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What is the time period principle?

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Last editedJan 20212 min read

Have you ever wondered why businesses split up their financial statements into different time periods? The reason is simple: the time period principle. Find out everything you need to know about the time period principle in business and accounting, as well as the reason for the time period principle itself. First off, let’s explore the meaning of the time period principle. 

Time period principle meaning

Decisions made in business tend to have long-term effects. However, the time period principle requires companies/organizations to divide activities into time periods. This ensures that they’re able to assess their financial performance and position separately over each period, enabling stakeholders to stay informed. These time periods are referred to as accounting periods or reporting time periods, and can occur weekly, monthly, annually, or over any other time interval.

Put simply, the time period principle is one of the most fundamental accounting principles. It applies to both accrual accounting and cash accounting, which makes it vital for virtually all businesses.

Which financial statements are covered by the time period principle in business?

Firstly, let’s clarify which financial statements the time period principle applies to. Simple answer – all of them. In short, the time period principle is how you should prepare all of your business’s financial statements, including the balance sheet, cash flow statement, and income statement. The specific time period that these financial statements will cover is up to individual businesses; an accounting period can cover various timeframes, including one month, one quarter, or one year.

Reason for the time period principle

Your business’s financial statements provide a snapshot of your financial performance at any given point in time. As such, the reason for the time period principle is to keep stakeholders and investors informed. Also, it enables your accounting team to separate transactions occurring in different periods, allowing them to compare financial periods against one another. Consequently, the time period principle helps businesses “tell a story” via their financial statements, whether that story is one of growth and success or stagnation and decline.

Understanding the time period principle in accounting

Gaining a full understanding of how the time period principle in accounting works is relatively straightforward – your accounting team will simply need to prepare financial statements for specific time periods. However, there are a couple of more complicated areas, such as how the time period principle is affected by other accounting principles/concepts.

When it comes to the time period principle in accounting, it’s essential to understand that it’s not always possible to easily assign transactions to specific time periods. In these cases, a time period will need to be estimated. Examples of this include depreciation of assets, wherein the time period of the depreciation will depend upon the number of years that the asset is in use.

It’s also important to note that the matching concept and the revenue recognition principle are relevant to the time period principle in business. Essentially, the matching concept provides a framework for reaching an accurate net income figure. It does this by stating that all revenue should match with related expenses. In other words, each debit must be matched to a relevant credit. This is linked to the time period principle, as you need to know the length of the given time period to attach expenses and revenues to it.

The revenue recognition principle provides businesses with further guidance as to when to record revenue.

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