Sunday, October 25, 2015

Why Financial Statements Are Important: A Beginner's Guide

Accounting is considered to be one of those complicated yet necessary chores that keep people's financial affairs relatively clean. For the beginner who is just getting started, the process may not be the first obstacle. Often, it is understanding the special language used by accountants and those that work around them. In other words, one must wade through the jargon in order to understand what's going on. The first step in gaining understanding of accounting is to break concepts down to one fundamental point: financial statements.

Corporations are extremely fond of financial statements – after all, they are required to have them. Financial statements are, in a broader sense, just timely statements of the financial situation of an organization. They hold companies accountable for how money is earned and spent, down to the very last detail. Financial statements are often audited by external auditors to ensure that the company is handling records properly. This also confirms to third parties that the company is displaying a fair and balanced view of the organization's position. These are also called “cash flow statements”. Like most financial concepts, financial statements can be broken down into several smaller concepts. They are: balance sheets, cash flow statements, and profit and loss accounts.

Cash flow statements is another term for financial statements, but a little more specific. This statement shows exactly where the money goes – how it was made, where it was made, and most importantly, how was it spent. A business, after all, has many areas where money flows in and out: operating activities, investing activities, financing activities.

To clarify, operating activities are the daily internal business a company relies on to survive. This may include, but is not limited to: collecting money from customers, paying employees and vendors, interest and taxes, or even revenue from interest payouts. Investing activities are generally investments made by the company to fund purchases of equipment. Finally, financing activities are those that affect the flow of money directly, such as the sale of common stock or adjustments in long or short-term loans.

These calculations are then used to find the total increase (or decrease) in cash and investments. Fluctuations in operations, investing, or financing affect cash flow. This is called the “net change” in cash and marketable securities. From here, these calculations are checked against the balance sheet.

Wait, a balance sheet? Isn't that what we just did, balance?

No. A balance sheet sums up a company's assets, liabilities, and value at a certain point in time. Investors look to the balance sheet to determine a company's value based on what the company owns and what they owe to external sources. The amount of money invested by the shareholders affects company value in this way as well. The balance sheet follows a specific formula, where assets equal liabilities plus shareholder's equity. It is called a balance sheet because the two sides must balance out; after all, a company must pay for assets by either borrowing the money directly, or through shareholders. The balance sheet is clearly a great source of financial information on a company.

The last line of defense, the profit and loss account, shows the activities of a company during a period of time. This differs from the balance sheet in that a profit and loss account serves as a log of a company's activities over a period of time, while the balance sheet is just the financial position at a specific moment in time. Some value the profit and loss account over the balance sheet, as it marks a longer stretch of time than the balance sheet does.

Once broken down into parts, financial statements are not such a hard topic to handle, even for a beginner. Financial statements expose the practices of a company – while one does not get a specific blueprint of how a company makes or loses money, the end results are clearly displayed for people to see.