Accounting for Income Taxes

Income tax is type of direct tax levied by a government on businesses. Income tax due in a period is calculated by applying the applicable tax percentage to the taxable income of the business.

Accounting for income tax is complex due to the fact that there is a difference in financial accounting treatment of transactions and their tax accounting treatment.

Taxable income vs accounting income

Taxable income is the net income calculated in accordance with the tax laws.

Taxable income = taxable revenues – tax-deductible expenses – tax exemptions

It is different from the accounting income, which equals revenue recognized under GAAP minus expenses allowed under GAAP.

Accounting income = revenues under GAAP – expenses under GAAP

Let us study the different components of a business’s tax accounting one by one.

The differences between accounting income and taxable income are classified into two categories:

  • Permanent differences, differences which arise when an income or expense is recognized for the purpose of financial reporting but not for tax accounting, and vice versa. For example, tax law might not allow companies to deduct penalties while calculating taxable income but those penalties are subtracted in determining net income. Such differences do not reverse, hence they are called permanent differences.
  • Temporary differences, differences in accounting and tax treatment of transactions that arise because they are recognized in different accounting periods for financial reporting and tax purposes. For example, a company might be depreciating its assets on straight line basis but tax laws might allow only the MACRS method, etc.

Current income tax obligation

Determining the current income tax payable is the most straightforward, because it represents a business’s tax obligation related to the current period taxable income.

Current income tax obligation = Taxable income × Tax rate

Matching principle of accounting suggests that tax expense for revenue should be recognized in the period in which the relevant revenue was recognized. Similarly, tax shield i.e. the reduction in tax expense due tax deductibility of an expense should be recognized in the period in which the relevant expense is recognized.

We determined that taxable income is different from accounting income. It means that the current income tax payable is not a good representation of total current tax expense. It should be adjusted. For example:

  • Current income tax payable related to revenue that would be recognized under GAAP in future periods should be carried forward;
  • Income tax payable related to revenue that is recognized today under GAAP but which shall be taxed in future periods should be included in current period’s tax expense;
  • Tax benefit of expenses that shall be recognized under GAAP in future periods but which are allowed as tax deduction in current period should be carried forward; and
  • Tax benefit of expenses that are recognized under GAAP today but which shall be allowed as tax deduction in future should be subtracted from current period income tax expense.

These adjustments result in the concept of deferred taxation.

Deferred tax

Deferred taxation is the process of transferring tax expense between different periods in order to better match revenues with expenses. The mechanics of this transfer involve creating of an asset or liability in current period which is reversed in a later period when the temporary difference resolve.

Deferred tax liability

Deferred tax liability is amount of tax a business shall be required to pay in future related to (a) revenues recognized in current period under GAAP but not under tax laws (i.e. not taxed in current period), which shall be taxed in future periods, and (b) expenses (not recognized under GAAP) that are allowed as tax deduction in current period but which shall not be allowed as deduction in future periods.

In other words, a deferred tax liability represents tax effects of transactions that will result in future increases in taxable income.

Deferred tax asset

Deferred tax asset is the amount of tax a business shall pay less in future due to the fact that (a) revenues that are taxed today shall not be taxed in future (when they will be eventually recognized under GAAP) and (b) expenses (that are recognized under GAAP in current period) that are not deducted in calculating taxable income in current period but which shall be deducted in future periods. Deferred tax asset also arises when a company carries forward its tax loss.

In other words, a deferred tax asset represents tax effects of transactions that will result in future decreases in taxable income.

Deferred tax expense

Deferred tax expense is the sum of any increase in deferred tax liability over a period minus an increase in deferred tax asset over the period. Deferred tax expense may be negative which results in total tax expense being less than current income tax obligation.

Total tax expense

Total income tax expense equals current income tax obligation adjusted for the effect of transfer of income tax between different periods i.e. deferred taxation.

Total tax expense = current income tax obligation + deferred tax expense

Where deferred tax expense is negative for a period, current tax expense is lower than current income tax payable.

The expression above can be expanded as follows:

Total tax expense = current income tax obligation + closing deferred tax liability – opening deferred tax liability – (closing deferred tax asset – opening deferred tax asset)

by Obaidullah Jan, ACA, CFA and last modified on

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