Monday, August 29, 2011

IAS - GAAP Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (United States)

Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (United States)

"In the U.S., Generally Accepted Accounting Principles are accounting rules used to prepare, present, and report financial statements for a wide variety of entities, including publicly-traded and privately-held companies, non-profit organizations, and governments. The term is usually confined to the United States; hence it is commonly abbreviated as US GAAP or simply GAAP. However, in the theoretical sense, Generally Accepted Accounting Principles encompass the entire industry of accounting, and not only the United States. Outside the academic context, GAAP means US GAAP...." 

"Similar to many other countries practicing under the common law system, the United States government does not directly set accounting standards, in the belief that the private sector has better knowledge and resources. US GAAP is not written in law, although the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires that it be followed in financial reporting by publicly-traded companies..."

"The US GAAP provisions differ somewhat from International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), though former SEC Chairman Christopher Cox set out a timetable for all U.S. companies to drop GAAP by 2016, with the largest companies switching to IFRS as early as 2009..."

[Mrt: That is a long time frame to adjust, perhaps the differences are HUGE?]

  • Accounting Entity: assumes that the business is separate from its owners or other businesses. Revenue and expense should be kept separate from personal expenses.
  • Going Concern: assumes that the business will be in operation indefinitely. This validates the methods of asset capitalization, depreciation, and amortization. Only when liquidation is certain this assumption is not applicable. The business will continue to exist in the unforeseeable future.
  • Monetary Unit principle: assumes a stable currency is going to be the unit of record. The FASB accepts the nominal value of the US Dollar as the monetary unit of record unadjusted for inflation.
  • The Time-period principle implies that the economic activities of an enterprise can be divided into artificial time periods.


  • Historical cost principle requires companies to account and report based on acquisition costs rather than fair market value for most assets and liabilities. This principle provides information that is reliable (removing opportunity to provide subjective and potentially biased market values), but not very relevant. Thus there is a trend to use fair values. Most debts and securities are now reported at market values.
  • Revenue recognition principle requires companies to record when revenue is (1) realized or realizable and (2) earned, not when cash is received. This way of accounting is called accrual basis accounting.
  • Matching principle. Expenses have to be matched with revenues as long as it is reasonable to do so. Expenses are recognized not when the work is performed, or when a product is produced, but when the work or the product actually makes its contribution to revenue. Only if no connection with revenue can be established, cost may be charged as expenses to the current period (e.g. office salaries and other administrative expenses). This principle allows greater evaluation of actual profitability and performance (shows how much was spent to earn revenue). Depreciation and Cost of Goods Sold are good examples of application of this principle.
  • Full Disclosure principle. Amount and kinds of information disclosed should be decided based on trade-off analysis as a larger amount of information costs more to prepare and use. Information disclosed should be enough to make a judgment while keeping costs reasonable. Information is presented in the main body of financial statements, in the notes or as supplementary information


  • Objectivity principle: the company financial statements provided by the accountants should be based on objective evidence.
  • Materiality principle: the significance of an item should be considered when it is reported. An item is considered significant when it would affect the decision of a reasonable individual.
  • Consistency principle: It means that the company uses the same accounting principles and methods from year to year.
  • Conservatism principle: when choosing between two solutions, the one that will be least likely to overstate assets and income should be picked (see convention of conservatism).


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