The United States Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, requires publicly traded firms to file a series of important financial forms.  This is to keep firms honest and also to provide the investing public and shareholders with vital information to keep tabs on their investments.  Below is an overview of the top SEC forms that firms must file.  Importantly for investors, once they file, their forms are available online within minutes.


The 10-K filing is essentially an annual report issued by a company.  In fact, these days many firms will simply use the 10-K as the annual report they send out to shareholders.  As you might have guessed, it includes a detailed summary of the firm’s results over its latest fiscal year.  The form is due to be filed with the SEC within 60 days of the end of the fiscal year for most firms.

The major sections of the 10-K filing include a summary of the business, risk factors that affect the company and its operations, management’s discussion and analysis of financial condition and results of operations (also referred to as MD&A), and a detail of all the financial statements (income statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement, etc.)     


The 10- Q filing can be thought of as an abbreviated 10-K filing and summarizes a firm’s operations by quarter.  For a company’s first three quarters of its fiscal year, it will file a 10-Q and the final fourth quarter will be summarized in the 10-K.  The 10-Q is due to be filed with the SEC within 40 days of quarter end for most firms.

The main sections of this report are the key financial statements, MD&A, and risk factors.  The 10-K is much more detailed for learning about a firm’s operations but should be supplemented with a review of the 10-Q, especially to stay current on its results once the fiscal year has ended.


When a firm first goes public, it will issue an S-1 prospectus to investors.  This is an extremely important form for investors because public information is scant for firms in the early stages of going public.  In fact, it can provided an investors with an edge as it usually takes time for financial websites to find the financial statements for new firms and post them for most investors to see. 

An S-1 is similar to a 10-K in that an overview of the business is available, as is a summary of its most recent results and financial statements.  Risk factors are also included, as are initial details of how many shares will be issued and what earnings per share will likely be based on shares outstanding.  


If you’ve ever wondered how investors know what stocks famous money managers hold, wonder no more.  The 13F form must be filed by institutional investment managers within 45 days of a quarter end and includes a detail of the investments they hold.  The holdings of Warren Buffett (though he gets to delay his filings), George Soros, Bill Ackman, and even Bill Gates can be found in a 13F filing each quarter.

20-F (L7)

The 20-F filing is simply an annual report filed by a firm that has its headquarters outside of the United States.  It is basically the same as a 10-K filing, but has great detail on how a firm’s financial statements might differ between international reporting standards (such as IFRS) and U.S. GAAP.  The rub is the filing is due within six months of the foreign firm’s fiscal year end, which may make the data somewhat stale, but still provides insight that many investors might not know about.

Where to Find SEC Filings

Logically, all SEC filings can be found at the SEC website,  However, this is not always the easiest place to locate a company’s filings.  Publicly traded firms will almost certainly maintain an investor relations tab under their websites.  Here, most filings are categorized by quarter, year, and topic.  The type is also more widely available and can include a word document, adobe pdf file, or Excel file for key financial statements.

Bottom Line

Knowing how to navigate important SEC filings can provide investors an edge when looking for profitable investment opportunities.  More astute investors can look for the more obscure SEC forms for a further edge.

At the time of writing, Ryan C. Fuhrmann did not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.

Want to learn how to invest?

Get a free 10 week email series that will teach you how to start investing.

Delivered twice a week, straight to your inbox.