Managers want to earn a profit. Investors search for companies whose stock prices will increase. Banks seek borrowers who’ll pay their debts. Accounting provides the information these people use for decision making. Accounting can be based on either the
Accrual accounting records the impact of a business transaction as it occurs. When the business performs a service, makes a sale, or incurs an expense, the accountant records the transaction even if it receives or pays no cash.
Cash-basis accounting records only cash transactions cash receipts and cash payments. Cash receipts are treated as revenues, and cash payments are handled as expenses. Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) require accrual accounting. The business records revenues as the revenues are earned and expenses as the expenses are incurred not necessarily when cash changes hands. Consider a sale on account. Which transaction increases your wealth making an $800 sale on account, or collecting the $800 cash? Making the sale increases your wealth by $300 because you gave up inventory that cost you $500 and you got a receivable worth $800. Collecting cash later merely swaps your $800 receivable for $800 cash no gain on this transaction. Making the sale not collecting the cash increases your wealth.
The basic defect of cash-basis accounting is that the cash basis ignores important information. That makes the financial statements incomplete. The result People using the statements make decisions based on incomplete information, which can lead to mistakes. Suppose your business makes a sale on account. The cash basis does not record the sale because you received no cash. You may be thinking, let’s wait until we collect cash and then record the sale. After all, we pay the bills with cash, so ignore transactions that don’t affect cash. What’s wrong with this argument? There are two defects one on the balance sheet and the other on the income statement.
Balance Sheet Defect If we fail to record a sale on account, the balance sheet reports no account receivable. Why is this so bad? The receivable represents a claim to receive cash in the future, which is a real asset, and it should appear on the balance sheet. Without this information, assets are understated on the balance sheet. Income Statement Defect a sale on account provides revenue that increases the company’s wealth. Ignoring the sale understates revenue and net income on the income statement. The take-away lessons from this discussion are as follows:
Companies that use the cash basis of accounting do not follow GAAP. Their financial statements omit important information. All but the smallest businesses use the accrual basis of accounting.
Accrual accounting is more complex and, in terms of the Conceptual Foundations of Accounting, is a more faithful representation of economic reality than Cash-basis accounting.
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