Other Characteristics of Accounting Information

When financial reports are generated by professional accountants, we have certain expectations of the information they present to us:

We expect the accounting information to be reliable, verifiable, and objective.
We expect consistency in the accounting information.
We expect comparability in the accounting information.
1. Reliable, Verifiable, and Objective

In addition to the basic accounting principles and guidelines listed in Part 1, accounting information should be reliable, verifiable, and objective. For example, showing land at its original cost of $10,000 (when it was purchased 50 years ago) is considered to be more reliable, verifiable, and objective than showing it at its current market value of $250,000. Eight different accountants will wholly agree that the original cost of the land was $10,000—they can read the offer and acceptance for $10,000, see a transfer tax based on $10,000, and review documents that confirm the cost was $10,000. If you ask the same eight accountants to give you the land’s current value, you will likely receive eight different estimates. Because the current value amount is less reliable, less verifiable, and less objective than the original cost, the original cost is used.

The accounting profession has been willing to move away from the cost principle if there are reliable, verifiable, and objective amounts involved. For example, if a company has an investment in stock that is actively traded on a stock exchange, the company may be required to show the current value of the stock instead of its original cost.

2. Consistency

Accountants are expected to be consistent when applying accounting principles, procedures, and practices. For example, if a company has a history of using the FIFO cost flow assumption, readers of the company’s most current financial statements have every reason to expect that the company is continuing to use the FIFO cost flow assumption. If the company changes this practice and begins using the LIFO cost flow assumption, that change must be clearly disclosed.

3. Comparability

Investors, lenders, and other users of financial statements expect that financial statements of one company can be compared to the financial statements of another company in the same industry. Generally accepted accounting principles may provide for comparability between the financial statements of different companies. For example, the FASB requires that expenses related to research and development (R&D) be expensed when incurred. Prior to its rule, some companies expensed R&D when incurred while other companies deferred R&D to the balance sheet and expensed them at a later date.

How Principles and Guidelines Affect Financial Statements

The basic accounting principles and guidelines directly affect the way financial statements are prepared and interpreted. Let’s look below at how accounting principles and guidelines influence the (1) balance sheet, (2) income statement, and (3) the notes to the financial statements.

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