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Learning to prepare an income statement is the first step in understanding how to read one. This may seem like a task best left to the accountants, but small business owners can benefit from the knowledge we are about to impart in this article.

This is because income statements are essential for measuring your company’s financial performance and efficiency. Let's review what goes on an income statement—and more importantly, why you should learn how to prepare one.

Access Ramp's free PDF example and template of the income statement in our Accounting Documents Library.

What is an income statement?

An income statement is a document that begins with your gross revenue and subtracts your COGS, expenses, and taxes to give you the net income for a specific period. The income statement is one of four financial statements required by the SEC if you’re a public company. The other three are the balance sheet, statement of cash flows, and statement of shareholder equity. None of these are required if you are a private company with no stockholders, but it’s a good idea to prepare them anyway.

Why are income statements important?

Income statements are commonly used as profit and loss statements (P&L) to calculate a company’s profitability metrics. For more on that, read our article on how to analyze a P&L statement. The “net income” number at the bottom is particularly important because it’s used as a variable in the “return on assets” and “return on equity” business ratios.

Another insight the income statement can provide is whether your company efficiently spends money, which is becoming increasingly important in this economic climate.

Expenses are categorized to be examined individually later if you’re looking for areas where you can cut costs. Income statements from different reporting periods can also be compared to see how revenue and expenses have changed.

The SEC requires income statements and the other reports listed above for all companies trading publicly on the stock exchange. These reports give investors and shareholders the transparency they need to make financial decisions. Failure to produce financial reports could lead to heavy fines and delisting on the stock exchange.

For private companies, income statements are useful for tracking revenue and expenses, determining whether your business is producing an income, and analyzing costs. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of creating them in case you ever want to go public. They could also be helpful at the bank if you plan on financing any debt for growth or expansion.

How to do an income and expense statement in 8 steps

The three main elements of an income statement are revenue, expenses, and profit. Profit, which is typically listed last on an income statement, is used to calculate net profit margin. That’s the origin of the term “bottom line.” Here are eight steps to get you there:  

Step #1: Choose the reporting period

Corporations set their fiscal year-end date when they file their articles of incorporation. That’s when you want to file your annual report, but it’s not the only time you should make an income statement. Public companies file quarterly, keeping reports in line with quarterly tax deposits. You can also do these monthly if you like. Be sure to choose the reporting period before you begin.    

Step #2: Calculate your revenue

Under GAAP accounting rules, corporations are required to use the accrual method to keep track of incoming revenues. That means the revenue is recorded at the time it is earned, not when it’s received. This is important for companies offering net payment terms to clients and customers. You’re not counting cash received. You’re tallying invoices by date.  

Step #3: Calculate COGS/Cost of Revenue

Cost of goods sold (COGS) refers to the direct costs of producing the goods sold by a company combined with the costs for sales and distribution. The direct costs include labor and materials. In the example above, COGS is listed among the expenses. Some companies prefer to have it in the revenue section so they can have a “gross margin” before expenses on the report.

Step #4: Calculate gross margin

Gross profit margin (GM) is important for determining whether your products are correctly priced, but it doesn’t need to be a subcategory on the income statement. If COGS is listed in the expense section, you can easily calculate gross margin by subtracting it from gross revenue (GR) and dividing it by gross revenue. The income statement formula looks like this:

GM = (GR – COGS) / GR

Step #5: Factor in total operating expenses

All businesses have operating expenses. They include salaries, rent, utilities, transportation, advertising, and marketing. If you have an automated accounting system, these should already be categorized for you. If not, you have some manual labor to do before you can create this report. Categorization is critical if you want to get the most out of your income statement.

Step #6: Calculate operating income

Subtract your total expenses from your total revenue to come up with your operating income, which is the company's net income before taxes. If interest and depreciation expenses are listed below this line, the net income is called EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). Our example above does not include that.    

Step #7: Calculate tax

Taxes are inevitable. If you’re using a spreadsheet application like Excel to create your income statement, you can enter the tax rate into the appropriate field as a formula. For instance, a 25% tax rate would be entered as [= (Cell Number) *.25.] This will autofill the tax box as you enter revenues and expenses. That will tell you what you owe for a quarterly tax deposit.    

Step #8: Calculate net income

Subtract taxes and depreciation expenses (if applicable) from your operating income or EBITDA to get the bottom line: net income. You’ll be able to see if your company made a profit. Your shareholders and C-suite executives also might find that information useful. Do they get a bonus or dividend if the company hits a certain number? That’s a topic for another day.

Important notes on income and expense statement creation

Terminology is important. Two commonly confused terms are “revenue” and “income.” The income statement clearly shows the difference between the two. Revenue is essentially your total sales number. Net income is revenue minus expenses and taxes. That’s not the same as EBITDA, which is income before taxes and depreciation expenses.

Don’t worry. We’re not going to quiz you at the end of this article. Accountants need years of schooling before they fully understand all this. Focus on the math:

Net Income = Revenue – Expenses – Taxes

The net income number is the first line of the cash flow statement, so it needs to be accurate. Always double-check your work before finalizing your report.  

Learning all this will help you better understand how to analyze your company and others financially. You might also want to check out our article on creating a balance sheet to understand financial reporting in general better.

Tips to improve your I&E statements

Accurate financial reporting is essential for several reasons. You want to know how much money your company is making or losing. Income statements can help even if you’re a small private company with no public shareholders. Larger companies and public corporations have investors and regulatory bodies to answer to. Inaccuracies in that space are costly.

You can take steps as a business owner to improve the quality of your income statements and other financial reports. Getting the right tools to track sales revenue and calculate liabilities is a key area to focus on. Finding the right people to prepare your reports is another. We suggest the following three steps if you want to improve your income statements:

1. Utilize automation


You probably know by now that Ramp is a platform that utilizes automation and API technology to connect your expense tracking in our platform with your accounting software. This error-free flow of data to the platform where you’ll create your income statement can save you hours of work and eliminate any chance of error that you’d have with manually entering that data.

2. Use financial management tools


Modern financial management tools can help you categorize expenses, track spending, and plan for growth and expansion. They can also help you keep track of cash inflows and outflows in real time, an essential feature to have when you’re doing accrual accounting. Ramp can handle your expense tracking. Tools like Quicken and NetSuite can do the accounting.  

3. Let the accountants handle financial reporting


You cannot afford to make mistakes when creating financial reports. It’s good to know how to create an income statement, a balance sheet, and a cash flow statement, but that doesn’t mean you should. Ramp automation and API connections to accounting software give you the tools you need to run a report independently. Do that often, but let the accountants handle the actual filing, especially if you’re at the helm of a public company.

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Content Lead, Ramp
Fiona writes about B2B growth strategies and digital marketing. Prior to Ramp, she led content teams at Google and Intercom. Fiona graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English. Outside of work, she spends time dreaming about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail one day.
Ramp is dedicated to helping businesses of all sizes make informed decisions. We adhere to strict editorial guidelines to ensure that our content meets and maintains our high standards.


What should an income statement contain?

Income statements should contain a gross revenue total, cost of goods sold (COGS) if you sell products, a categorized list of expenses, net income before taxes (EBITDA), amount paid in taxes, depreciation and interest expenses (if any), and a total net income on the bottom line.

How do you prepare an income statement from a trial balance?

A trial balance is a list of all debits and credits from a double-entry general ledger. Income statements can be created manually using this tool, but automated accounting systems have eliminated the need for doing the work yourself. Systems like Quicken and NetSuite compile the trial balance for you and run your reports based on those numbers.

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