What is the Meaning of Understated and Overstated in Accounting?

by Kirk Thomason; Updated September 26, 2017
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Accounting terminology describes specific events. Understated and overstated are two terms that describe the inaccuracy of accounting figures. Accountants use these terms primarily when reviewing financial statements. The terms also apply to other situations, however, often found in a company’s general ledger or subsidiary journals. Accounting errors can mislead financial statements users when making decisions.

Understated Defined

Understated amounts indicate a reported amount is not correct and the reported amount is less than the true amount. For example, an accountant may release a statement saying a company’s inventory account has an understated balance. This indicates the reported balance — $13,000, for example — should actually be $15,000. Two accounts will have this error as double-entry accounting requires two accounts to be in every entry an accountant posts into the general ledger.

Overstated Defined

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Overstated is the opposite of understated in accounting terminology. Accountants use this term to describe an incorrect reported amount that is higher than the true amount. Using the previous inventory example, an accountant determines the balance is $17,000; the balance should be $15,000, however, resulting in an overstated amount. Another account will also have an error, due to the requirements for double-entry accounting.

Research

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When an accountant finds an understated or overstated balance, he needs to conduct research to discover the error. Different types of errors can create these errors. Double-posted entries, transposed numbers or incorrect amounts entered into the general ledger are often the most common errors. Two accounts will have the error, leading the accountant to discover both sides of the entry.

Correction

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Correcting an understated or overstated account is not too difficult. The accountant needs to reverse the incorrect entry. New calculations are necessary to determine the correct amount to enter into accounts. Accountants need paperwork to prove the validity of the entry prior to making the correction. In some cases, an accountant may need to have a manager authorize the correction to ensure it is accurate and valid for entering into the general ledger.

References

  • "Intermediate Accounting"; David Spiceland, et al.; 2007

About the Author

Kirk Thomason began writing in 2011. In addition to years of corporate accounting experience, he teaches online accounting courses for two universities. Thomason holds a Bachelor and Master of Science in accounting.

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