Taking a Look at the Income Statement – Part Three

While some lines of an income statement depend on estimates or forecasts, the interest expense line is a basic equation. When accounting for income tax expense, however, a business can use different accounting methods for some of its expenses than those which it uses for calculating its taxable income. The hypothetical amount of taxable income, if the accounting methods used were used in the tax return is calculated.

Then the income tax based on this hypothetical taxable income is figured. This is the income tax expense reported in the income statement. This amount is reconciled with the actual amount of income tax owed based on the accounting methods used for income tax purposes.

A reconciliation of the two different income tax figures is then provided in a footnote on the income statement. Under the same scenario, net income is like earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) and can vary considerably depending on which accounting methods are used to report sales revenue and expenses. This is where profit smoothing can come into play to manipulate earnings.

Profit smoothing crosses the line from choosing acceptable accounting methods from the list of GAAP and implementing these methods in a reasonable manner, into the gray area of earnings management that involves accounting manipulation. It’s incumbent on managers and business owners to be involved in the decisions about which accounting methods are used to measure profit and how those methods are actually implemented.

A manager can be requires to answer questions about the company’s financial reports on many occasions. It’s therefore critical that any officer or manager in a company be thoroughly familiar with how the company’s financial statements are prepared. Accounting methods and how they’re implemented vary from business to business. A company’s methods can fall anywhere on a continuum that’s either left or right of center of GAAP.

Can Financial Window Dressing Help Your Business?

Financial managers can do certain things to increase or decrease net income that’s recorded in the year. This is called profit smoothing, income smoothing or just plain old window dressing. This isn’t the same as fraud, or cooking the books, though, just in case that thought had crossed your mind.

Most profit smoothing involves pushing some amount of revenue and/or expenses into other years than they would normally be recorded. A common technique for profit smoothing is to delay normal maintenance and repairs. This is referred to as deferred maintenance. Many routine and recurring maintenance costs required for autos, trucks, machines, equipment and buildings can be delayed, or deferred until later.

A business that spends a significant amount of money for employee training and development may delay these programs until the next year so the expense in the current year is lower. A company can also cut back on its current year’s outlays for market research and product development.

Some businesses might ease up on their rules regarding when slow-paying customers are written off to expense as bad debts or uncollectible accounts receivable. These businesses can put off recording some of their bad debts expense until the next reporting year.

A fixed asset that is not being actively used may have very little current or future value to a business. Instead of writing off the un-depreciated cost of the impaired asset as a loss in the current year, the business might delay the write-off until the next year.

You can see how manipulating the timing of certain expenses can make an impact on net income. This isn’t illegal although companies can go too far in massaging the numbers so that its financial statements are misleading. For the most part though, profit smoothing isn’t much more than robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Accountants refer to these as compensatory effects. The effects next year offset and cancel out the effects in the current year. Less expense this year is balanced by more expense the next year. The important thing is knowing how far to push the envelope in these kinds of maneuvers and keep yourself and your company out of trouble with the IRS, ’cause that kind of a problem you just don’t need.