continue to help streamline this process, especially as libraries are built and shared among industries, countries, versions, and communities of Xero users.

    Sincerely,

    Tamra

    Tamra Groff, Senior Consultant, GASC/GHFG

  • Hey Patti!

    Thanks for sharing this! Credit cards with sub accounts have always made me grumpy, and you were able to express how to handle this really clearly. I think a lot of accountants will jump for joy when they read this! 🙂 You rock!

  • Hi Patti – We’ve had this exact issue with Silicon Valley Bank. We found that we were able to download on a monthly basis a summarized .ofx file for all cards. This seemed to be the simplest solution and has worked very well.

  • Hi Patti,

    When I go to transfer our sub-account balances to our corporate account, it appears that the sub-account balances grow more negative, by the amount that I transfered. Am I missing something here?

    • Hi Natalya,

      I suspect you’re posting the transfer in the wrong direction.

      You’re trying to zero out the subaccounts, so the transfer hitting the subaccounts should show up in the “Received” column and the transfer hitting the corporate account should show up in the “Spent” column.

      So… the transfer will be FROM the corporate card and TO the subaccount. Make sure you’re posting it the right way.

      I hope that helps!

  • Hi Pattie,

    Thanks for a useful article. Someone posted it in the Xero community forum which is where I found it https://community.xero.com/business/discussion/2321871/.

    I used your first suggestion. My main credit card feed is already set up in Xero but I wasn’t getting the corporate credit card account where the balance is paid off coming in so it wouldn’t reconcile. I manually exported the corporate credit card statement as a csv file and imported it into the credit card account in Xero. It resulted in a lot of duplicate transactions but they were easy to identify as unreconciled and I then just deleted them.

    Satisfying to see the account is reconciled and the balance in Xero matches the bank now. 🙂

    Thanks!

  • Hi Patti,

    I’m currently dealing with that nightmare right now as we have recently switched over to xero from QuickBooks.

    Our corporate Amex has 500+ transactions from about 7 cardholders. From my understanding am I supposed to apply the bank feeds from each card numbers to their respective accounts.
    Or
    Apply the corporate bank feed to each of the 7 cards accounts

    • Hi Tracy,

      If you’re setting up the bank feeds, you’ll want to apply each card number’s feed to each subaccount that you created in Xero. Then, when the statement ends, you’ll transfer the balances to the corporate account in Xero so the totals are all in the same place for reconciling the entire statement.

      You’ll see that Xero won’t let you set up the bank feed to more than one account even if you tried… and you wouldn’t want to anyway… that would just pull in the same exact transactions seven different times.

  • Hi Patty,

    Great article!!! I was just googling this issue looking for a workaround for our amex business cards. Great breakdown of the options. I’m surprised with all of Xero’s bragging about ease of use how poor their documentation is when it comes to documenting very basic/obvious issues such as this.

    I have a question very similar to Tracy’s. When you state “Set up each subaccount as its own account in the Chart of Accounts”, you don’t mention what this entails.

    1. Does this mean we need to use each employees separate login for the Amex website?

    OR

    2. Can we just use my top level Amex login as the owner of the account, and somehow select only each card # each time we set up the feed? The problem is when I did this and selected only my card #, it *still* downloaded ALL cards into the one feed. So if it’s downloading every single card even when I only enter my card #, I don’t see how to accomplish it.

    I am also curious if you have experimented with the Xero/Yodlee integration, and if perhaps Yodlee can pull it off without your workaround (which looks to be pretty painless if we can get it to work).

    Thanks again for the great article and your responses here.

    • Hi David,

      When I set up a bank feed, I’ll use the owner’s account login and make sure I have access to all subaccounts with that login. After I enter the username and password, the system typically gives me a list of accounts to choose from when establishing the feed. With that said, I know that different financial institutions and different card types do different things, so it’s not always consistent. Your best bet is to contact Xero support if you’re having trouble with this.

      In answer to your other question… I haven’t played with the Xero/Yodlee integration directly. I did talk to a lead product development guy in NZ before I published this original article, and he confirmed that they didn’t have a solution to the problem beyond my workaround.

  • Patti, following up on my last post, when I attempt to enter a new feed in Xero for a different Amex account by entering the last 4 digits of the Amex account, it doesn’t even attempt to authenticate and instead tells me the new account is “ready to go”. Then when I click on “start bank feed now” a drop down appears showing only my “main” card and “already connected”.

    Any suggestions? I want to bad to get this to work via your method 2, or we may have to go with QB which has a very robust integration developed directly with Amex. but I want to go with Xero. Help :-)!

    Sorry to look to you for my tech support :-).

    • Hi David,

      I would start by logging into Amex and verifying that you see all of the cards with that login. Sometimes we’ll find that not all accounts are tied to a particular login and that’s the culprit.

      But if you do and you’re still having this problem, you’ll want to reach out to Xero for help. I don’t actually work there – lol. ;o)

      Good luck!

  • Thanks Patti! I’m updating just in case any other Amex users come upon this article. With further testing at this point I’ve concluded it’s just not possible with Xero/Amex. It’s possible to download one card by using the login that is limited to that card only, but the minute you add another one it tells you you’re already connected and there’s nothing else to download.

    On the other hand if I use the “master” card account to log into, there is no way to download the individual ones.

    I also posted on Xero forums in case anyone there had figured out a method, but based on my testing I’m not hopeful.

    • I think there’s yet another workaround for that (I know, I know). If you have a second email address (like a personal address), add that email as another user in Xero and set up the second bank feed under that login. Let me know if that works for you.

      Obviously not a wonderful solution if you have 16 subaccounts, but… worth a shot.

  • Ah, very interesting, I didn’t know Xero segmented feeds based on user. Unfortunately I don’t think that will get around the fact that when it comes to the “master” Amex card (my card), it downloads ALL the transactions across all cards. I even used the Amex site to create an “authorized user” for my card, which is a person who can look at the transactions, thinking I might then be able to use that users login in Xero to only download transactions from that account. But any authorized user for my card automatically sees (and therefore downloads) all other users transactions too!

    In the end, the only solution I could think of in combination with yours above would be to order an extra sub-account card for myself, and not use the main card to charge anything.

  • Thank you for posting this.
    Could you help with something related?

    In 2015 and 16 I got into a bit of financial trouble and missed some payroll payments.
    As you may have guessed, the IRS was not super thrilled about this. After catching up on my finances, I worked out a payment installment plan with them paying the back taxes and a boatload of penalties and interest.
    I do my payroll through Xero, so now I have those unpaid taxes lingering on my taxes past due everytime I go to do payroll. Since the taxes are never going to be paid directly through payroll (only on the installation plan), can you recommend a tidy way to handle this situation and move those payments and tax debt to an account I can make my payments into, and get those past due payments off of my payroll?
    Thx in advance and I really appreciate your help!
    -m

    • Hi M,

      I hate to break it to you, but I don’t actually use the payroll system in Xero (we use Gusto – love them!), so this is out of my experience.

      Hopefully someone else here can chime in?

      If not, I would search for an advisor on Xero’s website to help you out.

      Thanks,

      Patti

      • Thanks Patti.
        Basically, I guess it doesn’t even have to be thought of as a “tax” thing in Xero, maybe just an odd debt. I do know I can mark them manually paid, but like any payment in Xero, if I do that, those manual “payments” in Xero will be sitting in my unreconciled transactions looking for something to match up to. Normally, the payments process themselves because I have them setup to pay electronically, but if marked manually, this is not the case. I have contacted Xero and they can’t seem to come up with a straight solution. I thought maybe I could treat as a credit card or something, but I’m not sure the best course.
        If you do have any other suggestions, I’d appreciate it!
        BTW, you aren’t the first to recommend Gusto. I’m def considering it!
        -m

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