Business Finance

Balance Sheets, Income Statements, and Cash Flow Statement Explained

Oct 20, 2021 • 6 min read
cash flow statement, balance sheets, and income statements
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      Even if you have an accountant on staff, there are still some financial documents you should be familiar with as a small business owner: income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements. Each gives insight to a business’s financial health, although income statements and balance sheets display different information, which is used to create a cash flow statement. Plus, they’re all important to potential lenders and investors.

      Let’s start at the end: cash flow statements.

      While an income statement shows how your business earned money across time, your balance sheet provides a snapshot of your company’s financial health in the present. Lenders may want to evaluate both along with the cash flow statement you create from them as part of their funding decision.

      What’s a Cash Flow Statement?

      A cash flow statement displays how much actual cash is moving in and out of your company’s accounts. It is built based on the information recorded on your income statement and your balance sheet, which is why it’s important to understand those financial documents, too. Lenders will see a cash flow statement as an indicator of your business’s financial status.

      What’s an Income Statement?

      Before you can build a cash flow statement, you’ll need an income statement. As you might expect, an income statement shows a business’s revenues. It also includes costs of goods sold (COGS) and expenses over a period of time. This document is also called a profit and loss (P&L) statement. Income statements are created on a regular basis, often quarterly and annually. The income statement shows whether the business has turned a profit or operated at a loss over a specific period of time.

      “This report tells you how much money a business makes, and a lot more,” says Eric Rosenberg of Due. “A well-run bookkeeping operation includes details for where you spend and where your money comes from. For example, I can look at my P&L for a quick summary of how much I make from writing, how much I make from advertising, how much I spend on business travel, and how much I pay for computer and internet costs. Each business would have different accounts for its own income and spending categories.”

      Over the long run, you can compare past income statements to your current ones to see how your business is running across its life. Lenders also value income statements because they reveal whether your business is profitable over time—and therefore whether they should continue to fund it.

      Income Statement Examples

      You can find income statements online for publicly traded companies, like Apple.

      Imagine your company XYZ has earned $327,000 in revenue during the fiscal quarter and the COGS, meaning the direct costs related to each item sold, is $190,000—your gross profit is $137,000. Say you have $120,000 in expenses, like rent, wages, and marketing. Your operating profit for the quarter is $17,000.

      What’s a Balance Sheet?

      Your balance sheet, on the other hand, shows your assets, liabilities, and shareholders’ equity (which may also be called owners’ equity). The amount of your assets should always equal (or balance to) your liabilities and shareholders’ equity added together.

      Examples of assets include cash in your bank account, property, and vehicles. Liabilities are debts, like loan repayments. Shareholders’ equity is calculated from the other 2 factors: it’s how much the company would be worth if all assets were sold and liabilities were paid down.

      While an income statement shows how your business earned money across time, your balance sheet provides a snapshot of your company’s financial health in the present. For this reason, lenders also evaluate balance sheets as part of their funding decisions to analyze the strength of your business. And over time, comparing past balance sheets with present-day ones can also function as a diagnostic tool for your business’s success.

      “Each section of the balance sheet can provide you with important financial information you can use to improve your small business,” writes Elizabeth Macauley in The Hartford. “Be sure to consider how each section intersects, interacts, and connects as well. Considering the whole picture can give you better insights to help you make the correct future financial decisions.”

      Balance Sheet Examples

      Publicly traded companies, like Walmart, also publish their balance sheets online.  

      Say your company XYZ has $800,000 in assets and $436,000 in liabilities. The shareholders’ equity is $364,000. On this balance sheet, both the assets side and the liabilities plus shareholders’ equity side balance.

      Is an Income Statement Part of a Balance Sheet?

      Income statements and balance sheets are separate documents, but both are often viewed together and generated at the same time (e.g., every quarter). Each document shows different but related financial information. In a broad sense, income statements show how your company has performed in the past, while a balance sheet provides a valuation of your company in the present moment.

      What Comes First, an Income Statement or Balance Sheet?

      When preparing financial documents, like for a lender, your income statement should be placed before your balance sheet. Generally, a lender will be interested first in your company’s profitability, which is displayed on your income statement. The other data is still important, as it will speak to whether the company is a good investment or not.

      Should an Income Statement and Balance Sheet Match?

      While the information on your income statements and balance sheets will be different, it should all reflect your business’s financial situation as accurately as possible. The bottom line of your income statement and your balance sheet equation will differ because they utilize different data.

      How to Track Your Financial Statements 

      If you’re not already using a bookkeeping tool to keep your business’s financial records, consider adding one like Sunrise—which offers tools and services that simplify financial report generation and organization (you can also use Sunrise to invoice customers, manage expenses, and process certain transactions). Plus, Sunrise offers everything from free DIY bookkeeping tools to personal bookkeeping services. 

      Cash Flow Insights Bundled With Free Bookkeeping

      Send invoices, track expenses, manage finances and prep for tax season with free tools

      Screenshot of Lendio Small Business Solutions dashboard
      The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute business, legal, tax, or accounting advice, and all information, content, and materials contained within are for general-information purposes only. Readers of this post should contact their attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter.
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