skip navigation
Search Help
Navigation Help

Tax Map Index

Tax Topic Index

Affordable Care Act
Tax Topic Index

Exempt Organization
Tax Topic Index

Tax Topics

About Tax Map Website
Publication 225

Chapter 2
Accounting Methods(p5)


You must use an accounting method that clearly shows the income and expenses used to figure your taxable income. You must also file an income tax return for an annual accounting period called a tax year.
This chapter discusses accounting methods. For information on accounting periods, see Pub. 538, Accounting Periods and Methods, and the Instructions for Form 1128, Application To Adopt, Change, or Retain a Tax Year.


Useful items

You may want to see:

 538 Accounting Periods and Methods
 535 Business Expenses
Form (and Instructions)
 1128: Application To Adopt, Change, or Retain a Tax Year
 3115: Application for Change in Accounting Method
See chapter 16 for information about getting publications and forms.

Accounting Methods(p5)

An accounting method is a set of rules used to determine when and how your income and expenses are reported on your tax return. Your accounting method includes not only your overall method of accounting, but also the accounting treatment you use for any material item.
Facts and circumstances affect whether an item is material. Generally, an item considered material for financial statement purposes is also considered material for income tax purposes. See Pub. 538 for more information.
You generally choose an accounting method for your farm business when you file your first income tax return that includes a Schedule F (Form 1040), Profit or Loss From Farming. If you later want to change your accounting method, you generally must get IRS approval. How to obtain IRS approval is discussed later under Changes in Methods of Accounting.

Types of accounting methods.(p5)

Generally, you can use any of the following accounting methods. Each method is discussed in detail below.

Business and other items.(p5)

You can account for business and personal items using different accounting methods. For example, you can figure your business income under an accrual method, even if you use the cash method to figure personal items.

Two or more businesses.(p5)

If you operate two or more separate and distinct businesses, you can use a different accounting method for each business. Generally, no business is separate and distinct unless a complete and separate set of books and records is maintained for each business.

Cash Method(p5)

Most farmers use the cash method because they find it easier to keep records using the cash method. However, certain farm corporations and partnerships and all tax shelters must use an accrual method of accounting. See Accrual Method Required, later. Also, see Inventory, later.


Under the cash method, include in your gross income all items of income you actually or constructively received during the tax year. Items of income include money received as well as property or services received. If you receive property or services, you must include the fair market value (FMV) of the property or services in income. See chapter 3 for information on how to report farm income on your income tax return.

Constructive receipt.(p5)

Income is constructively received when an amount is credited to your account or made available to you without restriction. You do not need to have possession of the income for it to be treated as income for the tax year. If you authorize someone to be your agent and receive income for you, you are considered to have received the income when your agent receives it. Income is not constructively received if your receipt of the income is subject to substantial restrictions or limitations.
Delaying receipt of income.(p5)
You cannot hold checks or postpone taking possession of similar property from one tax year to another to avoid paying tax on the income. You must report the income in the year the money or property is received or made available to you without restriction.


Frances Jones, a farmer who uses the cash method of accounting, was entitled to receive a $10,000 payment on a grain contract in December 2017. She was told in December that her payment was available. She requested not to be paid until January 2018. Frances must include this payment in her 2017 income because it was made available to her in 2017.
Debts paid by another person or canceled.(p5)
If your debts are paid by another person or are canceled by your creditors, you may have to report part or all of this debt relief as income. If you receive income in this way, you constructively receive the income when the debt is canceled or paid. See Cancellation of Debt in chapter 3 for more information.
Deferred payment contract.(p5)
If you sell an item under a deferred payment contract that calls for payment in a future year, there is no constructive receipt in the year of sale. However, if the sales contract states that you have the right to the proceeds of the sale from the buyer at any time after delivery of the item, then you must include the sales price in income in the year of the sale, regardless of when you actually receive payment.


You are a farmer who uses the cash method and a calendar tax year. You sell grain in December 2017 under a bona fide arm's-length contract that calls for payment in 2018. You include the proceeds from the sale in your 2018 gross income since that is the year payment is received. However, if the contract states that you have the right to the proceeds from the buyer at any time after the grain is delivered, you must include the sales price in your 2017 income, even if payment is received in the following year.

Repayment of income.(p5)

If you include an amount in income and in a later year you have to repay all or part of it, then you can usually deduct the repayment in the year repaid. If the repayment is more than $3,000, a special rule applies. For details, see Repayments in chapter 11 of Pub. 535, Business Expenses.


Under the cash method, generally you deduct expenses in the tax year you pay them. This includes business expenses for which you contest liability. However, you may not be able to deduct an expense paid in advance or you may be required to capitalize certain costs, as explained under Uniform Capitalization Rules in chapter 6. See chapter 4 for information on how to deduct farm business expenses on your income tax return.


Generally, you cannot deduct expenses paid in advance. This rule applies to any expense paid far enough in advance to, in effect, create an asset with a useful life extending substantially beyond the end of the current tax year.


On November 1, 2017, you signed and paid $3,600 for a 3-year (36-month) insurance contract for equipment. In 2017, you are allowed to deduct only $200 (2/36 x $3,600) of the cost of the policy that is attributable to 2017. In 2018, you'll be able to deduct $1,200 (12/36 x $3,600); in 2019, you'll be able to deduct $1,200 (12/36 x $3,600); and in 2020 you'll be able to deduct the remaining balance of $1,000.
An exception applies if the expense qualifies for the 12-month rule. See Pub. 538 for more information and examples.
See chapter 4 for special rules for prepaid farm supplies and prepaid livestock feed.

Accrual Method(p6)

Under an accrual method of accounting, you generally report income in the year earned and deduct or capitalize expenses in the year incurred. The purpose of an accrual method of accounting is to correctly match income and expenses. Certain businesses engaged in farming must use an accrual method of accounting for its farm business and for sales and purchases of inventory items. See Accrual Method Required and Farm Inventory, later.


Generally, you include an amount in income for the tax year in which all events that fix your right to receive the income have occurred, and you can determine the amount with reasonable accuracy. Under this rule, include an amount in income on the earliest of the following dates.
If you use an accrual method of accounting, complete Part III of Schedule F (Form 1040) to report your income.


If you keep an inventory, generally you must use an accrual method of accounting to determine your gross income. An inventory is necessary to clearly show income when the production, purchase, or sale of merchandise is an income-producing factor. See Pub. 538 for more information. Also, see Farm Inventory, later, for more information on items that must be included in inventory by farmers, and inventory valuation methods for farmers.


Under an accrual method of accounting, you generally deduct or capitalize a business expense when both of the following apply.
  1. The all-events test has been met. This test is met when:
    1. All events have occurred that fix the fact that you have a liability, and
    2. The amount of the liability can be determined with reasonable accuracy.
  2. Economic performance has occurred.

Economic performance.(p6)

Generally, you cannot deduct or capitalize a business expense until economic performance occurs. If your expense is for property or services provided to you, or for your use of property, economic performance occurs as the property or services are provided or as the property is used. If your expense is for property or services you provide to others, economic performance occurs as you provide the property or services.


Jane, who is a farmer, uses a calendar tax year and an accrual method of accounting. She entered into a contract with ABC Farm Consulting in 2016. The contract stated that Jane pay ABC Farm Consulting $2,000 in December 2016. It further stipulates that ABC Farm Consulting will develop a plan for integrating her farm with a larger farm operation based in a neighboring state by March 1, 2017. Jane paid ABC Farm Consulting $2,000 in December 2016. Integration of operations according to the plan began in May 2017 and they completed the integration in December 2017.
Economic performance for Jane's liability in the contract occurs as the services are provided. Jane incurs the $2,000 cost in 2017, even though a payment was made in the prior year.
An exception to the economic performance rule allows certain recurring items to be treated as incurred during a tax year even though economic performance has not occurred. For more information, see Economic Performance in Pub. 538.

Special rule for related persons.(p6)

Business expenses and interest owed to a related person who uses the cash method of accounting are not deductible until you make the payment and the corresponding amount is includible in the related person's gross income. Determine the relationship for this rule as of the end of the tax year for which the expense or interest would otherwise be deductible.

Accrual Method Required(p6)

Generally, the following businesses, if engaged in farming, must use an accrual method of accounting.
  1. A corporation (other than a family corporation) that had gross receipts of more than $1,000,000 for any tax year beginning after 1975.
  2. A family corporation that had gross receipts of more than $25,000,000 for any tax year beginning after 1985.
  3. A partnership with a corporation as a partner, if that corporation meets the requirements of (1) or (2) above.
  4. A tax shelter.
Note.Items (1), (2), and (3) above do not apply to an S corporation or a business operating a nursery or sod farm, or the raising or harvesting of trees (other than fruit and nut trees).

Family corporation.(p6)

A family corporation is generally a corporation that meets one of the following ownership requirements.For more information on family corporations, see Internal Revenue Code section 447.

Tax shelter.(p6)

A tax shelter is a partnership, noncorporate enterprise, or S corporation that meets either of the following tests.
  1. Its principal purpose is the avoidance or evasion of federal income tax.
  2. It is a farming syndicate. A farming syndicate is an entity that meets either of the following tests.
    1. Interests in the activity have been offered for sale in an offering required to be registered with a federal or state agency with the authority to regulate the offering of securities for sale.
    2. More than 35% of the losses during the tax year are allocable to limited partners or limited entrepreneurs.
A "limited partner" is one whose personal liability for partnership debts is limited to the money or other property the partner contributed or is required to contribute to the partnership.
A "limited entrepreneur" is one who has an interest in an enterprise other than as a limited partner and does not actively participate in the management of the enterprise.

Farm Inventory(p7)

If you are required to keep an inventory, you should keep a complete record of your inventory as part of your farm records. This record should show the actual count or measurement of the inventory. It should also show all factors that enter into its valuation, including quality and weight, if applicable. Below are some items that could be included in inventory.

Hatchery business.(p7)

If you are in the hatchery business, and use an accrual method of accounting, you must include in inventory eggs in the process of incubation.

Products held for sale.(p7)

All harvested and purchased farm products held for sale or for feed or seed, such as grain, hay, silage, concentrates, cotton, tobacco, etc., must be included in inventory.


Supplies acquired for sale or that become a physical part of items held for sale must be included in inventory. Deduct the cost of supplies in the year used or consumed in operations. Do not include incidental supplies in inventory as these are deductible in the year of purchase.


Livestock held primarily for sale must be included in inventory. Livestock held for draft, breeding, or dairy purposes can either be depreciated or included in inventory. Also seeUnit-livestock-price method, later. If you are in the business of breeding and raising chinchillas, mink, foxes, or other fur-bearing animals, these animals are livestock for inventory purposes.

Growing crops.(p7)

Generally, growing crops are not required to be included in inventory. However, if the crop has a preproductive period of more than 2 years, you may have to capitalize (or include in inventory) costs associated with the crop. See Uniform capitalization rules below. Also, see Uniform Capitalization Rules in
chapter 6.

Items to include in inventory.(p7)

Your inventory should include all items held for sale, or for use as feed, seed, etc., whether raised or purchased, that are unsold at the end of the year.

Uniform capitalization rules.(p7)

The following applies if you are required to use an accrual method of accounting.

Inventory valuation methods.(p7)

The following methods, described below, are those generally available for valuing inventory. The method you use must conform to generally accepted accounting principles for similar businesses and must clearly reflect income.
Cost and lower of cost or market methods.(p7)
See Pub. 538 for information on these valuation methods.
If you value your livestock inventory at cost or the lower of cost or market, you do not need IRS approval to change to the unit-livestock-price method. However, if you value your livestock inventory using the farm-price method, then you must obtain permission from the IRS to change to the unit-livestock-price method.
Farm-price method.(p7)
Under this method, each item, whether raised or purchased, is valued at its market price less the direct cost of disposition. Market price is the current price at the nearest market in the quantities you usually sell. Cost of disposition includes broker's commissions, freight, hauling to market, and other marketing costs. If you use this method, you must use it for your entire inventory, except that livestock can be inventoried under the unit-livestock-price method.
Unit-livestock-price method.(p7)
This method recognizes the difficulty of establishing the exact costs of producing and raising each animal. You group or classify livestock according to type and age and use a standard unit price for each animal within a class or group. The unit price you assign should reasonably approximate the normal costs incurred in producing the animals in such classes. Unit prices and classifications are subject to approval by the IRS on examination of your return. You must annually reevaluate your unit livestock prices and adjust the prices upward or downward to reflect increases or decreases in the costs of raising livestock. IRS approval is not required for these adjustments. Any other changes in unit prices or classifications do require IRS approval.
If you use this method, include all raised livestock in inventory, regardless of whether they are held for sale or for draft, breeding, sport, or dairy purposes. This method accounts only for the increase in cost of raising an animal to maturity. It does not provide for any decrease in the animal's market value after it reaches maturity. Also, if you raise cattle, you are not required to inventory hay you grow to feed your herd.
Do not include sold or lost animals in the year-end inventory. If your records do not show which animals were sold or lost, treat the first animals acquired as sold or lost. The animals on hand at the end of the year are considered those most recently acquired.
You must include in inventory all livestock purchased primarily for sale. You can choose either to include in inventory or depreciate livestock purchased for draft, breeding, sport, or dairy purposes. However, you must be consistent from year to year, regardless of the method you have chosen. You cannot change your method without obtaining approval from the IRS.
You must include in inventory animals purchased after maturity or capitalize them at their purchase price. If the animals are not mature at purchase, increase the cost at the end of each tax year according to the established unit price. However, in the year of purchase, do not increase the cost of any animal purchased during the last 6 months of the year. This "no increase" rule does not apply to tax shelters which must make an adjustment for any animal purchased during the year. It also does not apply to taxpayers that must make an adjustment to reasonably reflect the particular period in the year in which animals are purchased, if necessary to avoid significant distortions in income.
Uniform capitalization rules.(p7)
A farmer can determine costs required to be allocated under the uniform capitalization rules by using the farm-price or unit-livestock-price inventory method. This applies to any plant or animal, even if the farmer does not hold or treat the plant or animal as inventory property.

Cash Versus Accrual Method(p7)

The following examples compare the cash and accrual methods of accounting.

Example 1.(p7)

You are a farmer who uses an accrual method of accounting. You keep your books on the calendar year basis. You sell grain in December 2017 but you are not paid until January 2018. Because the accrual method was used and 2017 was the tax year in which the grain was sold, you must include both the sales proceeds and deduct the costs incurred in producing the grain on your 2017 tax return.

Example 2.(p7)

Assume the same facts as in Example 1 except that you use the cash method and there was no constructive receipt of the sales proceeds in 2017. Under the cash method, you include the sales proceeds in income in 2018, the year you receive payment. Deduct the costs of producing the grain in the year you pay for them.

Special Methods of Accounting(p7)

There are special methods of accounting for certain items of income and expense.

Crop method.(p7)

If you do not harvest and dispose of your crop in the same tax year that you plant it, you can, with IRS approval, use the crop method of accounting. You cannot use the crop method for any tax return, including your first tax return, unless you receive approval from the IRS. Under this method, you deduct the entire cost of producing the crop, including the expense of seed or young plants, in the year you realize income from the crop.
See chapter 4 for details on deducting the costs of operating a farm. Also see Regulations section 1.162-12.

Other special methods.(p7)

Other special methods of accounting apply to the following items.

Combination Method(p8)

Generally, you can use any combination of cash, accrual, and special methods of accounting if the combination clearly shows your income and expenses and you use it consistently. However, the following restrictions apply.

Changes in Methods of Accounting(p8)

A change in your method of accounting includes a change in: Generally, once you have set up your accounting method, you must receive approval from the IRS before you can change either an overall method of accounting or the accounting treatment of any material item. A user fee may be required for any non-automatic change requests.
To obtain approval, you must generally file Form 3115. However, there are instances when you can obtain automatic consent to change certain methods of accounting. For more information, see the Instructions for Form 3115. Also, see Pub. 538.