A Crash Course On Understanding Financial Statements

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Businesses operate to achieve various goals. To meet these goals a business must achieve two primary objectives: To earn a satisfactory profit and to remain solvent (be able to pay its debts). If a business fails to meet either of these primary objectives, it will not be able to survive in the long run.

Financial statements are accounting reports used to summarize and communicate financial information about a business. Three major financial statements – the income statement, the statement of changes in financial position, and the balance sheet – are used to report information about the business’s primary objectives. These financial statements are the end result of the accounting process. Each of them summarizes certain information that has been identified, measured, recorded, and retained during the accounting process.

Income Statement: An income statement is a financial statement summarizing the results of a business’s earnings activities for a specific period of time. It shows the revenues, expenses, and net income (or net loss) of the business for this period. Revenues are the prices charged to the business’s customers for goods and services provided. Expenses are the costs of providing the goods or services. The net income is the excess of revenues over expenses; a net loss arises when expenses are greater than revenues.

Statement of Changes in Financial Position: A statement of changes in financial position is a financial statement summarizing the results of a business’s financing and investing activities for a specific time period. The results of the business’s financing activities are shown in a “Sources” section of the statement; this section includes sources from operations and other sources.

Balance Sheet: A balance sheet summarizes a business’s financial position on a given date. It is alternatively called a statement of financial position. A balance sheet lists the business’s assets, liabilities, and owner’s equity.

Assets: Assets are the economic resources of a business that are expected to provide future benefits to the business. A business may own many assets, some of which are physical in nature, such as land, buildings, supplies to be used in the business, and goods (inventory) that the business expects to sell to its customers. Other assets do not possess physical characteristics, but are economic resources because of the legal rights they convey to the business. These assets include amounts owed by customers to the business (accounts receivable), the right to insurance protection (prepaid insurance), and investments made in other businesses.

Liabilities: Liabilities are the economic obligations (debts) of a business. The external parties to whom the economic obligations are owed are referred to as the creditors of the business. Usually, although not exclusively, legal documents serve as evidence of liabilities. These documents establish a claim (equity) by the creditors (the creditors’ equity) against the assets of the business. Liabilities include such items as amounts owed to suppliers (accounts payable), amounts owed to employees for wages (wages payable), taxes payable, and mortgages owed on the business’s property. A business ‘may also borrow money from a bank on a short or long-term basis by signing a legal document called a note, which specifies the terms of the loan. Amounts of such loans would be listed as notes payable.

Owner’s Equity: The owner’s equity of a business is the owner’s current investment in the assets of the business. For a partnership, the owner’s equity might be referred to as the partners’ equity; for a corporation, stockholders’ equity. The owner’s equity is affected by the capital invested in the business by the owner, by the business’s earnings from its operations, and by withdrawals of capital by the owner of the business.


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