Every taxpayer (individuals, business entities, etc.) must figure taxable income for an annual accounting period called a tax year. The calendar year is the most common tax year. Other tax years include a fiscal year and a short tax year.
Each taxpayer must use a consistent accounting method, which is a set of rules for determining when to report income and expenses. The most commonly used accounting methods are the cash method and the accrual method.
You must use a tax year to figure your taxable income. A tax year is an annual accounting period for keeping records and reporting income and expenses. An annual accounting period does not include a short tax year (discussed later). You can use the following tax years:
An accounting method is a set of rules used to determine when and how income and expenses are reported on your tax return. Your accounting method includes not only your overall method of accounting, but also the accounting treatment you use for any material item.
This publication does not discuss special methods of accounting for certain items of income or expenses. For information on reporting income using one of the long-term contract methods, see section 460 of the Internal Revenue Code and the related regulations. The following publications also discuss special methods of reporting income or expenses.
Generally, you can use any combination of cash, accrual, and special methods of accounting if the combination clearly reflects your income and you use it consistently. However, the following restrictions apply.
You can account for business and personal items using different accounting methods. For example, you can determine your business income and expenses under an accrual method, even if you use the cash method to figure personal items.
If you operate two or more separate and distinct businesses, you can use a different accounting method for each business. No business is separate and distinct, unless a complete and separate set of books and records is maintained for each business.
If you use different accounting methods to create or shift profits or losses between businesses (for example, through inventory adjustments, sales, purchases, or expenses) so that income is not clearly reflected, the businesses will not be considered separate and distinct.
Most individuals and many small businesses (as explained under Excluded Entities and Exceptions, later) use the cash method of accounting. Generally, if you produce, purchase, or sell merchandise, you must keep an inventory and use an accrual method for sales and purchases of merchandise. See Inventories, later, for exceptions to this rule.
A corporation or partnership that fails to meet the gross receipts test for any tax year cannot use the cash method and must change to an accrual method of accounting, effective for the tax year in which the entity fails to meet this test. The entity must file Form 3115 to request the change. See the Instructions for Form 3115.
A corporation meets the function test if at least 95% of its activities are in the performance of services in the fields of health (including veterinary services), law, engineering (including surveying and mapping), architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, or consulting.
A corporation that fails to meet the function test for any tax year; or fails to meet the ownership test at any time during any tax year must change to an accrual method of accounting, effective for the year in which the corporation fails to meet either test. A corporation that fails to meet the function test or the ownership test is not treated as a qualified PSC for any part of that tax year.
Under an accrual method of accounting, you generally report income in the year it is earned and deduct or capitalize expenses in the year incurred. The purpose of an accrual method of accounting is to match income and expenses in the correct year.
Generally, you report an advance payment for goods, services, or other items as income in the year you receive the payment. However, if you use an accrual method of accounting, you can elect to postpone including the advance payment in income until the next year. However, you cannot postpone including any payment beyond that tax year.
The election to defer advance payments is effective for the tax year that it is first made and for all subsequent tax years unless you receive consent to revoke the election. You must file Form 3115 to obtain IRS approval to change your method of accounting for advance payment for services. See Form 3115 and the Instructions for Form 3115.
If you receive advance payments for the sale of inventory, you may elect to use the advance payment cost offset method. If elected, this method of accounting applies to all advance payments received in your trade or business that satisfy the criteria. See Regulations section 1.451-8(e) for the criteria and other information related to this optional cost offset method.
Costs directly associated with the revenue of a period are properly allocable to that period. To determine whether the accrual of an expense in a particular year results in a better match with the income to which it relates, generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) are an important factor.
Business expenses and interest owed to a related person who uses the cash method of accounting are not deductible until you make the payment and the corresponding amount is includible in the related person's gross income. Determine the relationship for this rule as of the end of the tax year for which the expense or interest would otherwise be deductible. See section 267 of the Internal Revenue Code for the definition of related person.
An inventory is necessary to clearly show income when the production, purchase, or sale of merchandise is an income-producing factor. If you must account for an inventory in your business, you must use an accrual method of accounting for your purchases and sales. However, see Exception for Small Business Taxpayers, below. Also, see Accrual Method, earlier.
If you are a small business taxpayer (defined below), you can choose not to keep an inventory, but you must still use a method of accounting for inventory that clearly reflects income. A small business taxpayer can account for inventory by (a) treating the inventory as non-incidental materials and supplies, or (b) conforming to its treatment of inventory in an applicable financial statement (as defined in section 451(b)(3)). If it does not have an applicable financial statement, it can use the method of accounting used in its books and records prepared according to its accounting procedures. See Regulations section 1.471-1(b). If, however, you choose to keep an inventory, you generally must use an accrual method of accounting and value the inventory each year to determine your cost of goods sold.
You can figure the cost of goods on hand by either a perpetual or book inventory if inventory is kept by following sound accounting practices. Inventory accounts must be charged with the actual cost of goods purchased or produced and credited with the value of goods used, transferred, or sold. Credits must be determined on the basis of the actual cost of goods acquired during the year and their inventory value at the beginning of the tax year.
Tangible personal property includes films, sound recordings, video tapes, books, artwork, photographs, or similar property containing words, ideas, concepts, images, or sounds. However, freelance authors, photographers, and artists are exempt from the uniform capitalization rules if they qualify.
Qualified creative expenses are expenses paid or incurred by a freelance (self-employed) writer, photographer, or artist whose personal efforts create (or can reasonably be expected to create) certain properties. These expenses do not include expenses related to printing, photographic plates, motion picture films, video tapes, or similar items.
Generally, you can choose any permitted accounting method when you file your first tax return. You do not need to obtain IRS approval to choose the initial accounting method. You must, however, use the method consistently from year to year and it must clearly reflect your income. See Accounting Methods, earlier.
In general, you must file a current Form 3115 to request a change in either an overall accounting method or the accounting treatment of any item. There are some instances when you can obtain automatic consent from the IRS to change to certain accounting methods. In other instances, you can file Form 3115 using the non-automatic change request procedures to request an accounting method change.
For more information on making changes in accounting methods, see Form 3115 and the Instructions for Form 3115. See Revenue Procedure 2021-34, 2021-35 I.R.B. 337 (or any successor), available at IRS.gov/irb/2021-35_IRB#REV-PROC-2021-34, for additional procedures that may apply for obtaining automatic consent to change methods of accounting for revenue recognition and certain other methods of accounting that may affect the accounting for revenue recognition. Also see Revenue Procedure 2022-09, 2022-02 I.R.B. 310 (or any successor) available at IRS.gov/irb/2022-02_IRB#REV-PROC-2022-9, for additional procedures that may apply for obtaining automatic consent to change certain methods of accounting related to small businesses.
If you have questions about a tax issue; need help preparing your tax return; or want to download free publications, forms, or instructions, go to IRS.gov and find resources that can help you right away.
After receiving all your wage and earnings statements (Forms W-2, W-2G, 1099-R, 1099-MISC, 1099-NEC, etc.); unemployment compensation statements (by mail or in a digital format) or other government payment statements (Form 1099-G); and interest, dividend, and retirement statements from banks and investment firms (Forms 1099), you have several options to choose from to prepare and file your tax return. You can prepare the tax return yourself, see if you qualify for free tax preparation, or hire a tax professional to prepare your return. 2b1af7f3a8