Key Differences Between GAAP and IFRS

The differences between International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and GAAP are numerous. International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are principles-based accounting Standards, Interpretations and Framework adopted by the International Accounting Standard Board (IASB). Many of the standards forming part of IFRS are known by the older name of International Accounting Standards (IAS). Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) is a term used to refer to the standard framework of guidelines for financial accounting used in any given jurisdiction which are generally known as Accounting Standards. GAAP includes the standards, conventions, and rules accountants follow in recording and summarizing transactions, and in the preparation of financial statement.

GAAP and IFRS differ in key ways, including their fundamental premise. At the highest level, GAAP is more of a rules-based system, whereas IFRS is more principles-based. Under GAAP, voluminous guidance attempts to address nearly every conceivable accounting problem that might arise. And if that guidance doesn’t exist, it generally is created. On the other hand, IFRS is a far shorter volume of principles-based standards, and consequently requires more judgment than accountants are accustomed to.

The balance sheet items that differ between International Financial Reporting Standards and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles will be addressed first. Balance sheet items include assets (inventory, property, plant and equipment), liabilities (accounts payable and other amounts owed) and equity (ownership interest, usually in the form of stock).

Inventory is any item available for sale or used in the production of an item that will be sold. In valuing this inventory, GAAP allows for First-In-First-Out, Last-In-First-Out, Moving Average and Weighted Average. These are the four main methods used. IFRS does not allow the LIFO method. In times of increasing prices and costs, inventory profits may result from using and inventory valuation method other than LIFO. These “inventory profits” result in improved reported earnings, but because the inventory profits are taxed, they reduce a company’s net cash flow. Depending on the system used, inventory values, profits and taxes can be affected.

Asset retirement during the production of inventory is accounted for as a cost of the inventory using IFRS rules. Whereas, GAAP allows for it to be added to the carrying amount of the property, plant or equipment used to produce the inventory. With IFRS this cost will stay with the balance sheet. GAAP would move it to depreciation which lowers earnings but increases free cash flow.

A write-down of an asset is reducing the book value if it is overstated compared to current market values. If a need arises to reverse a write-down, IFRS allows it and GAAP does not. GAAP does not allow the revaluation of property, plant and equipment. It uses historical cost. IFRS, on the other hand, allows either historical cost or revalued amount (fair value at date of revaluation less subsequent accumulated depreciation and impairment losses).

The rules concerning residual value have some differences too. Residual value is the amount you expect to be able to sell a fixed asset for at the end of its useful life. IFRS calculates it as the current net selling price and it may be adjusted upwards or downwards. GAAP calculates it as the discounted present value and it may only be adjusted downward.

Next, items such as depreciation and leases will be addressed. Since these items are expenses, they will affect the income statement. Depreciation is an expense that reduces the value of an asset as a result of wear and tear, age or obsolescence. IFRS requires more work when depreciating items. Depreciation of assets with differing patterns must be depreciated separately. This means that each item would have to be accounted for separately. GAAP allows this but it is not required. With GAAP, all the depreciation would be able to be grouped together and listed as a total requiring fewer entries. When capitalizing an asset, GAAP only allows interest. IFRS includes interest, certain ancillary costs and exchange differences that are regarded as an adjustment of interest. Being able to include these costs will increase the value of the asset and provide for more depreciation.

Land and building leases is another topic where differences occur. IFRS considers land and building separately and GAAP considers them as a single unit unless land represents more than 25% of the total fair value.

A couple of other items worth mentioning are contingent assets and extraordinary items. Contingent assets are assets in which the possibility of an economic benefit depends solely upon future events that can’t be controlled by the company. Due to the uncertainty of the future events, these assets are not placed on the balance sheet. However, they can be found in the company’s financial statement notes. These assets, which are often simply rights to a future potential claim, are based on past events. An example might be a potential settlement from a lawsuit. The company does not have enough certainty to place the settlement value on the balance sheet, so it can only talk about the potential in the notes. IFRS does not recognize contingent assets, GAAP does.

Extraordinary items include the sale of the subsidiary or the payment of a lawsuit. Extraordinary items are a liability that is unusual or infrequent in its occurrence. IFRS prohibits extraordinary items and GAAP allows them. Although rare and infrequent, extraordinary items can be substantial and being able to include them can have an impact on your financial statements.

As you may be able to tell, both accounting standards have their advantages and disadvantages where compared to the other. There are some items in which benefits are drawn from IFRS and others that GAAP provides. There is an ongoing effort to address the differences and come to a consensus. At some point, the two different set of rules may be combined into one universal system.

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