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Accounting Principles

If financial accounting is going to be useful, a company’s reports need to be credible, easy to understand, and comparable to those of other companies. To this end, financial accounting follows a set of common rules known as accounting standards or generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP, pronounced “gap”).

GAAP is based on some basic underlying principles and concepts such as the cost principle, matching principle, full disclosure, going concern, economic entity, conservatism, relevance, and reliability. (You can learn more about the basic principles in Explanation of Accounting Principles.)

GAAP, however, is not static. It includes some very complex standards that were issued in response to some very complicated business transactions. GAAP also addresses accounting practices that may be unique to particular industries, such as utility, banking, and insurance. Often these practices are a response to changes in government regulations of the industry.

GAAP includes many specific pronouncements as issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB, pronounced “fas-bee”). The FASB is a non-government group that researches current needs and develops accounting rules to meet those needs. (You can learn more about FASB and its accounting pronouncements at www.FASB.org.)

In addition to following the provisions of GAAP, any corporation whose stock is publicly traded is also subject to the reporting requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), an agency of the U.S. government. These requirements mandate an annual report to stockholders as well as an annual report to the SEC. The annual report to the SEC requires that independent certified public accountants audit a company’s financial statements, thus giving assurance that the company has followed GAAP.