The accounting method a business uses can have a major impact on the total revenue the business reports as well as on the expenses that it subtracts from the revenue to get the bottom line. Here's how:
Cash-basis accounting: Expenses and revenues aren't carefully matched on a month-to-month basis. Expenses aren't recognized until the money is actually paid out, even if the expenses are incurred in previous months, and revenues earned in previous months aren't recognized until the cash is actually received. However, cash-basis accounting excels in tracking the actual cash available.
Accrual accounting: Expenses and revenue are matched, providing a company with a better idea of how much it's spending to operate each month and how much profit it's making. Expenses are recorded (or accrued) in the month incurred, even if the cash isn't paid out until the next month. Revenues are recorded in the month the project is complete or the product is shipped, even if the company hasn't yet received the cash from the customer.
The way a company records payment of payroll taxes, for example, differs with these two methods. In accrual accounting, each month a company sets aside the amount it expects to pay toward its quarterly tax bills for employee taxes using an accrual (paper transaction in which no money changes hands, which is called an accrual). The entry goes into a tax liability account (an account for tracking tax payments that have been made or must still be made). If the company incurs $1,000 of tax liabilities in March, that amount is entered in the tax liability account even if it hasn't yet paid out the cash. That way, the expense is matched to the month it is incurred.
In cash accounting, the company doesn't record the liability until it actually pays the government the cash. Although the company incurs tax expenses each month, the company using cash accounting shows a higher profit during two months every quarter and possibly even shows a loss in the third month when the taxes are paid.