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Matching Concept in Accounting
Definition, Purpose, Meaning Explained, Usage


The matching concept represents the primary differences between accrual accounting and cash basis accounting. "Matching" means that firms report revenues in the same period they report the expenses that brought them.

The matching concept in accrual accounting helps ensure that periodic earnings are stated accurately.

What is the Matching Concept in Accounting?

The matching concept is an accounting practice whereby firms recognize revenues and their related expenses in the same accounting period. Firms report revenues, that is, along with the expenses that brought them. 

The purpose of the matching concept is to avoid misstating earnings for a period. Reporting revenues for a period without reporting all the expenses that brought them could result in overstated profits.

Note especially that applying the matching concept requires accrual accounting, the practice of recognizing revenues when they are earned and expenses when they are incurred. Actual cash flows from these transactions may occur at other times, even in other periods.

Explaining the Matching Concept in Context

Sections below further define, explain, and illustrate matching concept. Note especially that the term appears in context with related terms and concepts, including the following:

Matching Concept
Accrual Accounting
Double Entry Accounting
Materiality Concept
Auditor's Opinion
Earning Revenues
Incurring Expenses
Cash Basis Accounting
Financial Metrics


Related Topics


Who Defines the Matching Concept?
Who Enforces the Concept?

In the US, Canada, the UK, and in many other countries, accounting principles such as the matching concept appear in GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). They are also by the organizations behind GAAP. In the United State, this is the Financial Accounting Standards Board, FASB.

Besides the matching concept, two other universally recognized accounting concepts include:

  • The materiality concept.
    his is the principle that trivial matters are to be disregarded and all important matters are to be disclosed.
  • The historical cost convention.
    This is the practice by which record prices as the price prevailing at the time of the transaction.  

Who enforces matching and other accounting principles? A first answer is that enforcement usually falls to the same parties that "enforce" GAAP: Independent third party auditors.

When an auditor reviews a firm's financial statements, the best possible outcome is an at auditor's opinion of Unqualified. This affirms the auditor's judgment that statements are accurate and conform to GAAP. And, this means the auditor finds no issues with matching, materiality, historical costs, or any other GAAP-defined accounting principle.

Define Your Terms!
What is the Meaning of Accrual Accounting, Revenue, and Expense?

Accrual Accounting

The matching concept represents the primary difference between accrual accounting and the alternative approach, cash basis accounting. The matching concept, in fact, has meaning only under accrual accounting. The concept refers specifically to matching earned revenues with the incurred expenses that brought them. Matched revenues and expenses work together in the Income statement equation to determine the firm's net profit for the period

Net Profit = Revenues Earned – Expenses Incurred

While the matching concept is concerned only with revenues and expenses, businesspeople also use quite a few other related terms that are easily confused with revenues and expenses: costs, cash inflows, and cash outflows, for instance. It is important, therefore, to understand precisely the meaning of earning revenues and incurring expenses.

Accrual Accounting: Earning Revenues

Under accrual accounting, firms claim revenues when they earn them. Earning revenues means meeting two conditions.

  • Firstly, revenues must be realizable. Revenues from sales of goods and services are said to be realizableonly when there is good reason to believe payment is forthcoming.
  • Secondly, the seller has in fact delivered the goods and services.

Revenues earned during the period, therefore, may exist as accounts receivable, other receivables, or as cash received.

Accrual Accounting: Incurring Expenses.

Under accrual accounting, consuming resources incurs expenses. Note especially that the accountant's definition of "expense" refers to assets.

Expense: A decrease in owner’s equity due to using up assets.

  • An expense for delivery vehicle fuel, for instance, uses up cash assets.
  • The firm may purchase capital assets, such as a fleet of delivery vehicles, Depreciation expense, over time decreases the book value of these assets.
  • For most other kinds of spending, however, firms incur expenses only as they consume resources.
    • Firms incur expenses for employee labor, for instance, after employees perform the labor. Only then do they actually owe wages or salaries to employees.
    • Firms incur floor space rental expense, over time, only as they occupy the space. For instance, a firm may sign a one-year rental contract for floor space. The contract, moreover, may call for monthly rent payments due on the first day of each month.

      On the first day of the first month, after making the monthly advance payment, the firm does not yet incur an expense. At that point, the firm has instead an asset known as a Prepaid expense. For the accountant, rental expense itself builds day by day, as the firm occupies the space. At the end of the month, the Prepaid expense asset is depleted and the monthly rental expense is incurred.

Exhibit 1, below summarizes the relationships between terms including cost, expenditure, and expense.


Exhibit 1. The terms expense, expenditure, and cost are often confused and sometimes even used interchangeably. In fact, these, terms have different meanings. Of the terms appearing in Exhibit 1, the matching concept concerns only those that are expenses.

Matching Concept in Accrual Accounting
How is the Matching Concept Applied?

How does the accountant know which expenses brought which revenues? The answer is simply that the all of the reporting period's revenue earnings match only with all expenses incurred in the same period.

Consider a firm that sells merchandise from rented shop space. Suppose also the firm reports sales revenues for the quarter as $600,000. However, the firm's customers may not actually pay all they owe during the quarter. Some may in fact come days or weeks the period ends. And, suppose also that the firm pays $30,000 floor space rent each month for use of the shop, and payment due in advance on the first of each month.

One day after the quarter ends:

  • The firm reports earning $600,000 in revenues for the quarter just ended, even though some of this is still "payable."
  • The matching concept requires that the firm to report floor space rental expenses for the actually incurred for occupancy during the quarter. The firm will report $90,000 expense incurred for the quarter just over. It will report this amount even if it has already made the advance payment for the next month.

Cash basis account: Matching concept does not apply

Under cash basis accounting, firms claim revenues when they actually receive cash payment for them. Similarly, under cash basis accounting, they report expenses when they actually pay them, in cash. As a result, the matching concept does not apply under cash basis accounting.

What is the Matching Concept Role in ROI?
Fnancial Investment Metrics Assume Matching

One form of the matching concept helps give meaning to financial metrics at the heart of business case and investment analysis. These analyses ask, essentially, "What happens if we take this or that action? And, they answer in business terms: Business costs, business benefits, and business risks.

to evaluate potential actions or investments, these analyses produce financial metrics such as the following:

  • Payback period.
  • Net present value NPV
  • Internal rate of return IRR
  • Return on investment ROI
These metrics are useful for this purpose because they take an investment view of the cash flow stream that follows from an investment or action. This simply means they compare cash inflows to cash outflows. And each of these metrics makes the comparison in it's own way. For more on cash flow metrics, see Financial Metrics.

Metrics have Meaning When Returns Match Costs That Brought Them

In all four cases, the comparison—the resulting financial metric—has meaning only when the inflows under analysis are brought by the outflows in the analysis. These metrics, in other words, have a clear message only when investment returns are analyzed along with the investment costs that brought them.

Firms launch projects, initiatives, programs, and products—all with specific objectives in mind. The objective may be, for instance, to improve sales revenues, market share, employee productivity, product quality, or customer satisfaction, for instance. The problem for the analyst, however, is that firms typically approach such objectives through multiple actions.

Consider the problem facing an analyst trying to produce, say, an "ROI" for one specific action. In order to claim validity for the ROI metric, the analyst must be able to claim that the measured returns are matched appropriately with (and only with) the costs that brought them. In a complex business environment, wise decision makers will question that claim before trusting the ROI.

For examples showing the use of ROI and other financial metrics in business case analysis, so as to reflect only the costs and benefits directly resulting from an action, see the encyclopedia entries for: