Accounting Standard Definition: How It Works

Accounting Standard

Investopedia / Ryan Oakley

What Is an Accounting Standard?

An accounting standard is a common set of principles, standards, and procedures that define the basis of financial accounting policies and practices.

Key Takeaways

  • An accounting standard is a set of practices and policies used to systematize bookkeeping and other accounting functions across firms and over time.
  • Accounting standards apply to the full breadth of an entity’s financial picture, including assets, liabilities, revenue, expenses, and shareholders' equity.
  • Banks, investors, and regulatory agencies count on accounting standards to ensure information about a given entity is relevant and accurate.
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GAAP

Understanding Accounting Standards

Accounting standards improve the transparency of financial reporting in all countries. In the United States, the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) form the set of accounting standards widely accepted for preparing financial statements. International companies follow the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), which are set by the International Accounting Standards Board and serve as the guideline for non-U.S. GAAP companies reporting financial statements.

The generally accepted accounting principles are heavily used among public and private entities in the United States. The rest of the world primarily uses IFRS. Multinational entities are required to use these standards. The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) establishes and interprets the international communities' accounting standards when preparing financial statements.

Accounting standards relate to all aspects of an entity’s finances, including assets, liabilities, revenue, expenses, and shareholders' equity. Specific examples of accounting standards include revenue recognition, asset classification, allowable methods for depreciation, what is considered depreciable, lease classifications, and outstanding share measurement.

The American Institute of Accountants, which is now known as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and the New York Stock Exchange attempted to launch the first accounting standards in the 1930s. Following this attempt came the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which created the Securities and Exchange Commission. Accounting standards have also been established by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board for accounting principles for all state and local governments.

Accounting standards specify when and how economic events are to be recognized, measured, and displayed. External entities, such as banks, investors, and regulatory agencies, rely on accounting standards to ensure relevant and accurate information is provided about the entity. These technical pronouncements have ensured transparency in reporting and set the boundaries for financial reporting measures.

U.S. GAAP Accounting Standards

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants developed, managed, and enacted the first set of accounting standards. In 1973, these responsibilities were given to the newly created Financial Accounting Standards Board. The Securities and Exchange Commission requires all listed companies to adhere to U.S. GAAP accounting standards in the preparation of their financial statements to be listed on a U.S. securities exchange.

Accounting standards ensure the financial statements from multiple companies are comparable. Because all entities follow the same rules, accounting standards make the financial statements credible and allow for more economic decisions based on accurate and consistent information.

Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB)

An independent nonprofit organization, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has the authority to establish and interpret generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in the United States for public and private companies and nonprofit organizations. GAAP refers to a set of standards for how companies, nonprofits, and governments should prepare and present their financial statements.

Why Are Accounting Standards Useful?

Accounting standards improve the transparency of financial reporting in all countries. They specify when and how economic events are to be recognized, measured, and displayed. External entities, such as banks, investors, and regulatory agencies, rely on accounting standards to ensure relevant and accurate information is provided about the entity. These technical pronouncements have ensured transparency in reporting and set the boundaries for financial reporting measures.

What Are Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)?

In the United States, the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) form the set of accounting standards widely accepted for preparing financial statements. Its aim is to improve the clarity, consistency, and comparability of the communication of financial information. Basically, it is a common set of accounting principles, standards, and procedures issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). Public companies in the United States must follow GAAP when their accountants compile their financial statements.

What Are International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS)?

International companies follow the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), which are set by the International Accounting Standards Board and serve as the guideline for non-U.S. GAAP companies reporting financial statements. They were established to bring consistency to accounting standards and practices, regardless of the company or the country. IFRS is thought to be more dynamic than GAAP in that it is regularly being revised in response to an ever-changing financial environment.

Article Sources
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  1. Financial Accounting Standards Board. "About GAAP." Accessed Dec. 3, 2021.

  2. IFRS Foundation. "About Us." Accessed Dec. 3, 2021.

  3. Governmental Accounting Standards Board. "About the GASB." Accessed Dec. 3, 2021.

  4. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Study Pursuant to Section 108(d) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 on the Adoption by the United States Financial Reporting System of a Principles-Based Accounting System, i. Development of Promulgated Standards." Accessed Dec. 3, 2021.

  5. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "A U.S. Imperative: High-Quality, Globally Accepted Accounting Standards." Accessed Dec. 3, 2021.

  6. Bureau of the Fiscal Service, U.S. Department of the Treasury. "Financial Report of the United States Government." Accessed Dec. 3, 2021.