Accounting transactions and other events are sometimes uncertain but in order to be relevant we have to report them in time. We have to make estimates requiring judgment to counter the uncertainty. While making judgment we need to be cautious and prudent. Prudence is a key accounting principle which makes sure that assets and income are not overstated and liabilities and expenses are not understated.
- Bad debts are probable in many businesses, so they create a special contra-account to accounts receivable called allowance for bad debts which brings the accounts receivable balance to the amount which is expected to be realized and hence prevents overstatement of assets. An expense called bad debts expense is also booked to stop net income from being overstated.
- Some liabilities are contingent upon future occurrence or non-occurrence of an event such a law suit, etc. We judge the probability of occurrence of that event and if it is more than 50% we record a liability and corresponding expense at the most likely amount. Hence, we stop liability and expense from being understated.
- Periodic evaluations of assets are made to make sure their carrying value does not exceed the benefits expected to be derived from the asset, and if it does exceed, the impairment of fixed asset is recorded by reducing its carrying amount.
Written by Obaidullah Jan, ACA, CFA