What is Extraordinary Item

An extraordinary item consists of gains or losses included on a company's income statement from events that are unusual and infrequent in nature. Extraordinary items are usually explained further in the notes to the financial statements, and they are the result of unforeseen and atypical events. Companies show an extraordinary item separately from their operating earnings because it is typically recorded as a one-time charge or income, and it is not expected to recur in the future.

BREAKING DOWN Extraordinary Item

Extraordinary items, also referred to as non-recurring items, represent income or loss from extraordinary events and transactions that must be separately classified, presented, and disclosed on companies' financial statements. Before 2015, companies put a lot of effort into determining if a particular event should be deemed extraordinary. Gains and losses net of taxes from extraordinary items had to be shown separately on the income statement after income from continuing operations. However, in January 2015, U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) were changed, and the concept of extraordinary items was eliminated to reduce the cost and complexity of preparing financial statements. Companies must still disclose infrequent and unusual events but now without designating them as extraordinary.

Definition of an Extraordinary Item

An event or transaction is deemed extraordinary if it is both unusual and infrequent. An unusual event must be highly abnormal and unrelated to the typical operating activities of a company, and it should be reasonably expected not to recur going forward. It was common for some businesses to not have this line item presented for years. 

Besides segregating the effect of extraordinary items on the income statement, companies were required to estimate income taxes from these items and disclose their earnings-per-share (EPS) impact. Examples of extraordinary items are losses from various catastrophic events, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and wildfires. While designating and estimating the effect from certain extraordinary events (e.g., fires) was easy, other events with an indirect effect on companies' operations were much more difficult for chief financial officers (CFO) to assess.

Elimination of Extraordinary Item Concept

In January 2015, a new accounting standards update eliminated the idea of extraordinary items. This alleviated the need for companies and their auditors and regulators to assess if an extraordinary item had been classified and disclosed appropriately starting in the fiscal year of 2015. Also, companies are no longer required to evaluate the income tax effect of extraordinary items and present an EPS effect. This accounting update left reporting and disclosure requirements for unusual and infrequent events or transactions intact. While companies no longer must entitle events and their effects as extraordinary, they still have to disclose infrequent and unusual events on the income statement and their effect before income taxes. Also, GAAP allows companies to give these events more specific names, such as "Effects From Fire at Production Facility."  The International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) do not include extraordinary items in their accounting practices.