The GAAP Consistency Principle: How It Affects Your Business

The GAAP Consistency Principle: How It Affects Your Business

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Only change an accounting principle or method if the new version in some way improves reported financial results. If such a change is made, fully document its effects and include this documentation in the notes accompanying the financial statements. The full disclosure principle states that you should include in an entity’s financial statements all information that would affect a reader’s understanding of those statements, such as changes in accounting principles applied. The interpretation of this principle is highly judgmental, since the amount of information that can be provided is potentially massive. To reduce the amount of disclosure, it is customary to only disclose information about events that are likely to have a material impact on the entity’s financial position or financial results.

Harold Averkamp (CPA, MBA) has worked as a university accounting instructor, accountant, and consultant for more than 25 years. Our work has been directly cited by organizations including MarketWatch, Bloomberg, Axios, TechCrunch, Forbes, NerdWallet, GreenBiz, Reuters, and many others. Here are some examples in which the consistency principle can be followed or violated by a company. My Accounting Course  is a world-class educational resource developed by experts to simplify accounting, finance, & investment analysis topics, so students and professionals can learn and propel their careers. 8A AS 3105, Departures from Unqualified Opinions and Other Reporting Circumstances, describes reporting requirements related to a qualified or an adverse opinion.

If a company changed accounting treatment for its accounts receivable every single year, it would be difficult to compare the prior years’ accounts receivable balances with the current year. Since each year follows a different rule or standard, each year wouldn’t be able to be compared. The Securities and Exchange Commission has suggested for presentation purposes that an item representing at least 5% of total assets should be separately disclosed in the balance sheet. For example, if a minor item would have changed a net profit to a net loss, that item could be considered material, no matter how small it might be.

  1. The GAAP has gradually evolved, based on established concepts and standards, as well as on best practices that have come to be commonly accepted across different industries.
  2. For example, if a business uses the straight-line method to calculate depreciation on its motor vehicles in 2015 but changes the method to the declining balance approach for the next year, the accounts for these two years will not be comparable.
  3. At AccountingDepartment.com, every one of our bookkeepers and financial controllers follows the same processes and procedures.
  4. Apple Computers has been using the First in First Out (FIFO) method for valuing its inventory.

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In other words, companies shouldn’t use one accounting method today, use another tomorrow, and switch back the day after that. Similar transactions should be accounted for using the same accounting method over time. This creates consistency in the financial information given to creditors and investors. The Generally Accepted Accounting Principles further set out specific rules and principles governing such things as standardized currency units, cost and revenue recognition, financial statement format and presentation, and required disclosures. For example, it requires precise matching of expenses with revenues for the same accounting period (the matching principle). The objectivity principle is the concept that the financial statements of an organization are based on solid evidence.

GAAP, or Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, is a commonly recognized set of rules and procedures designed to govern corporate accounting and financial reporting in the United States (US). The sole purpose of the consistency principle, or consistency concept, is to ensure that transactions or events are recorded in the same way, from one accounting year to the next. Relying on a consistent accounting method ensures that statements and information will be comparable, and it will be easier to see trends and extract accurate information. Accounting standards do not say that business should adhere to the principle of consistency in every case. Changes can be made to improve work of accounting, but an appropriate note must be given which explains about change made. The main objective behind this principle is to ensure that performance can be measured and judged on the same basis year after year.

Entities must ensure that they apply accounting standards consistently and in a manner that accurately reflects the economic substance of transactions and events. As long as the financial statements consistently use accounting policies and principles, the financial statements will be more accurate and reliable. The consistency principle states that once a company adopts a certain accounting policy or method, it must be applied consistently in the future as well. This means that similar events and transactions over time will have the same accounting treatment.

Footnotes (AS 2820 – Evaluating Consistency of Financial Statements):

Now consider that the same company, Apple Computers, plans on taking a loan from the bank and need to show good profits on its statements to do so. To overstate its profits for the period, it decides to change from LIFO back to FIFO. The consistency principle states that companies should use the same accounting treatment for similar events and transactions over time.

Using the https://intuit-payroll.org/, a company will have a similar structure for its financial statements each period. This would make it easier for investors, creditors, managers, and other stakeholders to compare the financial and operational performance of a business over different years. An indicator of a situation in which the company is not conforming to the consistency principle is when the company operational activity has not changed, but suddenly its profits increase.

If the company chooses to change an accounting policy or methodology, it will need to disclose this change in its financial statements including the financial impact of the change, date of change and the rationale behind this change. This will ensure that the company refrains from changing its accounting policy except when there are reasonable grounds for it to do so. 7 Newly issued accounting pronouncements usually set forth the method of accounting for the effects of a change in accounting principle and the related disclosures. SFAS No. 154 sets forth the method of accounting for the change and the related disclosures when there are no specific requirements in the new accounting pronouncement. When you have several different people recording data, compiling reports, and performing other financial documentation, the Consistency Principle is seldom followed. You need a set method in place internally or to rely on an accounting firm who follows consistent policies and procedures in order to ensure GAAP is followed.

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In cases where you might need to change the accounting method or principles that you use in your business for a valid reason, then the effects of this change need to be clearly disclosed in your company’s financial statements. For example, a company had 30 units of Product A on hand at $10 per unit in January, then bought an additional 50 units at $15 per unit. When they sell, 40 units, they will record 30 sales at $10 and 10 sales at $15, leaving a cost of inventory of 40 units at $15. For example, there are many viable methods of calculating depreciation on fixed assets. A business can choose any of them to compute depreciation for any assets without contravening any accounting principles or concepts.

This definition does not provide definitive guidance in distinguishing material information from immaterial information, so it is necessary to exercise judgment in deciding if a transaction is material. Many times, a lender or investor will want a client’s financial statements to be audited, showing the internal controls as well as whether generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) have been used. One aspect auditors look for is the Consistency Principle in order to compare results from period to period. If you aren’t familiar with this principle and why it is important, in this article our CPAs break it down, explain the advantages of using it, give reasons for its importance, and provide some examples. At the same time, there are some challenges to keep in mind when looking at the consistency principle.

Similarly, a transaction would be considered material if its inclusion in the financial statements would change a ratio sufficiently to bring an entity out of compliance with its lender covenants. As mentioned earlier, if a business decides to make any changes to their accounting method, this change will need to be disclosed. Normally, businesses will note these changes in the footnotes of their financial statements. The purpose of these footnotes is to clearly present and state the accounting methods and practices of your business, verifying the transparency of your business activities to the readers. A business can choose either of these methods, and can even make a one-time change between the two. However, a business can’t report based on LIFO one year to pay less in taxes, then the next year shift to FIFO to show a higher net income and be more attractive to investors, then go back to LIFO the following.

Carbon Collective partners with financial and climate experts to ensure the accuracy of our content. Go a level deeper with us and investigate the potential impacts of climate change on investments like your retirement account. Under the conservatism principle, if there is uncertainty about incurring a loss, you should tend toward recording the loss.

The purpose of financial statements is to provide information about an entity’s financial position and performance to its users, such as investors, creditors, and regulators. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles make financial reporting standardized and transparent, using commonly accepted terms, practices, and procedures. When these gift certificates are sold, Todd sometimes credits a sale and sometimes he credits a gift cards payable account. Todd decides what to credit at the end of the month when his income numbers come in. By not accounting for the gift cards consistently, Todd makes the financial statements misleading.

When talking about different accounting methods, this can include anything from cash vs accrual accounting, and using LIFO vs FIFO methods. But, the company subsequently wants to change its accounting policies from a straight line to a declining balance. Consistency principle would ensure that employees are using the same accounting methodologies period to period and therefore they do not have to be retrained. Familiarization of the process will also increase the efficiency of the employee. Denise made the most profit this past year than any other year in her business. This switch is fine as long as Denise continues to use the LIFO method into the future doesn’t switch back to the FIFO method.

In year 3, Bob’s income is extremely loan and Bob is trying to show a profit to get another bank loan. Bob can make a justifiable change in accounting method like in the first example, but he cannot switch back and forth year after year. For financial analysts performing valuation work and financial modeling, it’s important to have a solid understanding of accounting principles. While this is important, financial models focus more on cash flow and economic value, which is not significantly impacted by accounting principles (other than for the calculation of cash taxes). The monetary unit principle states that you only record business transactions that can be expressed in terms of a currency and assumes that the value of that currency remains relatively stable over time. GAAP prepared financial statement, looking at inventory, for instance, you know you are looking at a dollar figure, not a number of physical units.

Ayisha Nasneena

Ayisha Nasneena is a Clinical Nutritionist with a strong academic background in Clinical nutrition. She obtained her master's degree from Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre in Clinical Nutrition in Food Science. Ayisha also holds a MOOC certification from the University of Netherlands in Sports, Nutrition, and Exercise. She is dedicated to introducing the benefits of evidence-based nutrition to individuals to enhance their health and well-being through the power of good food.


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