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How to read a Balance Sheet

How to read a Balance Sheet. Quick tutorial on the basics of how to read and understand the balance sheet

 

In financial accounting, a balance sheet or statement of financial position is a summary of the financial balances of a sole proprietorship, a business partnership, a corporation or other business organization, such as an LLC or an LLP. Assets, liabilities and ownership equity are listed as of a specific date, such as the end of its financial year. A balance sheet is often described as a “snapshot of a company’s financial condition”. Of the four basic financial statements, the balance sheet is the only statement which applies to a single point in time of a business’ calendar year.

A standard company balance sheet has three parts: assets, liabilities and ownership equity. The main categories of assets are usually listed first, and typically in order of liquidity. Assets are followed by the liabilities. The difference between the assets and the liabilities is known as equity or the net assets or the net worth or capital of the company and according to the accounting equation, net worth must equal assets minus liabilities.

Another way to look at the same equation is that assets equals liabilities plus owner’s equity. Looking at the equation in this way shows how assets were financed: either by borrowing money (liability) or by using the owner’s money (owner’s equity). Balance sheets are usually presented with assets in one section and liabilities and net worth in the other section with the two sections “balancing.”

A business operating entirely in cash can measure its profits by withdrawing the entire bank balance at the end of the period, plus any cash in hand. However, many businesses are not paid immediately; they build up inventories of goods and they acquire buildings and equipment. In other words: businesses have assets and so they cannot, even if they want to, immediately turn these into cash at the end of each period. Often, these businesses owe money to suppliers and to tax authorities, and the proprietors do not withdraw all their original capital and profits at the end of each period. In other words businesses also have liabilities.

Types

A balance sheet summarizes an organization or individual’s assets, equity and liabilities at a specific point in time. We have two forms of balance sheet. They are the report form and the account form. Individuals and small businesses tend to have simple balance sheets. Larger businesses tend to have more complex balance sheets, and these are presented in the organization’s annual report. Large businesses also may prepare balance sheets for segments of their businesses. A balance sheet is often presented alongside one for a different point in time (typically the previous year) for comparison.

Personal balance sheet

A personal balance sheet lists current assets such as cash in checking accounts and savings accounts, long-term assets such as common stock and real estate, current liabilities such as loan debt and mortgage debt due, or overdue, long-term liabilities such as mortgage and other loan debt. Securities and real estate values are listed at market value rather than at historical cost or cost basis. Personal net worth is the difference between an individual’s total assets and total liabilities.

A small business bump that balance sheet lists current assets such as cash, accounts receivable, and inventory, fixed assets such as land, buildings, and equipment, intangible assets such as patents, and liabilities such as accounts payable, accrued expenses, and long-term debt. Contingent liabilities such as warranties are noted in the footnotes to the balance sheet. The small business’s equity is the difference between total assets and total liabilities.

Public Business Entities balance sheet structure

Guidelines for balance sheets of public business entities are given by the International Accounting Standards Board and numerous country-specific organizations/companys.

Balance sheet account names and usage depend on the organization’s country and the type of organization. Government organizations do not generally follow standards established for individuals or businesses.

If applicable to the business, summary values for the following items should be included in the balance sheet: Assets are all the things the business owns, this will include property, tools, cars, etc.

Assets

  • Current assets
  • Cash and cash equivalents
  • Accounts receivable
  • Inventories
  • Prepaid expenses for future services that will be used within a year
  • Non-current assets (Fixed assets)
  • Property, plant and equipment
  • Investment property, such as real estate held for investment purposes
  • Intangible assets
  • Financial assets (excluding investments accounted for using the equity method, accounts receivables, and cash and cash equivalents)
  • Investments accounted for using the equity method
  • Biological assets, which are living plants or animals. Bearer biological assets are plants or animals which bear agricultural produce for harvest, such as apple trees grown to produce apples and sheep raised to produce wool.

Liabilities

  • Accounts payable
  • Provisions for warranties or court decisions
  • Financial liabilities (excluding provisions and accounts payable), such as promissory notes and corporate bonds
  • Liabilities and assets for current tax
  • Deferred tax liabilities and deferred tax assets
  • Unearned revenue for services paid for by customers but not yet provided

Equity

  • The net assets shown by the balance sheet equals the third part of the balance sheet, which is known as the shareholders’ equity. It comprises:
  • Issued capital and reserves attributable to equity holders of the parent company (controlling interest)
  • Non-controlling interest in equity

Formally, shareholders’ equity is part of the company’s liabilities: they are funds “owing” to shareholders (after payment of all other liabilities); usually, however, “liabilities” is used in the more restrictive sense of liabilities excluding shareholders’ equity. The balance of assets and liabilities (including shareholders’ equity) is not a coincidence. Records of the values of each account in the balance sheet are maintained using a system of accounting known as double-entry bookkeeping. In this sense, shareholders’ equity by construction must equal assets minus liabilities, and are a residual.

Regarding the items in equity section, the following disclosures are required:

Numbers of shares authorized, issued and fully paid, and issued but not fully paid

Par value of shares

Reconciliation of shares outstanding at the beginning and the end of the period

Description of rights, preferences, and restrictions of shares

Treasury shares, including shares held by subsidiaries and associates

Shares reserved for issuance under options and contracts

A description of the nature and purpose of each reserve within owners’ equity

 

About 

Gustavo A Viera is the managing partner of Gustavo A Viera, PA. His experience spans more than 25 years. He started his career in public accounting at PriceWaterHouseCoopers where reached the level senior audit manager. His Fortune 500 experience includes positions as CFO – Latin America Region for both Hewlett Packard and Telefonica of Spain. Gustavo also writes a blog twice a week that addresses trending accounting and tax issues. He is an SBA Advisor and teaches workshops for aspiring entrepreneurs. His office is located at One Alhambra Plaza Floor PH Coral Gables FL 33134, and is admitted to practice in the State of Florida as a licensed Certified Public Accountant. Gus welcomes questions and he can be reached at 786-250-4450.

About the Author

Gustavo VieraGustavo A Viera is the managing partner of Gustavo A Viera, PA. His experience spans more than 25 years. He started his career in public accounting at PriceWaterHouseCoopers where reached the level senior audit manager. His Fortune 500 experience includes positions as CFO - Latin America Region for both Hewlett Packard and Telefonica of Spain. Gustavo also writes a blog twice a week that addresses trending accounting and tax issues. He is an SBA Advisor and teaches workshops for aspiring entrepreneurs. His office is located at One Alhambra Plaza Floor PH Coral Gables FL 33134, and is admitted to practice in the State of Florida as a licensed Certified Public Accountant. Gus welcomes questions and he can be reached at 786-250-4450.View all posts by Gustavo Viera →

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