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Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP or U.S. GAAP or GAAP (USA), pronounced like "gap") is the accounting standard adopted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and is the default accounting standard used by companies based in the United States.
The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) publishes and maintains the Accounting Standards Codification (ASC), which is the single source of authoritative nongovernmental U.S. GAAP. The FASB published U.S. GAAP in Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) beginning in 2008.
The FASB Accounting Standards Codification is the source of authoritative GAAP recognized by the FASB to be applied by nongovernmental entities. Rules and interpretive releases of the SEC under authority of federal securities laws are also sources of authoritative GAAP for SEC registrants. In addition to the SEC's rules and interpretive releases, the SEC staff issues Staff Accounting Bulletins that represent practices followed by the staff in administering SEC disclosure requirements, and it utilizes SEC Staff Announcements and Observer comments made at Emerging Issues Task Force meetings to publicly announce its views on certain accounting issues for SEC registrants.
Examples of nonauthoritative accounting guidance and literature include the following:
The FASB issues an Accounting Standards Update (Update or ASU) to communicate changes to the FASB Codification, including changes to non-authoritative SEC content. ASUs are not authoritative standards. Each ASU explains:
To achieve basic objectives and implement fundamental qualities, GAAP has four basic assumptions, four basic principles, and five basic constraints.
Under the AICPA's Code of Professional Ethics under Rule 203 – Accounting Principles, a member must depart from GAAP if following it would lead to a material misstatement on the financial statements, or otherwise be misleading. In the departure, the member must disclose, if practical, the reasons why compliance with the accounting principle would result in a misleading financial statement. Under Rule 203-1 – Departures from Established Accounting Principles, the departures are rare, and usually take place when there is new legislation, the evolution of new forms of business transactions, an unusual degree of materiality, or the existence of conflicting industry practices.
Accounting standards are currently set by the Financial Accounting Standards Board and were historically set by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) subject to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations. Auditors took the leading role in developing GAAP for business enterprises.
The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was created as a result of the Great Depression. At that time there was no organization setting accounting standards. The SEC encouraged the establishment of private standard-setting bodies through the AICPA and later the FASB, believing that the private sector had the proper knowledge, resources, and talents. Currently, the SEC works closely with various private organizations setting GAAP, but does not set GAAP itself.
In 1939, urged by the SEC, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) appointed the Committee on Accounting Procedure (CAP). During 1939 to 1959 CAP issued 51 Accounting Research Bulletins that dealt with a variety of timely accounting problems. However, this problem-by-problem approach failed to develop the much needed structured body of accounting principles. Thus, in 1959, the AICPA created the Accounting Principles Board (APB), whose mission it was to develop an overall conceptual framework. It issued 31 opinions until it was dissolved in 1973.
Realizing the need to reform the APB, leaders in the accounting profession appointed a Study Group on the Establishment of Accounting Principles (commonly known as the Wheat Committee for its chairman Francis Wheat). This group determined that the APB must be dissolved and a new standard-setting structure created.
In 1973, the APB was replaced by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) under the supervision of the Financial Accounting Foundation with the Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Council serving to advise and provide input on the accounting standards.
After the creation of the FASB, the AICPA established the Accounting Standards Executive Committee (AcSEC). It publishes:
In 1984, the FASB created the Emerging Issues Task Force (EITF). The mission of the EITF is to "assist the FASB in improving financial reporting through the timely identification, discussion, and resolution of financial accounting issues within the framework of the FASB Accounting Standards Codification."
The FASB currently publishes the following:
Circa 2008, the FASB issued the FASB Accounting Standards Codification, which reorganized the thousands of U.S. GAAP pronouncements into roughly 90 accounting topics.
The Codification is effective for interim and annual periods ending after September 15, 2009. All existing accounting standards documents are superseded as described in FASB Statement No. 168, The FASB Accounting Standards Codification and the Hierarchy of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. All other accounting literature not included in the Codification is non-authoritative.
The Codification reorganizes the thousands of U.S. GAAP pronouncements into roughly 90 accounting topics and displays all topics using a consistent structure. It also includes relevant Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), guidance that follows the same topical structure in separate sections in the Codification.
To prepare users for the change, the AICPA has provided a number of tools and training resources.
While the Codification does not change GAAP, it introduces a new structure—one that is organized in an easily accessible, user-friendly online research system. The FASB expects that the new system will reduce the amount of time and effort required to research an accounting issue, mitigate the risk of noncompliance with standards through improved usability of the literature, provide accurate information with real-time updates as new standards are released, and assist the FASB with the research efforts required during the standard-setting process.
Other organizations involved in determining United States accounting standards include:
Other influential organizations include the Government Finance Officer's Association (GFOA), American Accounting Association, Institute of Management Accountants, and Financial Executives Institute.
See also: Convergence of accounting standards
In 2006, the FASB began working with the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) to reduce or eliminate the differences between U.S. GAAP and the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), known as the IASB-FASB convergence project. The scope of the overall IASB-FASB convergence project has evolved over time. The IASB and FASB issued converged standards for accounting topics including Business combinations (2008), Consolidation (2011), Fair value measurement (2011), and Revenue recognition (2014). Other convergence projects have been discontinued. As of 2022, the convergence project is coming to an end and no new projects will be added to the agenda.
In 2008, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a preliminary "roadmap" that indicated it was considering whether to adopt or allow domestic issuers to use IFRS instead of U.S. GAAP. In 2010, the SEC expressed their aim to fully adopt International Financial Reporting Standards in the U.S. by 2014. However, standards under IFRS differ considerably from U.S. GAAP, so progress was slow and uncertain. More recently, the SEC has acknowledged that there is no longer a push to move more U.S companies to IFRS, so the two sets of standards will "continue to coexist" for the foreseeable future.
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