stocks, capital gains/losses, and double entry accounting

Jim McCormick
22 Jun 2002 13:05:44 -0600

I am much disturbed by the fact that the Gnucash stock and currency
accounts violate double entry accounting.  One of the things I like most
about Gnucash is the double entry accounting.  Double entry accounting
with good flexibility in the types and relationships of accounts allows
the user to do things that the financial software programmer either
never thought of or hasn't had the time to code.  One of the things that
always annoyed me about Quicken/MSMoney was that in there effort to
provide a simpler user interface, they took away my ability to do things
that I need/want to do to model my finances.

Unfortunately, it seems that Gnucash has currently taken this
Quicken/MSMoney approach with stock and currency accounts.  I very much
appreciate the benefit of providing productivity enhancing ways to deal
with stock and currency.  This does not need to come at the cost of
giving up double entry accounting.  In double entry accounting, capital
gains and losses MUST show up in an account.  Methods for dealing with
capital gains and losses using double entry accounting is all described
very well in the documentation provided with Gnucash.  For some reason,
these techniques are not followed with the stock and currency accounts. 
I don't want to hear that all the information is there and can be
retrieved via reports.  The accounts should be there and I should have
access to them.  A "stock" or "currency" account should really just be a
set of accounts that Gnucash creates and manages for me for my ease of
use.  Let me repeat, I should be able to get at the underlying accounts
so that I can manage these accounts differently than the "stock" or
"currency" account ease of use features if I like.

Some might say that if I don't like the stock account, then I can just
use and manage my own asset accounts to my liking.  There are several
things wrong with this.  First of all, there is currently no good way
(as far as I know) in Gnucash to have an asset denominated in shares of
stock without using a stock account.  There definitely should be.  Also,
one should be able to have changes in stock/currency value be reflected
in an unrealized gains/losses account.  When the stock/currency is sold,
one should be able to have the unrealized gains/losses transferred to a
realized gains/losses account.  There is just no good way (that I'm
aware of) to do this currently in Gnucash.  Ease of use features (like
the current "stock" account capabilities) should not be designed in
parallel with harder to use but more powerful double entry accounting
techniques.  They should be layered on top, and the user should be able
to bypass the ease of use feature to get to the underlying more powerful
capabilities.  This is one of the fundamental ways open source tends to
differ from proprietary code.  This is a GOOD THING.

It is quite possible that I have have some misunderstandings in my
comments and analysis above.  If so, I'd love someone to clear these up
for me.

This is my $.02 (or maybe $2) worth.


P.S.  I'm a long time Gnucash user, and I very much appreciate all of
the hard work many people have put into getting Gnucash where it is
today.  Thanks!  The fact that I like Gnucash and use it leads me to
take the time to give the feedback I am giving.