Materiality or Immateriality

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Business Finance

Question Description

How is materiality (or immateriality) related to the proper presentation of financial statements? What factors and measures should be considered in assessing the materiality of a misstatement in the presentation of a financial statement?

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Explanation & Answer

The concept of materiality refers to the relative significance of an amount, activity, or item to informative disclosure and a proper presentation of financial positions and the results of operations. Materiality has qualitative aspects; both the nature of the item and its relative size enter its evaluation.

  An accounting misstatement is said to be material if knowledge of the misstatement will affect the decisions of the average informed reader of the financial statements. Financial statements are misleading if they omit a material fact or include so many immaterial matters as to be confusing. In the examination, the auditor concentrates efforts in proportion to degrees of materiality and relative risk and disregards immaterial items.

  The relevant criteria for assessing materiality will depend upon the circumstances and the nature of the item and will vary greatly among companies. For example, an error in current assets or current liabilities will be more important for a company with a flow of funds problem than for one with adequate working capital.

  The effect upon net income (or earnings per share) is the most commonly used measure of materiality. This reflects the prime importance attached to net income by investors and other users of the statements. The effects upon assets and equities are also important as are misstatements of individual accounts and subtotals included in the financial statements. The auditor will note the effects of misstatements on key ratios such as gross profit, the current ratio, or the debt/equity ratio and will consider such special circumstances as the effects on debt agreement covenants and the legality of dividend payments.

  There are no rigid standards or guidelines for assessing materiality. The lower bound of materiality has been variously estimated at 5% to 20% of net income, but the determination will vary based upon the individual case and might not fall within these limits. Certain items, such as a questionable loan to a company officer, may be considered material even when minor amounts are involved. In contrast a large misclassification among expense accounts may not be deemed material if there is no misstatement of net income.


Ryvmnorgu I (584)
Cornell University

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