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Accounting Principles

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What are Accounting Principles?

Definition: Accounting principles are the building blocks for GAAP. All of the concepts and
standards in GAAP can be traced back to the underlying accounting principles. Some accounting
principles come from long-used accounting practices where as others come from ruling making
bodies like the FASB.

It’s important to have a basic understanding of these main accounting principles as you learn
accounting. This isn’t just memorizing some accounting information for a test and then
forgetting it two days later. These principles show up all over the place in the study of
accounting. Trust me. After you know the basic accounting principles, most accounting topics
will make more sense. You will be able to reference these principles and reason your way
through revenue, expense, and any other combination of problems later on in the study course.

List of 10 Basic Accounting Principles

Here’s a list of more than 5 basic accounting principles that make up GAAP in the United
States. I wrote a short description for each as well as an explanation on how they relate to
financial accounting.

 Historical Cost Principle

 Revenue Recognition Principle
 Matching Principle
 Full Disclosure Principle
 Cost Benefit Principle
 Conservatism Principle
 Consistency Principle
 Objectivity Principle
 Accrual Principle
 Economic Entity Principle

Historical Cost Principle

Historical Cost Principle – requires companies to record the purchase of goods, services, or
capital assets at the price they paid for them. Assets are then remain on the balance sheet at their
historical without being adjusted for fluctuations in market value.
Revenue Recognition Principle

Revenue Recognition Principle – requires companies to record revenue when it is earned instead
of when it is collected. This accrual basis of accounting gives a more accurate picture of
financial events during the period.

Matching Principle

Matching Principle – states that all expenses must be matched and recorded with their respective
revenues in the period that they were incurred instead of when they are paid. This principle
works with the revenue recognition principle ensuring all revenue and expenses are recorded on
the accrual basis.

Full Disclosure Principle

Full Disclosure Principle – requires that any knowledge that would materially affect a financial
statement user’s decision about the company must be disclosed in the footnotes of the financial
statements. This prevents companies from hiding material facts about accounting practices or
known contingencies in the future.

Cost Benefit Principle

Cost Benefit Principle – limits the required amount of research and time to record or report
financial information if the cost outweighs the benefit. Thus, if recording an immaterial event
would cost the company a material amount of money, it should be forgone.

Conservatism Principle

Conservatism Principle – accountants should always error on the most conservative side possible
in any situation. This prevents accountants from over estimating future revenues and
underestimated future expenses that could mislead financial statement users.

Objectivity Principle
Objectivity Principle – financial statements, accounting records, and financial information as a
whole should be independent and free from bias. The financial statements are meant to convey
the financial position of the company and not to persuade end users to take certain actions.

Consistency Principle

Consistency Principle – all accounting principles and assumptions should be applied consistently
from one period to the next. This ensures that financial statements are comparable between
periods and throughout the company’s history.

List of Key Accounting Assumptions

Here is a list of the key accounting assumptions that make up generally accepted accounting

 Monetary Unit Assumption

 Periodicity Assumption

Monetary Unit Assumption

Monetary Unit Assumption – assumes that all financial transactions are recorded in a stable
currency. This is essential for the usefulness of a financial report. Companies that record their
financial activities in currencies experiencing hyper-inflation will distort the true financial
picture of the company.

Periodicity Assumption

Periodicity Assumption – simply states that companies should be able to record their financial
activities during a certain period of time. The standard time periods usually include a full year or
quarter year.

Fundamental Accounting Concepts and Constraints

Here is a list of the four basic accounting concepts and constraints that make up the GAAP
framework in the US.
 Business Entity Concept
 Going Concern Concept
 Materiality Concept
 Industry Practices Constraint

Business Entity Concept

Business Entity Concept – is the idea that the business and the owner of the business are separate
entities and should be accounted for separately. This concept also applies to different businesses.
Each business should account for its own transactions separately.

Going Concern Concept

Going Concern Concept – states that companies need to be treated as if they are going to
continue to exist. This means that we must assume the company isn’t going to be dissolved or
declare bankruptcy unless we have evidence to the contrary. Thus, we should assume that there
will be another accounting period in the future.

Materiality Concept

Materiality Concept – anything that would change a financial statement user’s mind or decision
about the company should be recorded or noted in the financial statements. If a business event
occurred that is so insignificant that an investor or creditor wouldn’t care about it, the event need
not be recorded.

Industry Practices Constraint

Industry Practices Constraint – some industries have unique aspects about their business
operation that don’t conform to traditional accounting standards. Thus, companies in these
industries are allowed to depart from GAAP for specific business events or transactions.

Why Are Accounting Principles Important?

Generally Accepted Accounting Principles are important because they set the rules for reporting
and bookkeeping. These rules, often called the GAAP framework, maintain consistency in
financial reporting from company to company across all industries.

Remember, the entire point of financial accounting is to provide useful information to financial
statement users. If everyone reported their financial information differently, it would be difficult
to compare companies. Accounting principles set the rules for reporting financial information, so
all companies can be compared uniformly.

What is the Purpose of Accounting Principles?

The purpose of accounting principles is to establish the framework for how financial accounting
is recorded and reported on financial statements. When every company follows the same
framework and rules, investors, creditors, and other financial statement users will have an easier
time understanding the reports and making decisions based on them.
Accounting Principles
Obviously, if each business organisation conveys its information in its own way, we will have a
babel of unusable financial data.

Personal systems of accounting may have worked in the days when most companies were owned
by sole proprietors or partners, but they do not anymore, in this era of joint stock companies.

These companies have thousands of stakeholders who have invested millions, and they need a
uniform, standardised system of accounting by which companies can be compared on the basis
of their performance and value.

Therefore, accounting principles based on certain concepts, convention, and tradition have been
evolved by accounting authorities and regulators and are followed internationally.

These principles, which serve as the rules for accounting for financial transactions and preparing
financial statements, are known as the “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles,” or GAAP.

The application of the principles by accountants ensures that financial statements are both
informative and reliable.

It ensures that common practices and conventions are followed, and that the common rules and
procedures are complied with. This observance of accounting principles has helped developed a
widely understood grammar and vocabulary for recording financial statements.

However, it should be said that just as there may be variations in the usage of a language by two
people living in two continents, there may be minor differences in the application of accounting
rules and procedures depending on the accountant.

For example, two accountants may choose two equally correct methods for recording a particular
transaction based on their own professional judgement and knowledge.

Accounting principles are accepted as such if they are (1) objective; (2) usable in practical
situations; (3) reliable; (4) feasible (they can be applied without incurring high costs); and (5)
comprehensible to those with a basic knowledge of finance.

Accounting principles involve both accounting concepts and accounting conventions. Here are
brief explanations.

Accounting Concepts
1. Business entity concept: A business and its owner should be treated separately as far as
their financial transactions are concerned.
2. Money measurement concept: Only business transactions that can be expressed in
terms of money are recorded in accounting, though records of other types of transactions
may be kept separately.
3. Dual aspect concept: For every credit, a corresponding debit is made. The recording of a
transaction is complete only with this dual aspect.
4. Going concern concept: In accounting, a business is expected to continue for a fairly
long time and carry out its commitments and obligations. This assumes that the business
will not be forced to stop functioning and liquidate its assets at “fire-sale” prices.
5. Cost concept: The fixed assets of a business are recorded on the basis of their original
cost in the first year of accounting. Subsequently, these assets are recorded minus
depreciation. No rise or fall in market price is taken into account. The concept applies
only to fixed assets.
6. Accounting year concept: Each business chooses a specific time period to complete a
cycle of the accounting process—for example, monthly, quarterly, or annually—as per a
fiscal or a calendar year.
7. Matching concept: This principle dictates that for every entry of revenue recorded in a
given accounting period, an equal expense entry has to be recorded for correctly
calculating profit or loss in a given period.
8. Realisation concept: According to this concept, profit is recognised only when it is
earned. An advance or fee paid is not considered a profit until the goods or services have
been delivered to the buyer.

Accounting Conventions
There are four main conventions in practice in accounting: conservatism; consistency; full
disclosure; and materiality.

Conservatism is the convention by which, when two values of a transaction are available, the
lower-value transaction is recorded. By this convention, profit should never be overestimated,
and there should always be a provision for losses.

Consistency prescribes the use of the same accounting principles from one period of an
accounting cycle to the next, so that the same standards are applied to calculate profit and loss.

Materiality means that all material facts should be recorded in accounting. Accountants should
record important data and leave out insignificant information.

Full disclosure entails the revelation of all information, both favourable and detrimental to a
business enterprise, and which are of material value to creditors and debtors.

Basic Accounting Terms

Here is a quick look at some important accounting terms.

Accounting equation: The accounting equation, the basis for the double-entry system (see
below), is written as follows:

Assets = Liabilities + Stakeholders’ equity

This means that all the assets owned by a company have been financed from loans from creditors
and from equity from investors. “Assets” here stands for cash, account receivables, inventory,
etc., that a company possesses.

Accounting methods: Companies choose between two methods—cash accounting or accrual

accounting. Under cash basis accounting, preferred by small businesses, all revenues and
expenditures at the time when payments are actually received or sent are recorded. Under accrual
basis accounting, income is recorded when earned and expenses are recorded when incurred.

Account receivable: The sum of money owed by your customers after goods or services have
been delivered and/or used.

Account payable: The amount of money you owe creditors, suppliers, etc., in return for goods
and/or services they have delivered.

Accrual accounting: See “accounting methods.”

Assets (fixed and current): Current assets are assets that will be used within one year.

For example, cash, inventory, and accounts receivable (see above). Fixed assets (non-current)
may provide benefits to a company for more than one year—for example, land and machinery.

Balance sheet: A financial report that provides a gist of a company’s assets and liabilities
and owner’s equity at a given time.

Capital: A financial asset and its value, such as cash and goods. Working capital is current
assets minus current liabilities.

Cash accounting: See “accounting methods.”

Cash flow statement: The cash flow statement of a business shows the balance between the
amount of cash earned and the cash expenditure incurred.

Credit and debit: A credit is an accounting entry that either increases a liability or equity
account, or decreases an asset or expense account. It is entered on the right in an accounting
entry. A debit is an accounting entry that either increases an asset or expense account, or
decreases a liability or equity account. It is entered on the left in an accounting entry.
Double-entry bookkeeping: Under double-entry bookkeeping, every transaction is recorded in
at least two accounts—as a credit in one account and as a debit in another.

For example, an automobile repair shop that collects Rs. 10,000 in cash from a customer enters
this amount in the revenue credit side and also in the cash debit side. If the customer had been
given credit, “account receivable” (see above) would have been used instead of “cash.” (Also see
“single-entry bookkeeping,” below.)

Financial statement: A financial statement is a document that reveals the financial transactions
of a business or a person. The three most important financial statements for businesses are the
balance sheet, cash flow statement, and profit and loss statement (all three listed here

General ledger: A complete record of financial transactions over the life of a company.

Journal entry: An entry in the journal that records financial transactions in the chronological

Profit and loss statement (income statement): A financial statement that summarises a
company’s performance by reviewing revenues, costs and expenses during a specific period.

Single-entry bookkeeping: Under the single-entry bookkeeping, mainly used by small or

businesses, incomes and expenses are recorded through daily and monthly summaries of cash
receipts and disbursements. (Also see “double-entry bookkeeping,” above.)

Types of accounting: Financial accounting reports information about a company’s performance

to investors and credits. Management accounting provides financial data to managers for
business development
12 Basic Accounting Principles – GAAP

Understanding the twelve basic accounting principles that is very important as it affects the
preparation of financial statements. The following accounting rules and assumptions dictate
what, when and how to measure financial items.

These rules were created by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and are called
Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). GAAP refers to the standard guidelines for
financial accounting used in any given jurisdiction. GAAP includes the standards, conventions,
and rules accountants follow in preparing and reporting financial statements.

List of 12 Basic Accounting Principles

1. Accounting Entity – is the business unit for which the financial statements are being

prepared. The accounting entity recognizes that

there is a business entity that is separate from its owner(s). In addition, the economic unit
engages in identifiable economic activities and controls economic resources.
2. Going Concern – Accounts assume that the life of the business entity is infinitely long
and will never dissipate. In some cases, if there is a clear sign that a business may go
bankrupt, the accountant must issue a qualified opinion stating the potential of a demise.
3. Measurement – Accounting only deals with things that can be measured, quantifiable.
Therefore, aspects that are crucial to profits may be overlooked such as customer loyalty.
4. Units of Measure – The US Dollar (USD) is the standard value used in financial
statements for companies in the United States. Any foreign transactions must be
translated to USD based on the current exchange rate.
5. Historical Cost – The transactions that results in what a business owns and owes are
recorded at their original cost. This may cause the company’s books to be
understated. For example, a company can own a manufacturing facility that is valued at
$25,000,000 but carry it on the books for their purchase price of $7,000,000.
6. Materiality – The concept of materiality allows you to violate another accounting
principle if the value is so tiny that the financial reports will not have an impact.
Materiality is a judgment call by the accountant.
7. Estimates and Judgments – Often times, it is okay to guess due to the nature that
businesses are complex. It is legal, if the accounting is the best you can do, the expected
error would not affect the financial reports and the “guesses” are consistent for each
8. Consistency – Each individual enterprise must choose a single method of accounting and
reporting consistently over time.
9. Conservatism – Accountants must agree more with an understatement than an
overvaluation. This accounting guideline states that if doubt exists between two
alternatives, the accountant should choose the result with a lesser asset amount and/or a
lesser profit.
10. Periodicity – Is the activity within the scope of an accounting period that must be
recorded within the time period on a financial statement. Normally the life of a business
can be divided into periods of time (month, quarter or year).
11. Substance Over Form – This is a concept where the entity is accounting for items
according to their substance and economic reality and not just its form.
12. Accrual Basis of Presentation – In accrual accounting, if a business transaction makes
money in a period then all of its associated costs and business expenses should also be
reported in that particular period. All businesses with inventory must use the accrual
basis. The alternative for business that don’t carry inventory is “cash basis” accounting in
which transactions are recorded as they are physically received or paid out.