What Is Comprehensive Income?

Comprehensive income is the variation in a company's net assets from non-owner sources during a specific period.

Key Takeaways

  • Comprehensive income represents the changes to owners' equity that originate from non-owner sources and traditional income.
  • Comprehensive income includes adjustments made to the prices of securities held for sale by the firm and/or derivatives used to hedge such positions, foreign currency exchange rate changes, and adjustments to pension liabilities.
  • Comprehensive income and how it is accounted for will usually appear in the footnotes to a company's financial statements.
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Comprehensive Income

Understanding Comprehensive Income

Comprehensive income includes net income and unrealized income, such as unrealized gains or losses on hedge/derivative financial instruments and foreign currency transaction gains or losses. It provides a holistic view of a company's income not fully captured on the income statement.

Income excluded from the income statement is reported under "accumulated other comprehensive income" of the shareholders' equity section. The purpose of comprehensive income is to include a total of all operating and financial events that affect non-owners' interests in a business.

In business, comprehensive income includes unrealized gains and losses on available-for-sale investments. It also includes cash flow hedges, which can change in value depending on the securities' market value, and debt securities transferred from 'available for sale' to 'held to maturity', which may also incur unrealized gains or losses. Gains or losses can also be incurred from foreign currency translation adjustments and in pensions and/or post-retirement benefit plans.

Comprehensive income excludes owner-caused changes in equity, such as the sale of stock or purchase of Treasury shares. Income from non-owner sources results in an increase in the value of the company, but since it is not from the ongoing operations of the company's normal line of business, it is inappropriate to include it in the traditional income statements

Commonly, a standard comprehensive income (CI) statement is attached under a separate heading at the bottom of the income statement, or it will be included as footnotes. The net income from the income statement is transferred to the CI statement and adjusted further to account for non-owner activities. The final figure is transferred to the balance sheet under "accumulated other comprehensive income."

Comprehensive income may report amounts per month, quarter, or year. 

Comprehensive Income in Financial Statements

One of the most important financial statements is the income statement. It provides an overview of revenues and expenses, including taxes and interest. At the end of the income statement is net income; however, net income only recognizes incurred or earned income and expenses. Sometimes companies, especially large firms, realize gains or losses from fluctuations in the value of certain assets. The results of these events are captured on the cash flow statement; however, the net impact to earnings is found under "comprehensive" or "other comprehensive income" on the income statement.

Aside from the income statement, comprehensive income is also included in the statement of comprehensive income. Both cover the same time period, but the statement of comprehensive income has two major sections: net income (derived from the income statement) and other comprehensive income (e.g., hedges).

At the end of the statement is the comprehensive income total, which is the sum of net income and other comprehensive income. In some circumstances, companies combine the income statement and statement of comprehensive income into one statement. However, a company with other comprehensive income will typically file this form separately. This statement is not required if a company does not meet the criteria to classify income as comprehensive income.

Comprehensive Income Examples

Consider an example in which a co-worker wins the lottery. The lottery winnings are considered part of their taxable or comprehensive income but not regular earned income. This is because the lottery winnings are unrelated to their work or occupation, but still must be accounted for.

Another example would be a stock investment that company A makes in company B. This transaction is recorded on company A's balance sheet at the purchase price and is carried forward at this price until the stock is sold. However, if the stock price were to appreciate then the balance sheet entry would be erroneous. Comprehensive income would rectify this by adjusting it to the prevailing market value of that stock and stating the difference (gain in this instance) in the equity section of the balance sheet.