SSARS 21: What Have We Learned?

SSARS 21 offers interesting alternatives for compilations and preparation of financial statements

SSARS 21 has been in existence since October 2014. What have we learned about this standard? 

(SSARS 22 and SSARS 23 were subsequently added, but most of the SSARS 21 guidance remains as originally issued.)

SSARS 21: What Have We Learned

Preparation of Financial Statements or Compilation Reports

Before SSARS 21, if an accountant created financial statements and submitted them to a client, he had to issue a compilation report. Now, using the Preparation of Financial Statements part of SSARS 21 (AR-C 70), an accountant can create and provide financial statements without a compilation report. Such financial statements can be provided to third parties such as banks–again with no compilation report. So, how have accountants responded to the option to provide financial statements to clients without a compilation report?

It has been my observation that many accountants continue to perform compilation engagements (rather than use the preparation option). Why? I think we are creatures of habit. We have issued compilation reports for so long that we’re comfortable doing so–and we continue to do the same. Also, as we’ll see in a minute, performing a compilation doesn’t take much additional time.

Some accountants, however, are using AR-C 70. They are issuing financial statements without a compilation report and stating that “no assurance is provided” on each page–or, as the standard allows, placing a disclaimer page in front of the financial statements.

Who Should Use the Preparation Standard?

So, who uses AR-C 70? Accountants with limited time. 

Suppose, for example, that a client wants a balance sheet and nothing else. You can create the balance sheet in Excel and put “no assurance is provided” at the bottom of the page. And you’re done–with the exception of obtaining a signed engagement letter. (Accountants should document any significant consultations or professional judgments, but usually, there are none.)

Can I Avoid the Engagement Letter?

You may be thinking, “Charles, I’m not sure I’m saving much time if I have to create an engagement letter.  Getting a signed engagement letter might even take more time than preparing the balance sheet.” Yes, that is true. So, is there a situation where the engagement letter is not required? Yes, sometimes.

Financial Statements as a Byproduct

You can provide the balance sheet to a client without obtaining an engagement letter if the statement preparation is a byproduct of another service (as long as you have not been engaged to prepare the financial statement). For example, if you’re preparing a tax return and create the balance sheet as a byproduct of the tax service, you are not required to obtain a SSARS engagement letter? Why? Because you have not been engaged to prepare the financial statement. The trigger for AR-C 70 is whether you have been engaged to prepare financial statements. 

QuickBooks Bookkeeping

The same is true if you provide bookkeeping services using QuickBooks in the Cloud. If you have not been engaged to prepare financial statements and the online software allows you to print the financial statements, you are not in the soup. That is, you are not following AR-C 70–because you have not been engaged to prepare financial statements. If your client asks you to perform bookkeeping service in a cloud-based accounting package (such as QuickBooks) and to prepare financial statements, you are engaged. Then you must follow AR-C 70 and obtain an engagement letter–and follow the other requirements of the standard.

Regardless, we need to be clear about the intended service.

Compilation Engagements

In most compilations, the accountant prepares the financial statements and performs the compilation engagement. Notice these are two different services: (1) preparing the financial statements and (2) performing the compilation. It is possible for your client to create the financial statement and for you (the accountant) to perform the compilation, though this is rare. If you do both, the preparation of financial statements is not performed using AR-C 70. So what standard should you follow for the preparation of the financial statements. There is none. You are just performing a nonattest service. Then you’ll perform the compilation engagement using AR-C 80.

So, the question at this point is whether you should prepare financial statements using AR-C 70 or create the financial statements and perform a compilation using AR-C 80. (Technically, the choice is the clients, but you are explaining the differences to them.)

Additional Time for Compilations

How much extra time does it take to perform a compilation engagement after the financial statements are created? Not much. You are only placing a compilation report on your letterhead (rather than stating that “no assurance is provided” on each page or providing a disclaimer that precedes the financial statements). 

What other procedures are required for a compilation (versus providing the financial statements under AR-C 70)? You are reading the financial statements to see if they are appropriate. And since you just created the statements, that shouldn’t take much time. 

Regardless, both AR-C 70 and AR-C 80 require signed engagement letters. So if you’ve been engaged to prepare financial statements or perform a compilation, there is no getting around the requirement for an engagement letter.

Is a Preparation or a Compilation Service Best?

So which is better? Using AR-C 70 (Preparation of Financial Statements) or AR-C 80 (Compilation Engagements)? It depends. 

Some banks desire a compilation report, so in that case, of course, you are going to–at the request of the client–perform a compilation engagement.

Also, some CPAs feel safer issuing a compilation report that spells out (in greater detail than a preparation disclaimer) what is done and what is not done. We don’t know yet whether a preparation service creates greater legal exposure than a compilation. But we will with time. After a few years of using SSARS 21, I think our insurance companies will tell us whether one service creates more exposure than another. So far, I have not seen any such studies. Why? SSARS 21 has been in use only a couple of years.

Another factor to consider is peer review. The AICPA standards do not require a peer review if you only provide financial statements using AR-C 70. But check with your state board of accountancy; some states require peer review, regardless.

For the most efficient way to issue financial statements, click here.

SSARS 21 Book

You can purchase my five-star rated SSARS 21 book on Amazon. Click here. The book provides sample financial statements using AR-C 70 and AR-C 80.

(Note: SSARS 23 has changed the supplementary information language; see it here. The book focuses on preparation of financial statements and compilation engagements. It does not cover review engagements.)

Going Concern in Compilation and Review Engagements

If your compilation and review engagement clients have financial difficulties, then think about going concern disclosures

Do you need to concern yourself with going concern in compilation and review engagements? Yes, if the financial statements are prepared in accordance with the FASB Codification. But is going concern relevant to special purpose frameworks such as the cash basis or tax basis financial statements. Yes, going concern is in play even with special purpose frameworks. This post provides an overview of what you need to know about going concern as it relates to compilation and review engagements.

I recently wrote a post about ASU 2014-15, Disclosure of Uncertainties about an Entity’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern, which is effective for years ending after December 15, 2016. This standard requires companies to include certain disclosures when substantial doubt is present. So, we know that financial statements prepared in accordance with GAAP must include these disclosures. Otherwise, there is a GAAP departure. And in an audit, we modify our opinion when there is a departure.

Going Concern

Going Concern in Compilation Engagements

But what about financial statements subject to a compilation engagement, especially when substantially all disclosures are omitted? Is it not permissible for the CPA to ignore the going concern standard since it just requires disclosures? Yes, but be careful. Ask yourself whether the financial statements would be misleading (without the going concern disclosure). If they are misleading, then include a selected disclosure regarding going concern. Also, consider adding an emphasis of matter paragraph (regarding going concern) to your compilation report.

Consider the alternative. Your client (who has significant going concern issues) takes your compilation report and their financial statements (that has no disclosures) to a local bank. It’s obvious that the company is in poor shape. But the bank makes a large loan anyway, and later, the company defaults. Then the bank files suit against you (the CPA) asserting that you issued the compilation report without the emphasis of matter and financial statements without the going concern disclosure–knowing the statements were misleading.

Sample Compilation Report with a Going Concern Paragraph

An emphasis of a matter paragraph (concerning the going concern issue) is not required but may be necessary to ensure clarity. Below is a sample compilation report–with a going concern emphasis of matter–from the AICPA’s Preparation, Compilation and Review Audit Guide.

Management is responsible for the accompanying financial statements of XYZ Company, which comprise the balance sheets as of December 31, 20X2 and 20X1 and the related statements of income, changes in stockholders’ equity, and cash flows for the years then ended, and the related notes to the financial statements in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America. I (We) have performed compilation engagements in accordance with Statements on Standards for Accounting and Review Services promulgated by the Accounting and Review Services Committee of the AICPA. I (We) did not audit or review the financial statements nor was (were) I (we) required to perform any procedures to verify the accuracy or completeness of the information provided by management. Accordingly, I (we) do not express an opinion, a conclusion, nor provide any form of assurance on these financial statements.

As discussed in Note X, certain conditions indicate that the Company may be unable to continue as a going concern. The accompanying financial statements do not include any adjustments that might be necessary should the Company be unable to continue as a going concern.

[Signature of accounting firm or accountant, as appropriate]
[Accountant’s city and state]
[Date of the accountant’s report]

Going Concern in Review Engagements

Since review engagements require full disclosure, going concern disclosures–when substantial doubt exists in GAAP financial statements–are not optional. They must be provided. If not, then a GAAP departure exists.

AR-C 90.65 states “The accountant should consider whether, during the performance of review procedures, evidence or information came to the accountant’s attention indicating that there could be an uncertainty about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern for a reasonable period of time.” So what’s a reasonable period of time? GAAP specifies the period as one year after the date the financial statements are available to be issued. If a financial reporting framework does not specify a period (such as the cash basis of accounting), then use one year from the date of the financial statements being reviewed.

The Accounting and Review Services Committee (ARSC) is presently reviewing AR-C 90 in light of FASB’s going concern standard, ASU 2014-15. ARSC is working to align the review standards with FASB’s going concern standards. Also, expect to see a requirement that an emphasis of matter paragraph be added to the review report when substantial doubt is present. 

Sample Going Concern Paragraph in a Review Report

Here’s a sample emphasis of matter paragraph for a review report.

Emphasis of Matter

The accompanying financial statements have been prepared assuming that the Company will continue as a going concern. As discussed in Note X to the financial statements, the Company has suffered recurring losses from operations and has a net capital deficiency that raises an uncertainty about its ability to continue as a going concern. Management’s plans in regard to these matters are also described in Note X. The financial statements do not include any adjustments that might result from the outcome of this uncertainty. Our conclusion is not modified with respect to this matter.

Special Purpose Frameworks

While the cash, modified cash, or tax bases of accounting do not address going concern, accountants still need to consider the effects of negative financial conditions and trends. Why? When using a special purpose framework (like the tax basis), the accountant should follow the guidance in GAAP. No, that doesn’t mean your disclosures are just like GAAP, but it does mean they are similar to GAAP.

Since GAAP tells the financial statement preparer to consider whether substantial doubt exists, then persons creating cash basis, modified cash basis or tax basis financial statements should do the same. If substantial doubt is present, going concern disclosures are necessary. Follow FASB’s guidance in my going concern post to create your special purpose framework disclosures.

So, what is substantial doubt? The FASB Codification defines it this way:

Substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern is considered to exist when aggregate conditions and events indicate that it is probable that the entity will be unable to meet obligations when due within one year of the date that the financial statements are issued or are available to be issued.

If substantial doubt is present and going concern disclosures are not included in full disclosure compilations or reviews, then modify your accountant’s report (for the departure). 

SSARS 21 and Printing Financial Statements from Quickbooks

Is AR-C 70, Preparation of Financial Statements, triggered by printing financial statements from Quickbooks?

Many CPAs are still asking if printing financial statements from Quickbooks triggers a requirement to follow SSARS 21. Previously, if a CPA created and submitted financial statements to a client, he had to issue a compilation report. Hear the answer in this video. 

Also, we’ll take a look at whether you as a CPA can issue monthly financial statements in accordance with SSARS 21 and then perform an audit for the same client at the end of the year. 

Note: This video was created in 2015, but the information is still current. SSARS 23 does not alter the answers.

Check out my SSARS 21 book on Amazon.com by clicking here

SSARS 23 Changes Preparation and Compilation Engagements

SSARS 23 amends SSARS 21 to encompass prospective information

SSARS 23 changes preparation and compilation engagements. The article summarizes the effects of the new standard.

The Accounting and Review Services Committee (ARSC) issued SSARS 23 in October 2016. Parts of the standard (e.g., that applying to supplementary information language in compilation and review reports) were effective immediately. Other parts (mainly regarding preparation and compilation of prospective information) are required as of May 1, 2017. This post tells you how SSARS 23 affects Preparation (AR-C 70) and Compilation (AR-C 80) engagements.

SSARS 23 changes preparation and compilation engagements

You’ll recall that ARSC issued SSARS 21 back in October 2014. It was effective for years ending December 31, 2015. A clarified version of the compilation and review standards is included in SSARS 21. SSARS 21 also provides new guidance for the preparation of financial statements. The Standard did not address prospective financial statements. Why? The AICPA was working on clarifying the Attestation Standards (SSAE 18), the place where compiled prospective financial statement guidance was (previously) housed. With the issuance of SSARS 23, the AICPA moved this guidance from the Attestation Standards to SSARS.

The primary impact of SSARS 23 is to provide standards for the preparation and compilation of prospective financial information.

How Preparation of Financial Statements (AR-C 70) Changed

The Preparation Standard (AR-C 70) now includes guidance regarding prospective financial information. SSARS 23 requires the inclusion of significant assumptions since they are essential to understanding prospective information. Therefore, accountants should not prepare prospective financial information without including a summary of significant assumptions in the notes. Also, a financial projection should not be created unless it includes:

  • an identification of the hypothetical assumptions, or 
  • a description of the limitations on the usefulness of the presentation

One other change to AR-C 70 is the slight change to the preparation disclaimer. SSARS 23 deletes the word “accordingly.” See below:

How Compilation Engagements (AR-C 80) Changed

AR-C 80, Compilation Engagements, now applies to compilations of prospective financial information (new with SSARS 23), pro forma financial information (see SSARS 22), and other historical information (as provided for in SSARS 21). 

Another change is that accountants should report known departures from the applicable financial reporting framework in the compilation report. Prior to SSARS 23, accountants could disclose such departures in the notes without doing so in the compilation report.

Prospective Financial Information Guidance

Additionally, AR-C 70 and AR-C 80 were amended to clarify that the AICPA Guide Prospective Financial Information provides comprehensive guidance regarding prospective financial information, including suitable criteria for the preparation and presentation of such information.

Short SSARS 23 Video

If you desire additional information about SSARS 23, check out my video:

SSARS 21 Book

If you need SSARS 21 guidance, see my book on Amazon.

Compilations: Lacking Independence in the Current or Prior Period

CPAs must disclose independence impairments in compilation reports

Do you lack independence in a compilation engagement? If yes, then here’s how to disclose the impairment in the compilation report.

An accountant can issue a compilation report even though independence is lacking. When independence is impaired, SSARS 21 requires that the CPA modify the compilation report. The cause of the impairment (e.g., you own a portion of the business) can be disclosed in the compilation report but is not required. You can–if you prefer–simply say you are not independent; this is what most CPAs do.

Lacking Independence

Lacking Independence in Current Year

The accountant’s compilation report can disclose a lack of independence as follows:

We are not independent with respect to ABC Company.

Just add this sentence separately at the bottom of the compilation report.

Lacking Independence in the Prior Year

If you were not independent in 2016 but you are independent in 2017 (and comparative statements are presented), the accountant’s report can read:

As of and for the year ended December 31, 2016, we were not independent with respect to ABC Company.

Alternatively, the report can read:

As of and for the year ended December 31, 2016, we were not independent with respect to ABC Company. We are currently independent with respect to ABC Company.

Independence in Review Engagements and Audits

CPAs must be independent to perform review engagements or audits. There are no exceptions. See the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct for guidance on independence issues. Independence rules are found in section 1.200.

Independence in Preparation of Financial Statement Engagements

CPAs can perform a Preparation of Financial Statement engagement without being independent. No independence disclosure is required since this service is a nonattest engagement. 

My SSARS 21 Book

If you are looking for SSARS 21 guidance regarding Preparation of Financial Statements and Compilation Engagements, check out my book on Amazon.

Financial Statement References (at the Bottom of the Page)

What financial statement page references are required?

What wording is required at the bottom of financial statement pages? Is there a difference in the references in audited statements and those in compilations or reviews? What wording should be placed at the bottom of supplementary pages? Below I’ll answer these questions.

financial statement references

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Audited Financial Statements and Supplementary Information

First, let’s look at financial statement references in audit reports.

While generally accepted accounting principles do not require financial page references to the notes, it is a common practice to do so. Here are examples:

  • See notes to the financial statements.
  • The accompanying notes are an integral part of these financial statements.
  • See accompanying notes.

Accountants can also–though not required–reference specific disclosures on a financial statement page. For example, See Note 6 (next to the Inventory line on a balance sheet). It is my preference to use general references such as See accompanying notes.

Audit standards do not require financial statement page references to the audit opinion.

Supplementary pages attached to audited financial statements should not include a reference to the notes or the opinion.

Preparation, Compilation, and Review Engagements

Now, let’s discuss references in preparation, compilation, and review engagements. 

Compilation and Review Engagements

SSARS 21 does not require a reference (on financial statement pages) to the compilation or review report; however, it is permissible to do so. What do I do? I do not refer to the accountant’s report. I just put See accompanying notes at the bottom of each financial statement page.

You are not required to include a reference to the accountant’s report on the supplementary information pages. SSARS 21 does suggest that such references be included in case the financial statements or supplementary information are separated from the compilation or review report. Examples include:

  • See Accountant’s Compilation Report.
  • See Independent Accountant’s Review Report.

What do I do? I include a reference to the accountant’s report on each supplementary page.

Preparation of Financial Statement Engagements

SSARS 21 provides an option (to compilations) called the preparation of financial statements (AR-C 70), a nonattest service. AR-C 70 requires that the accountant either state on each page that “no assurance is provided” or provide a disclaimer which precedes the financial statements. AR-C 70 does not require that the financial statement pages refer to the disclaimer (if provided), but it is permissible to do so. Such a reference can read See Accountant’s Disclaimer.

If your AR-C 70 work product has supplementary information, consider including this same reference (See Accountant’s Disclaimer) on the supplementary pages.

Selected Disclosures in Preparation and Compilation Engagements

You can include one or two notes rather than all

Do you ever want to include just one disclosure in your financial statements without providing all the notes? Selected disclosures can be included in certain situations.

Do professional standards allow this? Yes. But only if you use AR-C 70 (the preparation guidance) or AR-C 80 (the compilation guidance).

selected disclosures

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Selected Disclosures in Compilations

As you probably already know, a CPA can issue compiled financial statements without disclosures as long as the compilation report discloses the omission. An example follows.

Management has elected to omit substantially all of the disclosures required by accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America. If the omitted disclosures were included in the financial statements, they might influence the user’s conclusions about the Company’s financial position, results of operations and cash flows. Accordingly, the financial statements are not designed for those who are not informed about such matters.

If the financial statements include one or two notes, then the financial statements still omit substantially all of the disclosures, so the accountant (still) uses the wording in the preceding paragraph.

Sample Selected Disclosure

An example of a selected disclosure follows:

ABC Company

Selected Information –

Substantially All Disclosures Required by Accounting Principles

Generally Accepted in the United States of America are Not Included

December 31, 2017

Note 1. Long-Term Debt.

ABC Company borrowed $450,000 on July 15, 2017, from XYZ Bank. The rate of interest is 5%, and the loan is collateralized by equipment of the Company. Payments are $10,000 per month plus interest for two years with a balloon payment for the balance of the amount owed.

Preparation Engagements

AR-C 70 says:

The accountant may prepare financial statements that include disclosures about only a few matters in the notes to the financial statements. Such disclosures may be labeled “Selected Information—Substantially All Disclosures Required by [the applicable financial reporting framework] Are Not Included.”

So, the selected-disclosure option is available in a Preparation of Financial Statements engagement. Include the required disclaimer at the bottom of the page such as “No assurance is provided on these financial statements.” 

Other Considerations

The accountant should consider whether management’s election to include only selected disclosures causes the financial statements to be misleading (for example, by omitting the disclosures that contain negative information). If so, the accountant should request that the financial statements be revised to include the omitted disclosures.

The selected-disclosure option is not available for financial statements subject to a review engagement. Such financial statements must be full disclosure.

What About You?

Do you ever use this selected-disclosure option? Any reservations about doing so?

AICPA Code of Professional Conduct: Answers to Your Ethical Questions

Check out this post for two helpful AICPA resources

Are you a CPA looking for answers to independence or other ethical questions? Below, you’ll see two handy AICPA resources:

  • AICPA Code of Professional Conduct
  • Plain English Guide to Independence
AICPA Code of Conduct

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AICPA Code of Professional Conduct

The AICPA provides online access to the Code of Conduct. You can also download a PDF copy here (this PDF covers all standards issued through August 31, 2016).

Online access is free, and users are able to save searches and bookmark content.

The Code is organized into three parts:

  1. Public practice
  2. Members in Business
  3. All other members (including those who are in between jobs or retired)

The Code includes a threats and safeguards framework. CPAs should identify threats and then consider safeguards to mitigate those threats. The CPAs can proceed with the engagement if threats–after considering safeguards–are at an acceptance level.

Plain English Guide to Independence

As the Quality Control partner for our firm, I receive quite a few questions about ethical issues (mainly about independence). Nine out of ten times I find the answers to those questions in the AICPA’s Plain English Guide to Independence. I download this guide and keep it handy. When I need to research an issue, I open the document and perform word searches. If you aren’t already using this resource, I highly recommend it. 

How to Present Supplementary Information in Compilation and Preparation Engagements

Supplementary information can be added to basic financial statements

Are you wondering how to present supplementary information in compilation and preparation engagements? What supplementary information (SI) should be included? How does the accountant define his or her responsibility for SI?

Often accountants, at the request of their clients, add supplementary information to the financial statements. Such information is never required (to be in compliance with a reporting framework) but may be useful.

supplementary information: compilation and preparation engagements

Picture is courtesy of Dollar Photo

You can think of financials with supplementary information in this manner:

Financial statements – Required – The jeep in the picture above

Supplementary Information – Not required – The camper

You’re not going anywhere without a vehicle (it’s required). And your camper (not required) is no good without an automobile to pull it. Kind of a silly analogy, I know, but maybe it will help you remember.

I normally add a divider page between the financial statements and supplementary information (though such as page is not required); the divider page simply says “Supplementary Information” and nothing else.

SSARS 21 defines supplementary information as follows:

Information presented outside the basic financial statements, excluding required supplementary information, that is not considered necessary for the financial statements to be fairly presented in accordance with the applicable financial reporting framework.

The Most Efficient Way to Issue Financial Statements

SSARS 21 Tax Basis Financial Statements

What is the most efficient way to issue financial statements?

Tax basis financial statements without disclosure, using the Preparation of Financial Statements option (Section 70 of SSARS 21).

efficient way to issue financial statements

This answer assumes you are preparing financial statements in conjunction with a tax return and that those financial statements are issued separately—apart from the tax return—to your client.