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Invoices vs. sales receipts: what's the difference?

As a freelancer, entrepreneur, or small business owner, you’re responsible for documenting your company’s finances, which involves keeping detailed records of the sales you make with either invoices or sales receipts.

In many ways, a sales receipt is essentially a simplified invoice. However, there are some important differences. This article explains how to distinguish between invoices and sales receipts, how to know which one to issue, and why they’re both important parts of your company’s financial records.

A photo of a sales receipt and an invoice created with Debitoor invoicing software

When to issue invoices and sales receipts

One of the main differences between invoices and sales receipts is when they are issued. Invoices instruct a customer how much they need to pay, when payment is due, and which payment methods the seller accepts. They are therefore issued when the details of a sale have been finalised but before the seller receives money from the customer (and often before the products or services are supplied).

On the other hand, sales receipts are issued when a sale is completed in one go – that is, the sale is agreed upon, the customer pays, and the seller provides the goods or services at exactly the same time.

Sales receipts are therefore most commonly issued by retailers, whereas invoices are usually more common among freelancers that provide services or companies that deliver large quantities of goods.

Whether you need to issue an invoice or a sales receipt depends on how you receive payment. If you make a sale with deferred payment, you should issue an invoice. If you require payment straight away, you should issue a sales receipt. It is possible to issue invoices that ask the customer to pay when they receive the invoice, but these should only be issued if the sale is agreed upon at a different date to when money actually changes hands or when the goods/services are supplied.

The easiest way to tell whether you should issue an invoice or a sales receipt is to ask yourself whether you would also need to issue a payment receipt. Invoices should always be followed up with a payment receipt to confirm that the money has been received and the sale is complete. On the other hand, it isn't necessary to issue a payment receipt as well as a sales receipt, because the sales receipt already states that payment has been made.

What to include on invoices and sales receipts

Another major difference between invoices and sales receipts is the information they need to contain. As a general rule, every invoice you issue should include:

  • Your name, address, and contact details
  • Your customer’s name and contact details
  • The word ‘invoice’
  • A unique invoice number
  • An issue date
  • A due date
  • Details about the goods or services provided (including the price, the quantity, and a description of each specific product)
  • Payment terms and conditions (such as whether you issue fees for late payment and the methods of payment that you accept)
  • The total amount due.

If you’re registered for VAT or GST, you should also include the tax rate of each product, the total amount of tax due, and your tax registration number.

Because sales receipts are essentially simplified invoices, they contain a lot of the same information. Sales receipts should contain an itemised list of the products you’ve sold, the individual prices of each item, the total amount due, and details about tax.

Sales receipts often contain basic information about the company providing the goods or services (such as company name and a logo) but it isn’t necessary to include bank details or payment terms. It also isn’t customary to include the customer’s details or a unique document number.

A desk with an invoice and payment receipt layed out for comparison

How to issue invoices and sales receipts

There are a few different ways to create and send an invoice. In some countries, businesses are required to issue e-invoices. In many other countries (including the UK, Ireland, Australia, and South Africa) you have the option of sending physical, printed invoices or issuing invoices online, although it’s now much more common to send invoices digitally with online invoicing software rather than post paper copies.

Sales receipts often come in paper form and are usually issued on the spot. To create a sales receipt, you could use a specialised printer or fill in a template by hand. Online retailers might also provide digital sales receipts in the form of an email or PDF.

Why invoices and sales receipts are important

Whether you issue invoices or sales receipts, it’s important to keep track of each document that you give to customers or recieve from suppliers.

From a seller’s perspective, invoices and sales receipts are important because they help to keep track of sales and can be used to account for any lost income. Sales invoices and receipts are also needed for calculating your business’s turnover, which in turn is used for filling in financial reports, understanding profitability, and working out how much tax you need to pay.

From a buyer’s perspective, invoices and receipts help you document all of your company expenses, which is necessary if you want to reclaim VAT on purchases you make for your business. It’s also important to keep a record of invoices and sales receipts in case there’s an issue with your order or if you want to return or exchange items.

Written by
on 06/05/2019