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Table of Contents

GAAP vs. IFRS: What's the Difference?

GAAP vs. IFRS: An Overview

The standards that govern financial reporting and accounting vary from country to country. In the United States, financial reporting practices are set forth by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and organized within the framework of the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Generally accepted accounting principles refer to a common set of accepted accounting principles, standards, and procedures that companies and their accountants must follow when they compile their financial statements.

International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are a set of international accounting standards, which state how particular types of transactions and other events should be reported in financial statements. IFRS are issued by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), and they specify exactly how accountants must maintain and report their accounts. IFRS was established in order to have a common accounting language, so business and accounts can be understood from company to company and country to country.

More than 144 countries around the world have adopted IFRS, which aims to establish a common global language for company accounting affairs. While the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has openly expressed a desire to switch from GAAP to IFRS, development has been slow.

Key Takeaways

  • GAAP is a common set of accepted accounting principles, standards, and procedures that companies and their accountants must follow when they compile their financial statements.
  • GAAP stands for Generally Accepted Financial Practices, and it's based in the U.S.
  • IFRS is a set of international accounting standards, which state how particular types of transactions and other events should be reported in financial statements.
  • Some accountants consider methodology to be the primary difference between the two systems; GAAP is rules-based and IFRS is principles-based.
  • Recently, there have been some efforts to transition all financial reporting to the IFRS standard.

GAAP

If a company distributes its financial statements outside of the company, GAAP must be followed. If a corporation's stock is publicly traded, financial statements must also adhere to rules established by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

GAAP addresses such things as revenue recognition, balance sheet, item classification, and outstanding share measurements. If a financial statement is not prepared using GAAP, investors should be cautious. Also, some companies may use both GAAP- and non-GAAP-compliant measures when reporting financial results. GAAP regulations require that non-GAAP measures are identified in financial statements and other public disclosures, such as press releases.

IFRS

The point of IFRS is to maintain stability and transparency throughout the financial world. IFRS enables the ability to see exactly what has been happening with a company and allows businesses and individual investors to make educated financial decisions.

IFRS is standard in the European Union (EU) and many countries in Asia and South America, but not in the United States. The Securities and Exchange Commission won't switch to International Financial Reporting Standards in the near term but will continue reviewing a proposal to allow IFRS information to supplement U.S. financial filings. 

Countries that benefit the most from the standards are those that conduct a lot of international business and investing.

Key Differences

The primary difference between the two systems is that GAAP is rules-based and IFRS is principles-based. This disconnect manifests itself in specific details and interpretations. Basically, IFRS guidelines provide much less overall detail than GAAP. Consequently, the theoretical framework and principles of the IFRS leave more room for interpretation and may often require lengthy disclosures on financial statements. On the other hand, the consistent and intuitive principles of IFRS are more logically sound and may possibly better represent the economics of business transactions.

Perhaps the most notable specific difference between GAAP and IFRS involves their treatment of inventory. IFRS rules ban the use of last-in, first-out (LIFO) inventory accounting methods. GAAP rules allow for LIFO. Both systems allow for the first-in, first-out method (FIFO) and the weighted average-cost method. GAAP does not allow for inventory reversals, while IFRS permits them under certain conditions.

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Some Key Differences Between IFRS and GAAP

What Is the Difference Between the IASB and FASB?

The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), founded in 2001 and based in Canary Wharf (England) oversees and updates the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) establishes and updates the accounting rules for the GAAP standard in the U.S.

What Is the Difference in Accounting for Investments Using U.S. GAAP vs IFRS?

When a company holds investments such as shares, bonds, or derivatives on its balance sheet, it must account for them and their changes in value. Both GAAP and IFRS require investments to be segregated into discrete categories based on asset type. The main differences come in recognizing income or profits from an investment: under GAAP it's largely dependent on the legal form of the asset or contract; under IFRS the legal form is irrelevant and only depends on when cash flows are received.

Which Is Better: IFRS or GAAP?

This is a matter of perspective. IFRS is more principles-based, while GAAP is rules-based. A focus on principles may be more attractive to some as it captures the essence of a transaction more accurately. In practice, however, since much of the world uses the IFRS standard, a convergence to IFRS could have advantages for international corporations and investors alike.

How Are Expenditures Related to Research & Development Treated Under U.S. GAAP vs. IFRS?

Research & development, or R&D, is a large expense in many industry sectors. Under GAAP R&D expenses are booked as they occur. This is true under IFRS as well, however, IFRS also requires certain R&D expenditures to be capitalized (e.g. some internal costs like prototyping).

Article Sources
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  1. Financial Accounting Standards Board. "About the FASB."

  2. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)."

  3. IFRS Foundation. "About the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB)."

  4. IFRS Foundation. "Why Global Accounting Standards?"

  5. IFRS Foundation. "Use of IFRS Standards Around the World," Page 2.

  6. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Spotlight on Work Plan for Global Accounting Standards."

  7. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "What We Do."

  8. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Financial Reporting Manual: Topic 1 - Registrant's Financial Statements."

  9. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Financial Reporting Manual: Topic 8 - Non-GAAP Measures of Financial Performance, Liquidity, and Net Worth."

  10. IFRS Foundation. "Use of IFRS Standards Around the World," Pages 3-6.

  11. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Working Together to Advance High Quality Information in the Capital Markets."

  12. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "A Comparison of U.S. GAAP and IFRS," Pages 8-11.

  13. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "A Comparison of U.S. GAAP and IFRS," Pages 20-21.

  14. IFRS Foundation. "Who We Are: History."

  15. Ernst & Young. "US GAAP Versus IFRS: The Basics," Pages 22-23.

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