Public Finance

How a nation manages its finances.

What is Public Finance?

Public finance is the management of a country’s revenue, expenditures, and debt load through various government and quasi-government institutions. This guide provides an overview of how public finances are managed, what the various components of it are, and how to easily understand what all the numbers mean. A country’s financial position can be evaluated in much the same way as a business’ financial statements.

 

Public Finance Diagram
Components of Public Finance

 

Components of Public Finance

The main components of public finance include activities related to collecting revenue, making expenditures to support society, and implementing a financing strategy (such as issuing government debt). The main components include:

Tax collection

Tax collection is the main revenue source for governments. Examples of taxes collected by governments include sales tax, income tax (a type of progressive tax), estate tax, and property tax. Other types of revenue in this category include duties and tariffs on imports and revenue from any types of public services that are not free.

Budget

The budget is a plan of what the government intends to have as expenditures in a fiscal year. In the U.S., for example, the president submit to Congress a budget request, the House and Senate create bills for specific aspects of the budget, and then the President signs them into laws. Read a copy of 2017 Budget of the U.S. government, as published by the Office of Management and Budget.

Expenditures

Expenditures are everything that a government actually spends money on, such as social programs, education, and infrastructure. Much of the government’s spending is a form of income or wealth redistribution, which is aimed at benefiting society as a whole. The actual expenditures may be greater than or less than the budget.

Deficit/Surplus

If the government spends more then it collects in revenue there is a deficit in that year. If the government has less expenditures than it collects, there is a surplus.

National Debt

If the government has a deficit (spending is greater than revenue), it will fund the difference by borrowing money and issuing national debt. The U.S. Treasury is responsible for issuing debt, and when there is a deficit, the Office of Debt Management (ODM) will make the decision to sell government securities to investors.

 

Managing Public Finance

Let’s take a closer look at how taxes, expenditures, and the deficit work. Below is a diagram of how of the three are connected, and how the government determines how much financing it needs in a given fiscal year.

 

Public Finance - Diagram of Tax, Budget, Deficit

 

Total government revenue or tax collection is represented with the blue bar. This is a source of cash for the government.

Expenditures are a use of cash, and to the extent they are greater than revenue, there is a deficit.

The difference between revenue and expenditures is the deficit (or surplus) that is funded with national debt.

 

2017 U.S. Figures

Now that the concept has been illustrated, let’s look at a real public finance example with the U.S. government in 2017.

2017 example:

  • Revenue was approximately $3.3 trillion
  • Spending was $3.97 trillion
  • Deficit was $665 billion

Source: https://www.usgovernmentrevenue.com/2017

 

Revenue and Expenditures

Below is a list of some of the most common revenues and expenditures in the world of public finance.

Revenue / Taxes

  • Income tax (personal, corporate)
  • Property tax
  • Sales tax
  • Value added tax (VAT)
  • Import duties
  • Estate tax

Expenses

  • Health care
  • Employment insurance
  • Pensions
  • Education
  • Defense (military)
  • Infrastructure

 

Additional Resources

Thank you for reading CFI’s guide to what public finance is and how the numbers all fit together.  When you look at it in such simple terms, it’s quite easy to understand.

CFI is the official provider of the global Financial Modeling & Valuation Analyst (FMVA)™ certification program, designed to help anyone become a world-class financial analyst. To keep advancing your career, the additional resources below will be useful:

Financial Analyst Training

Get world-class financial training with CFI's online certified financial analyst training program! Gain the confidence you need to move up the ladder in a high powered corporate finance career path.  

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