An accounting method is a set of rules used to determine when and how income and expenses are reported. You choose an accounting method for your business when you file your first income tax return. There are two basic accounting methods.
- Cash method. Under the cash method, you report income in the tax year you receive it. You usually deduct or capitalize expenses in the tax year you pay them.
- Accrual method. Under an accrual method, you generally report income in the tax year you earn it, even though you may receive payment in a later year. You deduct or capitalize expenses in the tax year you incur them, whether or not you pay them that year.
For other methods, see Publication 538.
If you need inventories to show income correctly, you must generally use an accrual method of accounting for purchases and sales. Inventories include goods held for sale in the normal course of business. They also include raw materials and supplies that will physically become a part of merchandise intended for sale. Inventories are explained in Publication 538.
Tip. Certain small business taxpayers can adopt or change to the cash method of accounting and can choose to not account for inventories. For more information, see Publication 538.
You must use the same accounting method to figure your taxable income and to keep your books. Also, you must use an accounting method that clearly shows your income. In general, any accounting method that consistently uses accounting principles suitable for your trade or business clearly shows income. An accounting method clearly shows income only if it treats all items of gross income and expenses the same from year to year.
More than one business. When you own more than one business, you can use a different accounting method for each business if the method you use for each clearly shows your income. You must keep a complete and separate set of books and records for each business.
Changing your method of accounting. Once you have set up your accounting method, you must get IRS approval before you can change to another method. A change in accounting method not only includes a change in your overall system of accounting, but also a change in the treatment of any material item. For examples of changes that require approval and information on how to get approval for the change, see Publication 538.