According to the Federal Register, there were about 90,000 local and state government entities throughout the country in 2022. This number is comprised of towns, counties, cities, special districts, and independent school districts. One of the commonalities these organizations share is their use of modified accrual accounting.
Understanding the Differences Between Cash and Accrual Accounting
Cash basis accounting recognizes transactions upon the exchange of cash. Expenses are not recognized until they are paid, and revenue isn’t recognized until payment has been received. Neither future obligations nor anticipated revenues are recorded in financial statements until the cash transaction has happened.
Accrual accounting treats the recognition of expenses when they are incurred. When it comes to recognizing revenue, it occurs once a business is owed compensation for its contracted complete delivery of products or services. The act of exchanging cash or payment is less important with accrual accounting.
What is Modified Accrual Accounting
This method of accounting merges the directness of cash accounting and some attributes of the more complex but equally useful accrual accounting method to account for transaction differences. One can record modified accrual accounting as each transaction is analyzed and accounted for, hinging primarily on whether an asset is short- or long-term, be it how a business recognizes revenue or incurs a liability.
Short Term Versus Long Term
This method is highly dependent on the type of asset in question. When the cash balance has been impacted by a short-term occurrence, such as a sale to a customer or the purchase of raw materials from a vendor, it must be recorded using the cash basis. This is most often recorded on the income statement.
When it comes to events that impact more than one accounting timeframe, it is referred to as long-term. If the debt that is due beyond 12 months or fixed assets are in question, these are considered long-term and must be documented on the balance sheet.
For assets such as fixed long-term debt and fixed assets, which are considered longer-term, they are recorded on the balance sheet. Such assets are then depreciated or amortized over an asset’s lifetime.
Where Modified Accrual is Used
While public companies may use this for financial statements internally, it is not permitted for public financial reporting by generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) or the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). One important consideration for private or public companies is that when the modified cash basis method is used, there is an implicit consideration that transactions recorded on a cash basis will have to be adjusted to an accrual-based accounting to be accepted by third-party auditors.
Since the financial statements submitted to be evaluated by a third-party auditor would not have been 100 percent on an accrual basis, they would fail a third-party audit, creating a crisis of confidence among outside observers. The transition from a cash basis will require less translation to a full accrual basis accounting. However, for non-publicly traded, private businesses, for internally-only used financial statements and/or no financing required, it can be useful.
One important reason this standard is widely used throughout government agencies is because the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) created the standard, and it is recognized as an established metric.
The reason governmental agencies implement this standard is because local and state governments keep their attention on present year fiscal responsibilities. This works with their dual principal purposes. The first is to document in any event if present-year monetary inflows are satisfactory to fund present-year costs. It also satisfies that each government entity can substantiate if government funds are utilized in accordance with the law.
Depending on the type of entity and how they are functioning in the economy, private or public sectors can look at how modified accrual accounting impacts their operations.