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A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding & Preparing an Income Statement

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Financial management is at the heart of any successful business. To understand and improve your company’s financial performance, you need the right tools. An income statement is one of the most important financial tools.

March 25, 2024
Author: NCH

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But how do you make sense of it? This guide will walk you through preparing an income statement, its components, and its significance in financial reporting.

What Is an Income Statement?

Also known as a profit and loss statement (P&L), an income statement is a financial document that summarizes a company’s revenues, expenses, and profits (or losses) over a specified time frame—typically a month, quarter, or year. 

It offers a snapshot of a company’s profitability and helps stakeholders, including investors, creditors, and management, understand how well the business is performing.

Key Components of an Income Statement


This is the top line of your income statement and represents the total income generated from your business operations. It includes sales, service fees, and other sources of revenue.

Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) 

This section of the statement encompasses the direct costs associated with producing or delivering the products or services that generated your revenue. It typically consists of materials, labor, and other costs directly related to production.

Gross Profit 

Gross profit is calculated by subtracting the COGS from your revenue. It shows how much money you have left after covering the direct costs of your products or services.

Operating Expenses 

This section includes all other costs associated with running your business. Items like rent, utilities, salaries, marketing expenses, and office supplies are part of the operating expenses.

Operating Income 

Operating income is the result of subtracting operating expenses from the gross profit. It reflects the profit or loss generated by your core business operations.

Other Income and Expenses 

This category includes any additional sources of income, such as interest or investment income, as well as any extraordinary expenses or losses.

Net Income 

Net income, or net profit, is the final figure on the income statement. It’s the amount your business has earned or lost during the specified period.

Why Is an Income Statement Important?

Performance Evaluation 

An income statement allows for assessing a company’s financial performance over time. By comparing income statements from different periods, stakeholders can identify positive and negative trends and make adjustments accordingly.


Most investors and creditors use income statements to evaluate the company’s ability to generate profits and meet its financial obligations. Using all the income statement information, they can make smart investment or lending decisions.


Lenders and creditors can use income statements to evaluate an entity’s ability to meet its financial obligations, such as repaying loans and servicing debt. A positive net income indicates a healthier financial position and a stronger credit profile, especially for startups.

Tax Reporting 

Income statements are essential for determining taxable income. Businesses use them to calculate income tax liability and comply with tax regulations. Accurate financial reporting is necessary to avoid legal issues related to tax evasion.

How to Prepare an Income Statement

Step 1: Gather Financial Data

The data may include your revenue and all expenses for a month, quarter, or year for the selected period. These can come from various sources, including accounting software, bank statements, sales records, and expense receipts.

Step 2: Determine the Reporting Period

Common periods may include months, quarters, or years. Your choice will depend on your reporting needs and the frequency of financial analysis.

Step 3: Identify Revenue Sources

List all sources of revenue generated by your business during the reporting period, such as:


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  • Sales revenue
  • Service fees
  • Rental income
  • Interest income
  • Dividend income
  • Other sources of income

Ensure that you categorize and separate different revenue streams for clarity.

Step 4: Calculate the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)

If your business involves selling products, calculate the COGS. It includes direct costs associated with producing or buying the products you sell. This may encompass expenses like:

  • Raw materials
  • Labor costs
  • Manufacturing expenses

Exclude this step if your business provides services without physical products.

Step 5: Calculate Gross Profit

Subtract the COGS (if applicable) from your total revenue to find the gross profit. This income directly covers the cost of producing your products or services.

Step 6: Identify Operating Expenses

List and categorize all operating expenses incurred during the reporting period. Common categories may include the following:

  • Salaries and wages
  • Rent and utilities
  • Marketing and advertising expenses
  • Office supplies
  • Depreciation and amortization
  • Travel expenses
  • Legal and professional fees
  • Insurance costs

Organize these expenses into clear categories for better understanding and analysis.

Step 7: Calculate Operating Income

Subtract the total operating expenses from the gross profit to calculate the operating income. Operating income reflects the profit or loss of your core business operations, excluding any other income or expenses.

Step 8: Include Other Income and Expenses

Incorporate any additional sources of income and extraordinary expenses or gains. This section may encompass items such as:

  • Interest income
  • Investment income
  • Gains or losses from the sale of assets
  • Litigation expenses

Remember to differentiate between recurring and non-recurring items.

Step 9: Calculate Net Income

Calculate the net income by subtracting other income and expenses from the operating income. This is the overall profit or loss for the period.

Step 10: Format the Income Statement

Present the income statement in a clear and standardized format. Include a header with your company name, the title “Income Statement,” and the specific period it covers. Use tables or charts to present the figures in an organized manner.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid

Whether you’re creating an income statement or busy boosting your credit score, beginners often encounter some common mistakes. Here are a few tips to help you avoid them:

  • Accurate Data: Ensure all financial data is accurate and up-to-date. Mistakes or omissions can significantly impact the reliability of your income statement.
  • Consistency: Use consistent accounting methods and categories throughout the statement. This allows for accurate comparisons between different periods.
  • Depreciation: Don’t forget to include depreciation as an expense, even though it doesn’t involve cash outflows.
  • Non-Recurring Items: Clearly label any non-recurring or extraordinary items so they don’t skew the analysis of your business’s regular performance.
  • Understandable Terminology: Use terminology that is easy to understand for all stakeholders. Avoid jargon or technical terms that may confuse readers.

The Bottomline

Creating an income statement is a fundamental aspect of financial reporting for any business. It provides a clear overview of a company’s revenue, expenses, and profitability, aiding in performance evaluation and decision-making.

If you need help preparing an income statement, do not hesitate to contact us at NCH. Our bookkeepers are here to provide guidance and support, ensuring that your financial statements are accurate and compliant with industry standards. 

Visit our website or give us a call at 1-800-508-1729 to get started!

DISCLAIMER: The above material has been prepared for informational purposes only, containing opinions of the provider, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, or accounting advice. Please consider consulting tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.

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