Introduction to Accounting Principles
There are general rules and concepts that govern the field of accounting. These general rules–referred to as basic accounting principles and guidelines–form the groundwork on which more detailed, complicated, and legalistic accounting rules are based. For example, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) uses the basic accounting principles and guidelines as a basis for their own detailed and comprehensive set of accounting rules and standards.
The phrase "generally accepted accounting principles" (or "GAAP") consists of three important sets of rules: (1) the basic accounting principles and guidelines, (2) the detailed rules and standards issued ...view middle of the document...
Basic Accounting Principles and Guidelines
Since GAAP is founded on the basic accounting principles and guidelines, we can better understand GAAP if we understand those accounting principles. The following is a list of the ten main accounting principles and guidelines together with a highly condensed explanation of each.
1. Economic Entity Assumption
The accountant keeps all of the business transactions of a sole proprietorship separate from the business owner's personal transactions. For legal purposes, a sole proprietorship and its owner are considered to be one entity, but for accounting purposes they are considered to be two separate entities.
2. Monetary Unit Assumption
Economic activity is measured in U.S. dollars, and only transactions that can be expressed in U.S. dollars are recorded.
Because of this basic accounting principle, it is assumed that the dollar's purchasing power has not changed over time. As a result accountants ignore the effect of inflation on recorded amounts. For example, dollars from a 1960 transaction are combined (or shown) with dollars from a 2013 transaction.
3. Time Period Assumption
This accounting principle assumes that it is possible to report the complex and ongoing activities of a business in relatively short, distinct time intervals such as the five months ended May 31, 2013, or the 5 weeks ended May 1, 2013. The shorter the time interval, the more likely the need for the accountant to estimate amounts relevant to that period. For example, the property tax bill is received on December 15 of each year. On the income statement for the year ended December 31, 2012, the amount is known; but for the income statement for the three months ended March 31, 2013, the amount was not known and an estimate had to be used.
It is imperative that the time interval (or period of time) be shown in the heading of each income statement, statement of stockholders' equity, and statement of cash flows. Labeling one of these financial statements with "December 31" is not good enough–the reader needs to know if the statement covers the one week ended December 31, 2012 the month ended December 31, 2012 the three months ended December 31, 2012 or theyear ended December 31, 2012.
4. Cost Principle
From an accountant's point of view, the term "cost" refers to the amount spent (cash or the cash equivalent) when an item was originally obtained, whether that purchase happened last year or thirty years ago. For this reason, the amounts shown on financial statements are referred to as historical cost amounts.
Because of this accounting principle asset amounts are not adjusted upward for inflation. In fact, as a general rule, asset amounts are not adjusted to reflect any type of increase in value. Hence, an asset amount does not reflect the amount of money a company would receive if it were to sell the asset at today's market value. (An exception is certain investments in stocks and bonds that are actively traded on a...