Which Special Purpose Reporting Framework Should I Use?

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing

Sep 12

You’ve been contacted by your client to prepare their financial statements and issue a compilation report. At first, you think, “I’ll create the financials in accordance with GAAP,” but then you remember there are special purpose reporting framework options. Maybe the cash basis or tax basis is better for your client.

Special Purpose Reporting Frameworks

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Special Purpose Reporting Frameworks

What is a special purpose reporting framework?  It is a reporting framework other than generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) that is one of the following:

  • Cash basis
  • Tax basis
  • Regulatory basis
  • Contractual basis
  • Other basis (as long as the basis uses reasonable, logical criteria that are applied to all material items)

Let’s begin our exploration of special purpose reporting frameworks by examining the simplest basis: the cash basis.

Cash Basis

While a pure cash basis financial statement is the easiest to create, it may be too simple. After all, you only create one financial statement. For example:

ABC Company

Statement of Cash Receipts and Disbursements

For the Year Ended December 31, 2016


Rent                                                                                                                   $XX

Sales                                                                                                                     XX

Other                                                                                                                    XX

Total Receipts                                                                                                     XX


Supplies                                                                                                              XX

Wages                                                                                                                  XX

Utilities                                                                                                               XX

Total Disbursements                                                                                       XX

Increase in Cash                                                                                       XX

Beginning Cash                                                                                             XX

Ending Cash                                                                                                 $XX

Notice there are no accruals and no balance sheet. When the company spends and receives cash, the transaction is recorded; otherwise, there is no entry. So who might benefit from the pure cash basis? The cash basis might be useful for a small nonprofit, a trust, or a student activity fund.

If the cash basis is not an appropriate solution, then consider another special purpose reporting framework: the modified cash basis.

Modified Cash Basis

Using the modified cash basis, you can present a balance sheet, an income statement, and a cash flow statement. It is, however, permissible to create just one statement–such as the income statement–and issue a compilation report. If you present a balance sheet and an income statement, the cash flow statement is optional.

What Modifications to Cash are Permissible?

SSARS 21 defines cash basis as a basis of accounting that the entity uses to record cash receipts and disbursements and modifications of the cash basis having substantial support (for example, recording depreciation on fixed assets). So we see that modifications to the cash basis are permissible under SSARS 21.

A modification to the cash basis is considered to have substantial support if it is equivalent to GAAP and is not illogical. What is an example of an illogical modification? The balance sheet includes accrued receivables but no payables are recorded. If such a presentation were allowed, the company’s financial health would appear stronger than it is.

Difference in Cash Basis and Modified Cash Basis

So how does the modified cash basis differ from the cash basis? Using the modified cash basis, you can record an item on a balance sheet when the transaction involves cash. So if a company loans cash to an outside party, a loan receivable could be recorded on the balance sheet. (If the cash basis is used, the loan is reflected as a disbursement.) The accounting entry for the loan is as follows:

                                                  Dr.      Cr.

Loans Receivable                  XX

Cash                                                    XX

Since cash is a part of the entry, it is okay to record the loan on the balance sheet using the modified cash basis.

But if a company sells inventory on credit it would not record the transaction–no cash is involved in the transaction. The same is true of payables–they are not booked since cash is not a part of the entry. To accrue a payable (amount owed to vendors), the entry is as follows:

                                                 Dr.     Cr.

Supplies Expense                 XX

Accounts Payable                          XX

We do not record the payables on the balance sheet. Why? Because cash is not a part of the entry.

So when a company pays cash for inventory or plant, property, and equipment, then those assets can be reflected on the balance sheet. (Also, plant, property, and equipment can be depreciated.) The same is true when the company obtains a loan–cash is received, so the debt can be recorded on the balance sheet.

Transactions that Should Not be Recorded

What are some examples of transactions that should not be recorded using the modified cash basis? Here are a few:

  • Purchase of assets with a capital lease
  • The receipt of donated equipment
  • The receipt of donated investments
  • Receivables when cash is not loaned (e.g. accounts receivable)
  • Payables when cash is not received (e.g., accounts payable)
  • Accrued interest

Ill-Defined Recognition Criteria

The modifications of the cash basis are not defined in auditing or SSARS guidance. In other words, there is judgment in selecting the modifications. Does this make you uneasy? Is the modified cash basis too ill-defined for you? If yes, you may find the tax basis of accounting a better option.

Tax Basis

In using the tax-basis, the transaction recognition criteria is simpler than that of the modified cash basis of accounting. Just ask, “Is this transaction recognized on the tax return?”

What financial statements can be presented using the tax basis? You can present just one financial statement (e.g., balance sheet), or you can present the balance sheet (referred to as the statement of assets, liabilities, and equity-tax basis) and the income statement–with or without the cash flow statement.

What entities can use the tax basis of accounting? Any entity that files a return with the IRS–either an income tax return or an information return. So a nonprofit that pays no taxes can use the tax basis, but a government that files no return could not. Those entities that can use the income tax basis include:

  • C corporation
  • S corporation
  • LLC
  • Partnerships
  • Nonprofit corporations
  • Sole proprietors

As we have seen in an earlier post, if you prepare a tax return for a client, then tax basis is the most efficient way to deliver financials.

Advantages of Special Purpose Frameworks

Special purpose reporting frameworks provide certain advantages including:

  • If the tax basis is used and you prepare the tax return, there is no conversion to GAAP
  • No cash flow statement is required
  • Special purpose frameworks are often easier to prepare (e.g., no accruals for the cash basis)

Reference Books

Are there reference guides for special purpose reporting frameworks? Yes. The two I use are:

Cash, Tax and Other Bases of Accounting — Thomson Reuters

Accounting and Financial Reporting Guidelines for Cash- and Tax-Basis Financial Statements–AICPA

While both publications provide sample financial statements, the Thomson Reuters guide has several sample statements and checklists.

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About the Author

Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles is the quality control partner for McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co. where he provides daily audit and accounting assistance to over 65 CPAs. In addition, he consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.

  • armando balbin says:

    Because of loan agreement clauses, Single audits, etc., even smaller corporations are required to present financial statements in conformity with GAAP. To me it does not make much of a sense to apply the huge GAAP to a small corporation. Is there any hope that the FASB creates a Junior GAAP?

  • John says:

    This was very helpful, especially the section on modified cash basis. Thanks!

  • Charles Hall says:

    Glad you found it useful John. I know the modified cash basis has–at times–caused me confusion. I appreciate your comment.

  • Charles Hall says:

    Yes, Armando. You are correct. GAAP is too much for many small companies. The PCC is working to relieve some of the GAAP burden, and I am thankful for what they have done–but, I don’t think we’ll ever see a “small GAAP.”

  • Matt Torchia says:

    Are there circumstances where a certain reporting framework is preferred or expected (other than public companies)? For example banks for lending might prefer cash basis, investors GAAP, others tax basis? Enjoyed the post.

  • Charles Hall says:

    Matt, many loan agreements call for a particular basis of accounting (usually GAAP). Also, state laws sometimes mandate GAAP, such as for governments. Generally private businesses that don’t have any loan requirements can use modified cash or the tax basis. Many small business owners are more interested in the tax effects of their businesses, so the tax basis is particularly useful to them–and cheaper to use since the basis has fewer complexities (when compared to GAAP). Thanks for your question and comment.

  • John says:

    Since the SPFs don’t require cash flow statements, do the reports still need to indicate that a cash flow statement has been omitted?

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