Publication 538 - Introductory Material


Introduction

Every taxpayer (individuals, business entities, etc.) must figure taxable income on the basis of an annual accounting period called a tax year. The calendar year is the most common tax year. Other tax years include a fiscal year and a short tax year.

Each taxpayer must use a consistent accounting method, which is a set of rules for determining when to report income and expenses. The most commonly used accounting methods are the cash method and the accrual method.

Under the cash method, you generally report income in the tax year you receive it, and deduct expenses in the tax year in which you pay them.

Under the accrual method, you generally report income in the tax year you earn it, regardless of when payment is received. You deduct expenses in the tax year you incur them, regardless of when payment is made.

This publication explains some of the rules for accounting periods and accounting methods. In some cases, you may have to refer to other sources for a more in-depth explanation of the topic.

Comments and suggestions.   We welcome your comments about this publication and your suggestions for future editions.

  You can write to us at the following address:

Internal Revenue Service 
Business, Exempt Organization and International Forms and Publications Branch 
SE:W:CAR:MP:T:B 
1111 Constitution Ave. NW, IR-6526 
Washington, DC 20224

  We respond to many letters by telephone. Therefore, it would be helpful if you would include your daytime phone number, including the area code, in your correspondence.

  You can email us at taxforms@irs.gov. Please put “Publications Comment” on the subject line. You can also send us comments from www.irs.gov/formspubs. Select “Comment on Tax Forms and Publications” under “More information.

  Although we cannot respond individually to each email, we do appreciate your feedback and will consider your comments as we revise our tax products.

Ordering forms and publications.   Visit www.irs.gov/formspubs to download forms and publications, call 1-800–829–3676, or write to the address below and receive a response within 10 days after your request is received.

Internal Revenue Service 
1201 N. Mitsubishi Motorway 
Bloomington, IL 61705-6613

Tax Questions.   If you have a tax question, check the information available on IRS.gov or call 1-800-829-1040. We cannot answer tax questions sent to the above address.

Reminders

Photographs of missing children. The Internal Revenue Service is a proud partner with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Photographs of missing children selected by the Center may appear in this publication on pages that would otherwise be blank. You can help bring these children home by looking at the photographs and calling 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) if you recognize a child.

Useful Items - You may want to see:

Publication

  • 537 Installment Sales

  • 541 Partnerships

  • 542 Corporations

Form (and Instructions)

  • 1128 Application To Adopt, Change, or Retain a Tax Year

  • 2553 Election by a Small Business Corporation

  • 3115 Application for Change in Accounting Method

  • 8716 Election To Have a Tax Year Other Than a Required Tax Year

See Ordering forms and publications, earlier for information about getting these publications and forms.


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