What are the Objectives in Accounting for Income Taxes?
Tax accounting is one of the largest subsets or specializations within the field of accounting. In terms of corporate finance, there are several objectives when it comes to accounting for income taxes and optimizing a company’s valuation.
The three main objectives in accounting for income taxes are:
1. Optimizing After-Tax Profits
First, a company’s income tax accounting should be in line with its operating strategy. That is, to maximize profits a company must understand how it incurs tax liabilities and adjust its strategies accordingly.
2. Funding Considerations
Secondly, income tax accounting can enable a company to maintain financial flexibility. There are different effects of funding the company’s operations with debt and/or equity, and a company’s capital structure can influence its tax liability. Knowing these effects will allow the company to plan accordingly and transitively maintain their financial flexibility by keeping their options open.
3. Timing of Payments
Finally, accounting for tax enables the company to manage cash flow and minimize cash taxes paid. It is beneficial to postpone payment of taxes into the future, as opposed to paying taxes today. A company will want to take tax deductions sooner rather than later to maximize the time value of their money.
What Should an Analyst Understand about Tax?
Tax is an intricate field to navigate and often confuses even the most skilled financial analysts. This is keeping in mind that there are numerous tax codes and policies in any given jurisdiction, and numerous jurisdictions with different tax policies to exacerbate the effect.
A working knowledge of tax accounting, thus, becomes a great skill to have as a financial analyst. When speaking of just the bare necessities, an analyst should at least have a solid conceptual understanding of the following:
- Exceptions to certain policies
- An understanding of common issues that arise with taxes
- An understanding of the interplay of deferred taxes, current taxes, and effective tax rates
- An understanding of the impact of taxes on cash flow
- How to apply this understanding in financial modeling
Income Tax vs. Accounting Tax
Tax as recorded in a company’s financial statement rarely ever matches the taxes filed in their tax returns. It is because each item (company financials and tax return) has different purposes, users, and accounting treatment. The company’s financials are intended for investors and lenders, and – as such – are made with application and dependability in mind. In contrast, the tax return is intended for the government or corresponding tax body and is made with the purpose of adhering to public tax policy.
The financial statements report a tax expense, but the true tax payable comes from the tax return. The dichotomy in reporting these two items creates differences that need to be reconciled and accounted for. These differences are either permanent differences, which never reverse, or temporary differences, which are timing differences that will reverse over time.
This has been a guide to accounting for income taxes and alignment with corporate strategy. To learn more about taxation, check out the following CFI resources: