What Are Sources and Targets?

Sources and targets are important concepts to understand reporting in QuickBooks and use of the Advanced Find function.

Sources and targets are terms assigned by Intuit to describe transactions.

In most instances, the source of a transaction is the summary or total of the transaction.  For example, the source of a check includes the amount of the check, the payee, and the bank account from which the check was written.  The target of a transaction is the distribution of the source into 1 or more other accounts.  For example, a check might be used to pay expenses in 2 different General Ledger accounts, which appear on the Expenses tab below the check payee information.  The targets of this check include the information on these 2 lines.

A transaction can have 1 source and 1 or more targets.  In most instances, the source is equal to the sum of the targets.  Forms or windows in QuickBooks determine what information will be the source and what will be the target.  Your only control over what is the source or target is what you enter (subject to validation) in the appropriate area of the form.  In the check example below, the top part of the check form is always the source, and the bottom part always contains the target information.  However, don’t extend too far the thought that the “sources are on top of the form and targets on the bottom.”  That only applies to A/R & A/P transactions.

General Journal Entries are one important exception to the discussion of sources and targetsThe first line of a general Journal Entry is the source, and all other lines are targets.  Depending on how one enters a general journal entry, the source may not be equal to the sum of the targets.  Since you have direct control over the order of lines in a general journal entry, you do control what the source and targets are for general journal entries.

Payments, statement charges, and transfers don’t follow the model that the source is on the top of the form and targets on the bottom.

Here are the source and targets for QuickBooks transaction types:

  • Invoice: A/R is the source; income accounts associated with the line items are the targets
  • Bill: A/P is the source; expense accounts on the line items are the targets
  • Deposit: The Deposit To account is the source; the accounts on the line items are the targets
  • Payment: The Deposit To account is the source; A/R is the target

To learn the source and targets for any transaction, click the Journal button or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Y.  The source is the first line listed.  The targets are the lines listed after the source.

In this example, the source is the first line of the report that shows the payee and check amount.  There is 1 target, the second line that contains the distribution information.  We’ve added Source Name as an additional column to the standard Transaction Journal report to better illustrate sources and targets. Note that the Name field for the target is the Customer:Job name, but the Source Name is the check payee.  Reports that show target information won’t show the check payee in the Name field.

That leads to confusion among QuickBooks users that aren’t familiar with sources, targets, and the type of information that appears on a report.  A report that shows check information in an expense account is reporting target information.  The report is not indicating that a check was written to the information shown in the Name field.

According to Intuit:

  • sources and targets are database concepts and have nothing to do with debits or credits
  • a source can be a debit or credit, just as a target can be a debit or credit
  • most reports display a mixture of source and target data
  • the Inventory Valuation Summary and Inventory Valuation Detail reports are examples of exceptions in that they display only target data

This Intuit knowledge base article offers additional information on sources and targets.  When reading it, don’t forget the general journal entry exception to statements about sources and targets.  Some of the statements in Intuit’s own materials don’t repeat that exception, and they’re only true with that exception noted.

Issues involving confusion about sources and targets are fairly common.  To address these issues, Intuit also offers explanations of the source and target data sets, the report set, where reports get their data, and how conflicting report filters produce unexpected results.

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  1. Not sure this pertains to sources or targets, but when I write a check and list an existing customer in the customer:job column, it no longer appears in the customer record in the customer center – it used to, but suddenly stopped. Any idea how to restore this function?

    • Chief Mechanic says:

      Can you provide an example of a check appearing in customer center? That’s not something that would happen, and it doesn’t happen in QB 2015. If you want to associate an outflow of funds to both a customer and an expense account, a general journal entry will appear in customer center. Still, connecting a customer to an expense account as you’ve described is outside normal practice.

  2. Lucien Osentowski says:

    Is there ever any reason Total Targets could go down in count?

    Is it possible (or even conceivable) Total Targets could go from around 320.000 to 190,000 because of the owner combining some banking data?
    Total Transactions and Total Links showed normal increases. Haven’t had the opportunity to run a verify on the company file since the Total Targets count reductions because 4 days after this reduction in target count occurred the hard drive In the server failed.
    I have daily backups and plan to do that verification as soon as I finish restoring the server.

    Thanks, Lucien

    • Chief Mechanic says:

      In an otherwise healthy file on which you didn’t perform file operations (such as condense), there’s no reason for total targets to decrease. It would take MAJOR work to decrease targets from 320k to 190k.

      If this comment is related to your previous comment, you didn’t report a change in total targets. Worry less about the counts reported by QB. Worry more if the file doesn’t verify or reports are out of sync (eg, balance sheet doesn’t balance, detail reports don’t connect to financial statements, etc).