"Economic" Income: Economists often refer to income as a measure of "better-offness." In other words, economic income represents an increase in the command over goods and services. Such notions of income capture a business's operating successes, as well as good fortune from holding assets that may increase in value.
"Accounting" Income: Accounting does not attempt to measure all value changes (e.g., land is recorded at its purchase price and that historical cost amount is maintained in the balance sheet, even though market value may increase over time -- this is called the "historical cost" principle). Whether and when accounting should measure changes in value has long been a source of debate among accountants. Many justify historical cost measurements because they are objective and verifiable. Others submit that market values, however imprecise, may be more relevant for decision-making purposes. Suffice it to say that this is a long-running debate, and specific accounting rules are mixed. For example, although land is measured at historical cost, investment securities are apt to be reported at market value. There are literally hundreds of specific accounting rules that establish measurement principles; the more you study accounting, the more you will learn about these rules and their underlying rationale.
For introductory purposes, it is necessary to simplify and generalize: thus, accounting (a) measurements tend to be based on historical cost determined by reference to an exchange transaction with another party (such as a purchase or sale) and (b) income represents "revenues" minus "expenses" as determined by reference to those "transactions or events."
Income Terminology. At the risk of introducing too much too soon, the following definitions may prove helpful:
Revenues -- Inflows and enhancements from delivery of goods and services that constitute central ongoing operations
Expenses -- Outflows and obligations arising from the production of goods and services that constitute central ongoing operations
Gains -- Like revenues, but arising from peripheral transactions and events
Losses -- Like expenses, but arising from peripheral transactions and events
Thus, it may be more precisely said that income is equal to Revenues + Gains - Expenses - Losses. You should not worry too much about these details for now, but do take note that revenue is not synonymous with income. And, there is a subtle distinction between revenues and gains (and expenses and losses).
Although accounting income will typically focus on recording transactions and events that are exchange based, you should note that some items must be recorded even though there is not an identifiable exchange between the company and some external party. Can you think of any nonexchange events that logically should be recorded to prepare correct financial statements? How about the loss of an uninsured building from fire or storm? Clearly, the asset is gone, so it logically should be removed from the accounting records. This would be recorded as an immediate loss. Even more challenging for you may be to consider the journal entry: debit a loss (losses are increased with debits since they are like expenses), and credit the asset account (the asset is gone and is reduced with a credit).
THE PERIODICITY ASSUMPTION
Business activity is fluid. Revenue and expense generating activities are in constant motion. Just because it is time to turn a page on a calendar does not mean that all business activity ceases. But, for purposes of measuring performance, it is necessary to "draw a line in the sand of time." A periodicity assumption is made that business activity can be divided into measurement intervals, such as months, quarters, and years.
Accounting must divide the continuous business process, and produce periodic reports. An annual reporting period may follow the calendar year by running from January 1 through December 31. Annual periods are usually further divided into quarterly periods containing activity for three months.
In the alternative, a fiscal year may be adopted, running from any point of beginning to one year later. Fiscal years often attempt to follow natural business year cycles, such as in the retail business where a fiscal year may end on January 31 (allowing all of the Christmas rush, and corresponding returns, to cycle through). Note in the following illustration that the "2008 Fiscal Year" is so named because it ends in 2008:
You should also consider that internal reports may be prepared on even more frequent monthly intervals. As a general rule, the more narrowly defined a reporting period, the more challenging it becomes to capture and measure business activity. This results because continuous business activity must be divided and apportioned among periods; the more periods, the more likely that "ongoing" transactions must be allocated to more than one reporting period. Once a measurement period is adopted, the accountant's task is to apply the various rules and procedures of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to assign revenues and expenses to the reporting period. This process is called "accrual basis" accounting -- accrue means to come about as a natural growth or increase -- thus, accrual basis accounting is reflective of measuring revenues as earned and expenses as incurred.
The importance of correctly assigning revenues and expenses to time periods is pivotal in the determination of income. It probably goes without saying that reported income is of great concern to investors and creditors, and its proper determination is crucial. These measurement issues can become highly complex. For example, if a software company sells a product for $25,000 (in year 20X1), and agrees to provide updates at no cost to the customer for 20X2 and 20X3, then how much revenue is "earned" in 20X1, 20X2, and 20X3? Such questions are vexing, and they make accounting far more challenging than most realize. At this point, suffice it to say that we would need more information about the software company to answer their specific question. But, there are several basic rules about revenue and expense recognition that you should understand, and they will be introduced in the following sections.
Before moving away from the periodicity assumption, and its accounting implications, there is one important factor for you to note. If accounting did not require periodic measurement, and instead, took the view that we could report only at the end of a process, measurement would be easy. For example, if the software company were to report income for the three-year period 20X1 through 20X3, then revenue of $25,000 would be easy to measure. It is the periodicity assumption that muddies the water. Why not just wait? Two reasons: first, you might wait a long time for activities to close and become measurable with certainty, and second, investors cannot wait long periods of time before learning how a business is doing. Timeliness of data is critical to its relevance for decision making. Therefore, procedures and assumptions are needed to produce timely data, and that is why the periodicity assumption is put in play.
To recognize an item is to record the item into the accounting records. Revenue recognition normally occurs at the time services are rendered or when goods are sold and delivered to a customer. The basic conditions of revenue recognition are to look for both (a) an exchange transaction, and (b) the earnings process being complete.
For a manufactured product, should revenue be recognized when the item rolls off of the assembly line? The answer is no! Although production may be complete, the product has not been sold in an exchange transaction. Both conditions must be met. In the alternative, if a customer ordered a product that was to be produced, would revenue be recognized at the time of the order? Again, the answer is no! For revenue to be recognized, the product must be manufactured and delivered.
Modern business transactions frequently involve complex terms, bundled items (e.g., a cell phone with a service contract), intangibles (e.g. a software user license), order routing (e.g., an online retailer may route an order to the manufacturer for direct shipment), and so forth. It is no wonder that many “accounting failures” involve misapplication of revenue recognition concepts. The USA Securities and Exchange Commission has additional guidance, noting that revenue recognition would normally be appropriate only when there is persuasive evidence of an arrangement, delivery has occurred (or services rendered), the seller’s price is fixed or determinable, and collectibility is reasonably assured.
Payment and Revenue Recognition: It is important to note that receiving payment is not a criterion for initial revenue recognition. Revenues are recognized at the point of sale, whether that sale is for cash or a receivable. Recall the earlier definition of revenue (inflows and enhancements from delivery of goods and services), noting that it contemplates something more than simply reflecting cash receipts. Also recall the study of journal entries from Chapter 2; specifically, you learned to record revenues on account. Much business activity is conducted on credit, and severe misrepresentations of income could result if the focus was simply on cash receipts. To be sure, if collection of a sale was in doubt, allowances would be made in the accounting records. In the accounts receivable section you can see how to deal with these issues.
Expense recognition will typically follow one of three approaches, depending on the nature of the cost:
- Associating cause and effect: Many costs can be directly linked to the revenue they help produce. For example, a sales commission owed to an employee is directly based on the amount of a sale. Therefore, the commission expense should be recorded in the same accounting period as the sale. Likewise, the cost of inventory delivered to a customer should be expensed when the sale is recognized. This is what is meant by "associating cause and effect," and is most often referred to as the matching principle.
- Systematic and rational allocation: In the absence of a clear link between a cost and revenue item, other expense recognition schemes must be employed. Some costs benefit many periods. Stated differently, these costs "expire" over time. For example, a truck may last many years; determining how much cost is attributable to a particular year is difficult. In such cases, accountants may use a systematic and rational allocation scheme to spread a portion of the total cost to each period of use (in the case of a truck, through a process known as depreciation).
- Immediate recognition: Last, some costs cannot be linked to any production of revenue, and do not benefit future periods either. These costs are recognized immediately. An example would be severance pay to a fired employee, which would be expensed when the employee is terminated.
It is important to note that making payment is not a criterion for initial expense recognition. Expenses are based on one of the three approaches just described, no matter when payment of the cost occurs. Recall the earlier definition of expense (outflows and obligations arising from the production of goods and services), noting that it contemplates something more than simply making a cash payment.
ADJUSTMENTS AND RELATED ENTRIES
In the previous chapter, you saw how tentative financial statements could be prepared directly from a trial balance. However, you were also cautioned about "adjustments that may be needed to prepare a truly correct and up-to-date set of financial statements." This occurs because:
* MULTI-PERIOD ITEMS: Some revenue and expense items may relate to more than one accounting period, or
* ACCRUED ITEMS: Some revenue and expense items have been earned or incurred in a given period, but not yet entered into the accounts (commonly called accruals).
In other words, the ongoing business activity brings about changes in economic circumstance that have not been captured by a journal entry. In essence, time brings about change, and an adjusting process is needed to cause the accounts to appropriately reflect those changes. These adjustments typically occur at the end of each accounting period, and are akin to temporarily cutting off the flow through the business pipeline to take a measurement of what is in the pipeline -- consistent with the revenue and expense recognition rules described in the preceding portion of this chapter.
There is simply no way to catalog every potential adjustment that a business may need to make. What is required is firm understanding of a particular business's operations, along with a good handle on accounting measurement principles. The following discussion will describe "typical adjustments" that one would likely encounter. You should strive to develop a conceptual understanding based on these examples. Your critical thinking skills will then allow you to extend these basic principles to most any situation you are apt to encounter. Specifically, the examples will relate to:
PREPAID EXPENSES: It is quite common to pay for goods and services in advance. You have probably purchased insurance this way, perhaps prepaying for an annual or semi-annual policy. Or, rent on a building may be paid ahead of its intended use (e.g., most landlords require monthly rent to be paid at the beginning of each month). Another example of prepaid expense relates to supplies that are purchased and stored in advance of actually needing them.
At the time of purchase, such prepaid amounts represent future economic benefits that are acquired in exchange for cash payments. As such, the initial expenditure gives rise to an asset. As time passes, the asset is diminished. This means that adjustments are needed to reduce the asset account and transfer the consumption of the asset's cost to an appropriate expense account.
As a general representation of this process, assume that you prepay $300 on June 1 for three months of lawn mowing service. As shown in the following illustration, this transaction initially gives rise to a $300 asset on the June 1 balance sheet. As each month passes, $100 is removed from the balance sheet account and transferred to expense (think: an asset is reduced and expense is increased, giving rise to lower income and equity -- and leaving the balance sheet in balance):
Examine the journal entries for this cutting-edge illustration, and take note of the impact on the balance sheet account for Prepaid Mowing (as shown by the T-accounts at right):
Another type of adjusting journal entry pertains to the "accrual" of unrecorded expenses and revenues. Accruals are expenses and revenues that gradually accumulate throughout an accounting period. Accrued expenses relate to such things as salaries, interest, rent, utilities, and so forth. Accrued revenues might relate to such events as client services that are based on hours worked. Because of their importance, several examples follow.
ACCRUED RENT: Accrued rent is the opposite of the prepaid rent discussed earlier. Recall that prepaid rent accounting related to rent that was paid in advance. In contrast, accrued rent relates to rent that has not yet been paid – but the utilization of the asset has already occurred. For example, assume that office space is leased, and the terms of the agreement stipulate that rent will be paid within 10 days after the end of each month at the rate of $400 per month. During December of 20X1, Cabul Company occupied the lease space, and the appropriate adjusting entry for December follows:
When the rent is paid on January 10, 20X2, this entry would be needed:
THE ADJUSTED TRIAL BALANCE: Keep in mind that the trial balance introduced in the previous chapter was prepared before considering adjusting entries. Subsequent to the adjustment process, another trial balance can be prepared. This adjusted trial balance demonstrates the equality of debits and credits after recording adjusting entries. The adjusted trial balance would look the same as the trial balance, except that all accounts would be updated for the impact of each of the adjusting entries. Therefore, correct financial statements can be prepared directly from the adjusted trial balance. The next section looks at the adjusted trial balance in detail.
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