deferred taxes (I): what they are

Last week I wrote about how publicly traded companies typically maintain three sets of books:  tax books, management control books and financial reporting books.

The two sets we’ll be concerned about today are the financial reporting books and the tax books, the ones that outsiders get to see.

Hang onto your hat and let’s get started!

why deferred taxes?

It’s reasonable to ask whether these two accounting pictures of a company’s financial health exist in parallel universes–one to poor mouth the company in order to minimize taxes, the other to flatter results so that shareholders will be happier than maybe they should be     …or is there something that ties the two sets together?

they connect tax and shareholder records

There are, in fact, two ways in which these sets of books are connected.

First, the IRS doesn’t let a company pick radically different accounting methods for tax books from the ones it uses for shareholder reports.  Inventories–meaning all that FIFO or LIFO stuff–are an example.

In addition, there are deferred taxes.

what they are

The income tax line is the one place that financial accounting standards compel a company to reveal something about the books it keeps for tax authorities.

When the financial accountants work down the income statement, they start with the sales line.  They subtract various costs, like materials, marketing, interest payments…   from revenues as they work their way to net profit.  When they’ve figured out  pre-tax income, they apply the appropriate income tax rate and subtract to get to net income.  They do this country by country, local and national.  

Then they reconcile with the tax books

They do this by dividing the tax figure they’ve arrived at into two components:

–the tax actually paid to the IRS or its equivalent, called cash taxes; and

–the rest, called deferred taxes.  

The deferred tax figure can be positive, meaning the company is sending smaller check(s) to the tax authorities than the total amount of tax shown on the financial reporting books; or it can be negative, meaning the company is paying out more than the total tax charge shown on the shareholder records.

Sounds weird, doesn’t it?  That’s because it is.

But try to get used to the idea.  It can be important.

how deferred taxes come to be

Lots of ways.  But it’s all about timing differences.

for example

The simplest is this:  a company builds a factory that costs $1,000,000, has a useful life of 40 years and has no value after that.  On the shareholder books, the company allocates the factory expense evenly over the 40 years, at the rate of $25,000 a year.  Accountants call this the straight line depreciation method.

On the other hand, the national government may want to encourage companies to build factories of this type.  So it gives them tax breaks by, say, allowing firms to front-load the tax writeoffs.  Maybe it allows a firm to write off $250,000 of the total cost in the first year (lowering otherwise taxable income by that much), $100,000 in the second, and the rest in progressively smaller amounts over the following seven years.  This is an accelerated depreciation method.

Let’s assume this is the only difference between the company’s tax books and its shareholder books.  If so, in year one the tax books will show $225,000 less in pre-tax income than the shareholder books ($250,000 – $25,000), due to the faster timing of the factory writeoff on the former.  Depending on the rate of corporate income tax, the company will pay something like $80,000 less in cash taxes than the financial books show as due.  This amount will be recorded as deferred tax.

where you can see this stuff

Usually not on the income statement.

Two places:  in the tax footnote to the income statement, and in the cash flow statement   …not usually, however, on the income statement itself.

Tomorrow:  why this geeky stuff can be important


2 responses

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