Comparing FIFO vs LIFO Inventory Valuation Methods: Definitions, Differences, and Examples


FIFO is an ideal valuation method for businesses that must impress investors – until the higher tax liability is considered. Because FIFO results in a lower recorded cost per unit, it also records a higher level of pretax earnings. FIFO has advantages and disadvantages compared to other inventory methods. FIFO often results in higher net income and higher inventory balances on the balance sheet.

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FIFO stands for First In, First Out, which means the goods that are unsold are the ones that were most recently added to the inventory. Conversely, LIFO is Last In, First Out, which means goods most recently added to the inventory are sold first so the unsold goods are ones that were added to the inventory the earliest. LIFO accounting is not permitted by the IFRS standards so it is less popular. It does, however, allow the inventory valuation to be lower in inflationary times. The average cost is a third accounting method that calculates inventory cost as the total cost of inventory divided by total units purchased. Most businesses use either FIFO or LIFO, and sole proprietors typically use average cost.

How FIFO and LIFO Work

Ng offered another example, revisiting the Candle Corporation and its batch-purchase numbers and prices. In periods of deflation, LIFO creates lower costs and increases net income, which also increases taxable income. This is why LIFO creates higher costs and lowers net income in times of inflation. Based on the LIFO method, the last inventory in is the first inventory sold.

How is LIFO calculated?

Not only is net income often higher under FIFO, but inventory is often larger as well. On the contrary, LIFO increases COGS and reduces net profits reported in your financial statements. Low profits minimize your taxable income, which reduces your tax liability.

How to calculate LIFO

In addition to FIFO and LIFO, which are historically the two most standard inventory valuation methods because of their relative simplicity, there are other methods. The most common alternative to LIFO and FIFO is dollar-cost averaging. Suppose a website development direct vs indirect cash flow company purchases a plugin for $30 and then sells the finished product for $50. When the company calculates its profits, it would use the most recent price of $35. In tax statements, it would appear that the company made a profit of only $15.

Average Cost

Note that the actual calculations may vary based on the specific inventory accounting method used by a company. The principle of LIFO is highly dependent on how the price of goods fluctuates based on the economy. If a company holds inventory for a long time, it may prove quite advantageous in hedging profits for taxes. LIFO allows for higher after-tax earnings due to the higher cost of goods. At the same time, these companies risk that the cost of goods will go down in the event of an economic downturn and cause the opposite effect for all previously purchased inventory. Last in, first out (LIFO) is a method used to account for business inventory that records the most recently produced items in a series as the ones that are sold first.

That is, it is used primarily by businesses that must maintain large and costly inventories, and it is useful only when inflation is rapidly pushing up their costs. It allows them to record lower taxable income at times when higher prices are putting stress on their operations. In other words, with the FIFO method, the oldest inventory will be used in determining the cost of goods sold.

QuickBooks allows you to use several inventory costing methods, and you can print reports to see the impact of labor, freight, insurance, and other costs. With QuickBooks Enterprise, you’ll know how much your inventory is worth so you can make real-time business decisions. Dollar-cost averaging involves averaging the amount a company spent to manufacture or acquire each existing item in the firm’s inventory. As inventory is sold, the basis for those items is assumed to be the average inventory cost at the time of their sale. Then, as new items are added to the company’s inventory, the average value of items in the firm’s updated inventory is adjusted based on the prices paid for newly acquired or manufactured items.

The first in, first out (FIFO) cost method assumes that the oldest inventory items are sold first, while the last in, first out method (LIFO) states that the newest items are sold first. The inventory valuation method that you choose affects cost of goods sold, sales, and profits. Those who favor LIFO argue that its use leads to a better matching of costs and revenues than the other methods. When a company uses LIFO, the income statement reports both sales revenue and cost of goods sold in current dollars. The resulting gross margin is a better indicator of management’s ability to generate income than gross margin computed using FIFO, which may include substantial inventory (paper) profits.

  1. It provides real-time visibility, allowing you to manage your assets with 99.9% accuracy.
  2. The inventory beginning balance is reflected in the quantity purchased on June 1.
  3. When all of the units in goods available are sold, the total cost of goods sold is the same, using any inventory valuation method.
  4. In other words, the seafood company would never leave their oldest inventory sitting idle since the food could spoil, leading to losses.
  5. This is why LIFO creates higher costs and lowers net income in times of inflation.

Average cost inventory is another method that assigns the same cost to each item and results in net income and ending inventory balances between FIFO and LIFO. Finally, specific inventory tracing is used only when all components attributable to a finished product are known. There are balance sheet implications between these two valuation methods. Because more expensive inventory items are usually sold under LIFO, the more expensive inventory items are kept as inventory on the balance sheet under FIFO.

In other words, the seafood company would never leave their oldest inventory sitting idle since the food could spoil, leading to losses. The average inventory method usually lands between the LIFO and FIFO method. For example, if LIFO results the lowest net income and the FIFO results in the highest net income, the average inventory method will usually end up between the two. The end outcome is a $5,250 ending inventory balance, calculated by multiplying 25 units of ending inventory by the $210 cost in the first tier at the beginning of the month. The remaining unsold 450 would be recorded as inventory on the balance sheet, costing $1,275. The total cost of the widgets under the approach is $1,200, divided into five $200 units and two $100 units.

FIFO is required under the International Financial Reporting Standards, and it is also standard in many other jurisdictions. As detailed below, it has various ramifications for a company’s financial accounts. Consider a corporation with a starting inventory of 100 calculators at a $5 per unit cost. Due to the lack of resources to produce the calculators, the corporation ordered another 100 devices at a higher unit cost of $10 each. FIFO is common in industries with perishable products or where inventory turnover is rapid. Because it ensures older stocks (inventory that got in the warehouse first) are sold first, it prevents products that go bad quickly from spoilage while in storage.

Because the expenses are usually lower under the FIFO method, net income is higher, resulting in a potentially higher tax liability. When sales are recorded using the FIFO method, the oldest inventory–that was acquired first–is used up first. FIFO leaves the newer, more expensive inventory in a rising-price environment, on the balance sheet. As a result, FIFO can increase net income because inventory that might be several years old–which was acquired for a lower cost–is used to value COGS. However, the higher net income means the company would have a higher tax liability.

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