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Cost Method of Accounting

To explain the cost method of accounting in simple terms, an investor lists his investment expense or the actual cost of the stock on a single line of an investment balance sheet. Likewise, when he sells the stock, the income would be listed as a single line of revenue.
According to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), the cost method of accounting is a legitimate accounting method to account for investments. If the investment is such that there is no substantial influence of the investment holder over the company invested in, or if there is no readily determinable fair value of the investment, the cost method of accounting for investments is usually the one used. Under this method, the investment is recorded in the balance sheet at historical cost. Here is a brief look into what is the concept and usage of the cost method of accounting without getting into the nitty-gritty of its types, like full cost method, average cost method, etc.

Cost Method of Accounting for Investments

The points below highlight the cost method of accounting for investments specifically and not the general methods of cost accounting that are used in the internal firm product or service costing (accounting).
  • The original cost of the investment, that is the historical cost which was paid for the investment, when it was first bought, is the one that is recorded in the balance sheet.
  • Once the balance sheet entry has been made, no further adjustments and changes are required to be made, unless the fair market value of the investment drops to such an extent that there is doubt over any kind of possible recovery. Under such a circumstance, a permanent write-off of the investment is made.
  • If any dividends are declared on the investment in question, the dividends are recorded like normal dividends and the usual accounting entries are passed for the same.
  • Any undistributed earnings on the investments are not recorded in the owner's balance sheet and hence have no effect on the final balance sheet, per se.
  • The consolidation process under this method of accounting requires that both, the investment account and the dividend account, be eliminated completely when the parent and the subsidiary consolidate their accounts. You can use accounting software to aid with the consolidation process.
  • It is important to note here that no matter which method of accounting is used (cost or equity), the consolidated financial statements will be identical for both.
If the parent company uses the cost method of accounting for investments, the consolidation worksheet entries go in the following sequence. The consolidation starts with eliminating the book value of net assets at acquisition from the parent's balance sheet. The second step is to record all excess costs incurred in or during the consolidation phase. The difference between the effect of prior periods on retained earnings and the current effects on the income statement and balance sheet are then amortized. A series of elimination entries then follow, namely, dividend income, accumulated depreciation at acquisition, and other inter-company transactions.

Equity Method vs. Cost Method of Accounting for Investments

Below are a few differences between the equity accounting method for investments and the cost accounting method for investments.
  • The equity method of accounting is used when there is a significant influence or control, with the investment being between 20 to 50 percent of the total stock of the firm invested in. The cost method, as mentioned earlier, is preferably used for lesser investment percentages.
  • It has an advantage over equity method of accounting when there is no fair, easily determinable value for the investment.
  • It is easier to calculate the return on investment and do other financial analysis of figures when the equity accounting method is used. As the cost method uses working paper and not the general ledger, all figures must be tracked there first.
  • It includes less paperwork than the equity method. On the other hand, being more comprehensive, the financial statements done using the equity method are more useful to the internal management for facilitating analysis.
  • The best scoring point of the equity method over the cost method is that it has an easy self-checking feature, i.e., the consolidated financial statements should tally with certain parent figures and when they don't, the problem can be easily identified and corrected. The cost method has no such self-check feature.
Hope this article helps you in understanding the method a little better. If you had any trouble understanding the accounting terminology, you can look it up on the glossary of accounting terms and definitions.
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Last Updated: January 18, 2012
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Good source of information, which helped with revising concepts studied in college - Vijay [February 25, 2013]
In VCA, which method of cost accounting is preferred? - john [July 13, 2012]
Im feeling very happy .iget lot of information. - sobia [November 4, 2010]
Do you any accouting software for consolidation process? - Salman [December 3, 2009]