Is there a noun that generically describes something that contains a balance that is not the word "account"? Such things can be checking accounts, credit cards, outstanding fines, or basically anything that keeps track of a sum of money.

The word account is a bit broader than I need because it implies that a person is a member or a part of an organization or business where they are associated with some "account number".


An "account" is a business object that actually encapsulates one or more savings, checking accounts, credit cards, loans, customers, cards, or any other service that is offered. Here, the word account is already being used as a programming term, but still looking for a word that covers the overlap things with balances, an abstraction as you will.

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    I think you're simply mistaken about the meaning of "account". If something is capable of holding a "balance", it must be identifiable so that balance can be adjusted, whether you call the identifier an "account number" or something else. The generic term for the thing that records the current credit/debit value is an account, regardless of whether it has associated things like transaction history, or represents any kind of formal relationship between people / organisations. Feb 28, 2012 at 14:37
  • The word account can describe what I am talking about 95% of the time. I just cant use the word account because it already has specific association, or meaning, in my context where an account number is the way of identifying an account where there are more than one way in how a sum of money can be identified. Feb 28, 2012 at 14:46
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    Well, you've made a rod for your own back then. I see Jay has made more or less the same point as me - if you can count the pluses and minuses and end up with a net balance, it's an account. You'll probably have to use some circumlocution like trackable transaction set. Feb 28, 2012 at 15:03
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    balance itself?
    – Mitch
    Feb 28, 2012 at 15:54
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    Hmm. This just sounds like, "What's a word for that round rubber thing that separates a car from the road? I know some people call it a 'tire', but in our organization we call a car a 'tire', so we need some other word for the round rubber thing." :-)
    – Jay
    Feb 28, 2012 at 17:44

4 Answers 4


Consider reckoning, record, and register, which are not synonyms of account but are closely related and may serve as names of cases you don't want to call accounts.

  • Register, I like register. +1 Feb 28, 2012 at 15:13

To an accountant, these things are all "accounts", whether the person is a "member" of the organization in any sense or not. Accountants routinely refer to "customer accounts", for example, meaning the ... thing ... that holds what the customer owes or what is owed to the customer. Things like checking accounts and credit cards routinely have "account numbers". While I've never worked on a system for collecting fines, I did get a parking ticket not long ago (for parking in my own driveway but with the back of the car over the sidewalk ... arrrgggh!) and on the back it had instructions for how to make payments on my "account". The Internal Revenue Service in the US refers to people who pay taxes as their "customers" and they each have an "account".

Whatever context you're thinking of, if it's appropriate to use the technical accounting term "balance", it should also be appropriate to use the technical accounting term "account".

That said, if you're in some truly unusual context, i.e. not involving banking or sales, I strongly suspect the accountants still refer to money owed or held as an "account", but if you think it would confused your readers to call it that, umm, my first impulse would be to say to just add a couple of words to make the reference clear, like "your account with the foobar department" or "your zombie soul eater's account" or whatever it is. If that doesn't work for you, you could call it a "balance" or, if the person owes money, their "bill". As in, "Your balance with us is $50", "That payment will be added to your balance", "Your bill is $50", "The erroneous charge will be subtracted from your bill", etc.

I yield to anyone who can suggest another word.

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    Funny... I do work at a credit union. An "account" is a business object here that actually encapuslates one or more savings, checking accounts, credit cards, loans, customers, cards, any other service we offer. Here, the word account is already being used as a programming term, but still looking for a word that covers the overlap things with balances, an abstraction as you will. Feb 28, 2012 at 15:05
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    @hydroparadise You probably should have included this detail in your question, I think it's on point. Feb 28, 2012 at 15:18
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    @MarkBeadles Well noted. It has been added. Feb 28, 2012 at 15:27
  • Ah, you apparently have encountered one of those common cases where people use a word to mean two different things. As a database designer this is my daily nightmare. As you say yourself above, "An 'account' is a business object that actually encapsulates one or more savings, checking accounts ..." So an "account" includes one or more "accounts". Your CU is using non-standard and ambiguous terminology, and have dug themselves a hole. My suggestion would be that if all possible, you call an account an account, and call the set of accounts for one business something else (continued ...)
    – Jay
    Feb 28, 2012 at 17:34
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    (... continued) You could call it a "customer" or "client" like most organizations do. If necessary call it a "customer account" and make clear that a "customer account" is different from an "account". Whether you can get away with forcing consistent and unambiguous terminology on your users, I don't know. But I can suggest this: If you design the screens, put appropriate terminology on the screens, and the users will start using it. Don't argue with them about it, just do it.
    – Jay
    Feb 28, 2012 at 17:38

Tab? As in, put another round on my tab?

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    or to extend that, a tabulation Feb 28, 2012 at 15:27

I agree that using "account" to mean something other than a record that keeps track of an amount related to a unique entity or purpose is a non-standard usage in US business generally. But changing the nomenclature commonly used within an organization is hard to accomplish. As a practical matter, I'd first find out whether the organization's use of "account" is consistent across programming, compliance, accounting, etc. If the generally non-standard programming usage has become standard within the organization, I'd call what is normally called an "account" a "balance record" as a concise but exact description of what is meant.

If it turns out that the accounting and compliance people use "account" in its normal meaning, as referring to something that has a single balance, a contractual interest rate, a specific fee schedule, etc, I'd change the organization's programming jargon to accord with standard usage: it will improve both internal and external communication. As a starting point, you might consider "account," "customer," and "household" as terms that provide for a web of relationships. For example, you might have two people living at a single address, each with a checking account, plus a joint checking account and a credit card on which both are jointly and severally liable. That might result in a single "household" related to either two or three "customers" (either the two natural persons or those two natural persons plus a virtual joint person) holding four accounts. Based on personal experience, designing the vocabulary and matrix of possible relationships when corporations must be included in the mix calls for careful thought.

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