Definition of Generally accepted accounting principles
Generally accepted accounting principles
The rules that accountants follow when processing accounting transactions and creating financial reports. The rules are primarily
derived from regulations promulgated by the various branches of the AICPA Council.
This important term
refers to the body of authoritative rules for measuring profit and preparing
financial statements that are included in financial reports by a business
to its outside shareowners and lenders. The development of these
guidelines has been evolving for more than 70 years. Congress passed a
law in 1934 that bestowed primary jurisdiction over financial reporting
by publicly owned businesses to the Securities and Exchange Commission
(SEC). But the SEC has largely left the development of GAAP to the
private sector. Presently, the Financial accounting Standards Board is
the primary (but not the only) authoritative body that makes pronouncements
on GAAP. One caution: GAAP are like a movable feast. New rules
are issued fairly frequently, old rules are amended from time to time,
and some rules established years ago are discarded on occasion. Professional
accountants have a heck of time keeping up with GAAP, that’s for
sure. Also, new GAAP rules sometimes have the effect of closing the barn
door after the horse has left. accounting abuses occur, and only then,
after the damage has been done, are new rules issued to prevent such
abuses in the future.
Procedures for preparing financial statements.
A common set of standards and procedures
for the preparation of general-purpose financial statements that either have been established
by an authoritative accounting rule-making body, such as the Financial accounting
Standards Board (FASB), or over time have become accepted practice because of their universal
GAAP is the term used to describe the underlying rules basis on which financial statements are normally prepared. This is codified in the Handbook of The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.
This equals the cash inflow from sales during the period minus the cash
outflow for expenses during the period. Keep in mind that to measure
net income, generally accepted accounting principles require the use of
accrual-basis accounting. Starting with the amount of accrual-basis net
income, adjustments are made for changes in accounts receivable,
inventories, prepaid expenses, and operating liabilities—and depreciation
expense is added back (as well as any other noncash outlay
expense)—to arrive at cash flow from profit, which is formally labeled
cash flow from operating activities in the externally reported statement
of cash flows.
Financial means having to do with
money and economic wealth. Statement means a formal presentation.
Financial reports are printed and a copy is sent to each owner and each
major lender of the business. Most public corporations make their financial
reports available on a web site, so all or part of the financial report
can be downloaded by anyone. Businesses prepare three primary financial
statements: the statement of financial condition, or balance sheet;
the statement of cash flows; and the income statement. These three key
financial statements constitute the core of the periodic financial reports
that are distributed outside a business to its shareowners and lenders.
Financial reports also include footnotes to the financial statements and
much other information. Financial statements are prepared according to
generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), which are the authoritative
rules that govern the measurement of net income and the reporting
of profit-making activities, financial condition, and cash flows.
Internal financial statements, although based on the same profit
accounting methods, report more information to managers for decision
making and control. Sometimes, financial statements are called simply
The general term profit is not precisely defined; it may refer to net
gains over a period of time, or cash inflows less cash outflows for an
investment, or earnings before or after certain costs and expenses are
deducted from income or revenue. In the world of business, profit is
measured by the application of generally accepted accounting principles
(GAAP). In the income statement, the final, bottom-line profit is generally
labeled net income and equals revenue (plus any extraordinary gains)
less all expenses (and less any extraordinary losses) for the period. Inter-
nal management profit reports include several profit lines: gross margin,
contribution margin, operating profit (earnings before interest and
income tax), and earnings before income tax. External income statements
report gross margin (also called gross profit) and often report one
or more other profit lines, although practice varies from business to
business in this regard.
This depreciation method allocates a uniform
amount of the cost of long-lived operating assets (fixed assets) to each
year of use. It is the basic alternative to the accelerated depreciation
method. When using the straight-line method, a business may estimate a
longer life for a fixed asset than when using the accelerated method
(though not necessarily in every case). Both methods are allowed for
income tax and under generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).
See generally accepted accounting principles.
A forceful and intentional choice and application of accounting principles
done in an effort to achieve desired results, typically higher current earnings, whether the practices followed are in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles or not. Aggressive
accounting practices are not alleged to be fraudulent until an administrative, civil, or criminal proceeding takes that step and alleges, in particular, that an intentional, material misstatement
has taken place in an effort to deceive financial statement readers.
Any and all steps used to play the financial numbers game, including
the aggressive choice and application of accounting principles, both within and beyond
the boundaries of generally accepted accounting principles, and fraudulent financial reporting.
Also included are steps taken toward earnings management and income smoothing. See Financial
Revenue recognized for a confirmed sale or service transaction in a period
prior to that called for by generally accepted accounting principles.
The change in the value of a firm's foreign currency denominated accounts due to a
change in exchange rates.
Earnings of a firm as reported on its income statement.
Total liabilities exceed total assets. A firm with a negative net worth is insolvent on
The ease and quickness with which assets can be converted to cash.
Average accounting return
The average project earnings after taxes and depreciation divided by the average
book value of the investment during its life.
Generally Accepted Accounting Principals (GAAP)
A technical accounting term that encompasses the
conventions, rules, and procedures necessary to define accepted accounting practice at a particular time.
Method of accounting for a merger in which the acquirer is treated as having purchased
the assets and assumed liabilities of the acquiree, which are all written up or down to their respective fair
market values, the difference between the purchase price and the net assets acquired being attributed to goodwill.
Regulatory accounting procedures
accounting principals required by the FHLB that allow S&Ls to elect
annually to defer gains and losses on the sale of assets and amortize these deferrals over the average life of the
Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 8
This is a currency translation standard previously in
use by U.S. accounting firms. See: Statement of accounting Standards No. 52.
Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 52
This is the currency translation standard currently
used by U.S. firms. It mandates the use of the current rate method. See: Statement of Financial accounting
Standards No. 8.
A collection of systems and processes used to record, report and interpret business transactions.
The representation of the double-entry system of accounting such that assets are equal to liabilities plus capital.
The period of time for which financial statements are produced – see also financial year.
Accounting rate of return (ARR)
A method of investment appraisal that measures
the profit generated as a percentage of the
investment – see return on investment.
A set of accounts that summarize the transactions of a business that have been recorded on source documents.
A method of accounting in which profit is calculated as the difference between income when it is earned and expenses when they are incurred.
A method of accounting in which profit is calculated as the difference between income
when it is received and expenses when they are paid.
The production of financial statements, primarily for those interested parties who are external to the business.
The production of financial and non-financial information used in planning for the future; making decisions about products, services, prices and what costs to incur; and ensuring that plans are implemented and achieved.
Strategic management accounting
The provision and analysis of management accounting data about a business and its competitors, which is of use in the development and monitoring of strategy (Simmonds).
The formula Assets = Liabilities + Equity.
A broad, all-inclusive term that refers to the methods and procedures
of financial record keeping by a business (or any entity); it also
refers to the main functions and purposes of record keeping, which are
to assist in the operations of the entity, to provide necessary information
to managers for making decisions and exercising control, to measure
profit, to comply with income and other tax laws, and to prepare financial
An equation that reflects the two-sided nature of a
business entity, assets on the one side and the sources of assets on the
other side (assets = liabilities + owners’ equity). The assets of a business
entity are subject to two types of claims that arise from its two basic
sources of capital—liabilities and owners’ equity. The accounting equation
is the foundation for double-entry bookkeeping, which uses a
scheme for recording changes in these basic types of accounts as either
debits or credits such that the total of accounts with debit balances
equals the total of accounts with credit balances. The accounting equation
also serves as the framework for the statement of financial condition,
or balance sheet, which is one of the three fundamental financial
statements reported by a business.
Well, frankly, accrual is not a good descriptive
term. Perhaps the best way to begin is to mention that accrual-basis
accounting is much more than cash-basis accounting. Recording only the
cash receipts and cash disbursement of a business would be grossly
inadequate. A business has many assets other than cash, as well as
many liabilities, that must be recorded. Measuring profit for a period as
the difference between cash inflows from sales and cash outflows for
expenses would be wrong, and in fact is not allowed for most businesses
by the income tax law. For management, income tax, and financial
reporting purposes, a business needs a comprehensive record-keeping
system—one that recognizes, records, and reports all the assets and liabilities
of a business. This all-inclusive scope of financial record keeping
is referred to as accrual-basis accounting. Accrual-basis accounting
records sales revenue when sales are made (though cash is received
before or after the sales) and records expenses when costs are incurred
(though cash is paid before or after expenses are recorded). Established
financial reporting standards require that profit for a period
must be recorded using accrual-basis accounting methods. Also, these
authoritative standards require that in reporting its financial condition a
business must use accrual-basis accounting.
See accrual-basis accounting.
internal accounting controls
Refers to forms used and procedures
established by a business—beyond what would be required for the
record-keeping function of accounting—that are designed to prevent
errors and fraud. Two examples of internal controls are (1) requiring a
second signature by someone higher in the organization to approve a
transaction in excess of a certain dollar amount and (2) giving customers
printed receipts as proof of sale. Other examples of internal
control procedures are restricting entry and exit routes of employees,
requiring all employees to take their vacations and assigning another
person to do their jobs while they are away, surveillance cameras, surprise
counts of cash and inventory, and rotation of duties. Internal controls
should be cost-effective; the cost of a control should be less than
the potential loss that is prevented. The guiding principle for designing
internal accounting controls is to deter and detect errors and dishonesty.
The best internal controls in the world cannot prevent most fraud
by high-level managers who take advantage of their positions of trust
accepted quality level (AQL)
the maximum limit for the number of defects or errors in a process
accounting rate of return (ARR)
the rate of earnings obtained on the average capital investment over the life of a capital project; computed as average annual profits divided by average investment; not based on cash flow
a discipline that focuses on techniques or
methods for determining the cost of a project, process, or
thing through direct measurement, arbitrary assignment, or
systematic and rational allocation
Cost Accounting Standards Board (CASB)
a body established by Congress in 1970 to promulgate cost accounting
standards for defense contractors and federal agencies; disbanded
in 1980 and reestablished in 1988; it previously issued
pronouncements still carry the weight of law for those
organizations within its jurisdiction
a discipline in which historical, monetary
transactions are analyzed and recorded for use in the
preparation of the financial statements (balance sheet, income
statement, statement of owners’/stockholders’ equity,
and statement of cash flows); it focuses primarily on the
needs of external users (stockholders, creditors, and regulatory
a discipline that includes almost
all manipulations of financial information for use by managers
in performing their organizational functions and in
assuring the proper use and handling of an entity’s resources;
it includes the discipline of cost accounting
Management Accounting Guidelines (MAGs)
pronouncements of the Society of Management Accountants of
Canada that advocate appropriate practices for specific
management accounting situations
responsibility accounting system
an accounting information system for successively higher-level managers about the performance of segments or subunits under the control
of each specific manager
Statement on Management Accounting (SMA)
a pronouncement developed and issued by the Management
accounting Practices Committee of the Institute of Management
Accountants; application of these statements is
through voluntary, not legal, compliance
An alteration in the accounting methodology or estimates used in
the reporting of financial statements, usually requiring discussion in a footnote
attached to the financial statements.
A business for which a separate set of accounting records is being
The recording of revenue when earned and expenses when
incurred, irrespective of the dates on which the associated cash flows occur.
Constant dollar accounting
A method for restating financial statements by reducing or
increasing reported revenues and expenses by changes in the consumer price index,
thereby achieving greater comparability between accounting periods.
Unintentional mistakes in financial statements. Accounted for by restating
the prior-year financial statements that are in error.
Accounting and Auditing Enforcement Release (AAER)
Administrative proceedings or litigation releases that entail an accounting or auditing-related violation of the securities laws.
Intentional misstatements or omissions of amounts or disclosures in
financial statements done to deceive financial statement users. The term is used interchangeably with fraudulent financial reporting.
Change in Accounting Estimate
A change in accounting that occurs as the result of new information
or as additional experience is acquired—for example, a change in the residual values
or useful lives of fixed assets. A change in accounting estimate is accounted for prospectively,
over the current and future accounting periods affected by the change.
Change in Accounting Principle
A change from one generally accepted accounting principle to another generally accepted accounting principle—for example, a change from capitalizing expenditures
to expensing them. A change in accounting principle is accounted for in most instances
as a cumulative-effect–type adjustment.
Change in Accounting Estimate
A change in the implementation of an existing accounting
policy. A common example would be extending the useful life or changing the expected residual
value of a fixed asset. Another would be making any necessary adjustments to allowances for
uncollectible accounts, warranty obligations, and reserves for inventory obsolescense.
Method of accounting for sales or service agreements where completion
requires an extended period.
Creative Acquisition Accounting
The allocation to expense of a greater portion of the price
paid for another company in an acquisition in an effort to reduce acquisition-year earnings and
boost future-year earnings. Acquisition-year expense charges include purchased in-process research
and development and an overly aggressive accrual of costs required to effect the acquisition.
Cumulative Effect of Accounting Change
The change in earnings of previous years assuming
that the newly adopted accounting principle had previously been in use.
Cumulative Effect of a Change in Accounting Principle
The change in earnings of previous years
based on the assumption that a newly adopted accounting principle had previously been in use.
Up-front gain recognized from the securitization and sale of a pool
of loans. Profit is recorded for the excess of the sales price and the present value of the estimated
interest income that is expected to be received on the loans above the amounts funded on the loans
and the present value of the interest agreed to be paid to the buyers of the loan-backed securities.
Staff Accounting Bulletin (SAB)
Interpretations and practices followed by the staff of the Office of the Chief Accountant and the Division of Corporation Finance in administering the disclosure
requirements of the federal securities laws.
The principles, bases, conventions, rules and procedures adopted by management in preparing and presenting financial statements.
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
The federal agency that
oversees the issuance of and trading in securities of public businesses.
The SEC has broad powers and can suspend the trading in securities of a
business. The SEC also has primary jurisdiction in making accounting
and financial reporting rules, but over the years it has largely deferred to
the private sector for the development of generally accepted accounting
Aggressive Cost Capitalization
Cost capitalization that stretches the flexibility within generally
accepted accounting principles beyond its intended limits, resulting in reporting as assets
items that more reasonably should have been expensed. The purpose of this activity is likely to
alter financial results and financial position in order to create a potentially misleading impression
of a firm's business performance or financial position.
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