What Is a Fiscal Year (FY)?

A fiscal year is a one-year period that companies and governments use for financial reporting and budgeting. A fiscal year is most commonly used for accounting purposes to prepare financial statements. Although a fiscal year can start on January 1st and end on December 31st, not all fiscal years correspond with the calendar year. For example, universities often begin and end their fiscal years according to the school year.

Knowing a company's fiscal year is important to corporations and their investors because it allows them to accurately measure revenue and earnings year-over-year. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows companies to be either calendar year or fiscal year taxpayers.

Key Takeaways

  • A fiscal year is a twelve-month period chosen by a company to report its financial information.
  • Financial reports, external audits, and federal tax filings are based on a company's fiscal year.
  • Companies may choose to report their financial information on a non-calendar fiscal year based on the specific nature and revenue cycle of its business.
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Fiscal Year

Understanding Fiscal Year (FY)

A fiscal year is a period of time lasting one year but not necessarily starting at the beginning of the calendar year. Countries, companies, and organizations can start and end their fiscal years differently, depending on their accounting and external audit practices.

The U.S. federal government's fiscal year runs from October 1st to September 30th. The fiscal year for most nonprofit organizations runs from July 1st to June 30th. Fiscal years that vary from a calendar year are typically chosen due to the specific nature of the business. For example, nonprofit organizations typically align their year with the timing of grant awards.

Fiscal years are referenced by their end date or end year. For example, to reference a nonprofit organization's fiscal year, you may say, "FY 2020" or "fiscal year ending June 30, 2020." Similarly, if you referred to government spending that occurred on Nov. 15, 2019, you would label that as an expenditure for the fiscal year 2020.

According to the IRS, a fiscal year consists of 12 consecutive months ending on the last day of any month except December. Alternatively, instead of observing a 12-month fiscal year, U.S. taxpayers may observe a 52- to 53-week fiscal year. In this case, the fiscal year would end on the same day of the week each year, whichever happens to be closest to a certain date–such as the nearest Saturday to December 31st. This system automatically results in some 52-week fiscal years and some 53-week fiscal years.

Fiscal years are commonly referred to when discussing budgets and are a convenient time period to reference and review a company's or government's financial performance.

IRS Requirements for Fiscal Years

The default IRS system is based on the calendar year, so fiscal-year taxpayers have to make some adjustments to the deadlines for filing certain forms and making payments. While most taxpayers must file by April 15 following the year for which they are filing, fiscal-year taxpayers must file by the 15th day of the fourth month following the end of their fiscal year. For example, a business observing a fiscal year from June 1st to May 31st must submit its tax return by September 15th.

In the United States, eligible businesses can adopt a fiscal year for tax reporting purposes simply by submitting their first income tax return observing that fiscal tax year. At any time, these businesses may elect to change to a calendar year. However, companies that want to change from a calendar year to a fiscal year must get special permission from the IRS or meet one of the criteria outlined on Form 1128, Application to Adopt, Change, or Retain a Tax Year.

Examples of Fiscal Years for Corporations

Investors might ask, "What fiscal year is it?" and it can vary from company to company. Below are 10-K reports from popular companies with fiscal years that don't follow the calendar. A 10-K is an annual report of financial performance that is filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Apple Inc. (AAPL) ends its fiscal year on the last Saturday of September; in 2020, this fell on the 26th.

Apple Fiscal Year Example
Apple Fiscal Year Example.

Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) ends its fiscal year on the last day of June every year.

Microsoft Fiscal Year Example
Microsoft Fiscal Year Example.

Macy's Inc. (M) ends its fiscal year on the fifth Saturday of the new calendar year; in 2021, this date fell on Jan. 30. Many retailers generate a large chunk of their earnings around the holidays, which could explain why Macy's chooses this end date.

Macy's Fiscal Year Example
Macy's Fiscal Year Example.

What Is a Fiscal Year?

A fiscal year spans twelve months and corresponds with a company’s financial reporting periods. Sometimes, a fiscal year may differ from a calendar year. Fiscal years are an important concern for accounting purposes because they are involved in federal tax filings, budgeting, and financial statements. 

What Is an Example of a Fiscal Year?

Consider the fiscal year for the U.S. government, which begins on October 1st and ends on September 30th. Companies that rely on contracts from the government may also structure their fiscal years to end in late September. This is because often budgeting planning from the government will be disclosed and new projects finalized. Conversely, many tech companies experience strong sales volumes during the early months of the year, which can explain why in many cases, their fiscal years will end in late June.

Why Use a Fiscal Year Instead of a Calendar Year?

For companies that operate on a seasonal basis, using a fiscal year may be beneficial. This is because it may provide a more accurate reflection of the company’s operations, allowing for revenues and expenses to better align. For instance, it is common for retail companies to end their fiscal year on January 31st, after the holiday season has ended. Walmart and Target are two primary examples of companies that use this fiscal year.