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Auditing Glossary of Terms

SmartPros and Accounting Institute Seminars® are proud to bring you an online glossary of auditing terms. Definitions are provided by Accounting Institute Seminars. The words defined below all have appeared on CPA exam questions, so they are worth knowing if you are studying for the auditing exam.

acceptance sampling is sampling to determine whether internal control compliance is greater than or less than the tolerable deviation rate.

accounting and review services are official pronouncements covering compilation and review engagements. Compilation is presenting in the form of financial statements information that is the representation of management (owners) without expressing assurance. Review is inquiry and analytical procedures to provide the accountant a basis for expressing limited assurance that there are no material modifications that should be made to the statements for them to be in conformity with U.S. generally accepted accounting.
accounting data includes journals, ledgers and other records, such as spreadsheets, that support financial statements. It may be in computer readable form or on paper.
accounting estimate An approximation of a financial statement element. Estimates are included in historical financial statements because some amounts are uncertain pending outcome of future events and relevant data about events that have occurred cannot be accumulated on a timely, cost-effective basis.
accounting principles are alternative ways of reporting and disclosing information in financial statements and related footnotes.
accounts receivable Debts due from customers from sales of products and services. Normally a current asset.
adjusting entries are accounting entries made at the end of an accounting period to allocate items between accounting periods.
adverse An audit opinion that the financial statements as a whole are not in conformity with U.S. GAAP.
advisory services are a consulting service in which the CPA develops the findings, conclusions, and recommendations presented for client decision-making. This differs from attestation, where the CPA expresses a conclusion about a written assertion of another.
aggregate (aggregated) Constituting the whole. Aggregate expenses include expenses of all divisions combined for the entire year.
agreed-upon procedures An engagement where the client specifies procedures and the accountant agrees to perform those procedures. An accountant may accept an engagement to apply agreed-upon procedures to financial statement elements, where the scope of the engagement is not sufficient to express an opinion, if the users assume responsibility for sufficiency of the procedures, and use of the report is restricted to specified users.
AICPA or American Institute of Certified Public Accountants The professional organization of CPAs in the U.S. It is a private organization of CPAs, not an arm of the government. Each state issues CPA certificates, not the AICPA. Since each state makes its own laws, each state could prepare and grade their own CPA examination. However, each state uses the uniform CPA exam prepared and graded by the AICPA.
allocation Distribution according to a plan. Depreciation, amortization, and depletion are methods to allocate costs to periods benefited.
allowance for doubtful accounts A contra asset account with a credit balance used to reduce the carrying amount of accounts receivable to net realizable value. The allowance balance is the estimated total of uncollectible accounts included in accounts receivable.
allowance for sampling risk The difference between a sample estimate and the projected population characteristic at a specified sampling risk. This allowance is also the difference between the expected error rate and the tolerable deviation rate.
analytical procedure A comparison of financial statement amounts with an auditor's expectation. An example is to compare actual interest expense for the year (a financial statement amount) with an estimate of what that interest expense should be. The estimate can be found by multiplying a reasonable interest rate times the average balance of interest bearing debt outstanding during the year (the auditor's expectation). If actual interest expense differs significantly from the expectation, the auditor explains the difference in audit documentation.
analyze Identify and classify items for further study.
anticipated Expected.
application control Programmed procedure in application software designed to ensure completeness and accuracy of information.
approve To authorize. A manager authorizes a cash payment by signing a voucher providing approval for the disbursement.
arm's length transactions are transactions between people who have no relationship other than that of buyer and seller. The price is the true fair market value of the goods or services sold. If you buy or sell something to a close relative, you might give better terms than to an unrelated party, so the price might not represent the true market value of the goods or services.
ascertain An audit procedure to determine or to discover with certainty. For example, to ascertain the date on which an investment was purchased by examining source documents.
assertion Management asserts financial statements are correct with regard to existence or occurrence of assets, liabilities or transactions, completeness of information in the financial statements, rights and obligations at a point in time, appropriate valuation or allocation, presentation, and disclosure.
assess To determine the value, significance, or extent of.
assessed Determined. The level of control risk determined by the auditor, based on tests of controls, is the assessed level of control risk.
assurance The level of confidence one has.
attest (attestation) report In an attest engagement, a practitioner issues a written conclusion about the reliability of a written assertion that is the responsibility of another party.
attorney's letter is signed by the client's lawyer and addressed to the auditor. It is the auditor's primary means to corroborate information furnished by management about litigation, claims, and assessments.
attribute sampling The characteristic tested is a property that has only two possible values (an error exists or it does not).
audit adjustment, whether or not recorded by the entity, is a proposed correction of the financial statements that may not have been detected except through audit procedures.
audit committee A committee of the board of directors responsible for oversight of the financial reporting process, selection of the independent auditor, and receipt of audit results.
audit documentation (working papers) are records kept by the auditor of procedures applied, tests performed, information obtained, and pertinent conclusions reached in the engagement. The documentation provides the principal support for the auditor's report.
audit objective In obtaining evidence in support of financial statement assertions, the auditor develops specific audit objectives in light of those assertions. For example, an objective related to the completeness assertion for inventory balances is that inventory quantities include all products, materials, and supplies on hand.
audit planning is developing an overall strategy for the audit. The nature, extent, and timing of planning varies with size and complexity of the entity, experience with the entity, and knowledge of the entity's business.
audit risk A combination of the risk that material errors will occur in the accounting process and the risk the errors will not be discovered by audit tests. Audit risk includes uncertainties due to sampling (sampling risk) and to other factors (nonsampling risk).
Auditing Standards Board Statements on Auditing Standards are issued by the auditing standards board, the body of the AICPA designated to issue auditing pronouncements.
authorize (authorization) To give permission for. A manager authorizes a transaction by signing a voucher authorizing the disbursement.
backup A copy of a computer program or file stored separately from the original.
batch A set of computer data or jobs to be processed in a single program run.
Benford's law is a mathematical law that applies to any population of numbers derived from other numbers (such as the dollar amount of a sale, found by multiplying the quantity sold times the unit price). It holds that 30% of the time the first non-zero digit of this derived number will be one, and it will be a nine only 4.6% of the time. Benford's law is used by auditors to identify fictitious populations of numbers.
bill of lading A document issued by a carrier to a shipper, listing and acknowledging receipt of goods for transport and specifying terms of delivery.
blind trust A financial arrangement in which a person avoids possible conflict of interest by transferring financial affairs to a fiduciary who has sole asset management discretion. The person establishing the trust also gives up the right to information regarding the assets.
cancel supporting documents To mark supporting documents as having been used to support a transaction so the same documents can't be used to support another transaction. An example is stamping vouchers "paid."
capitalized Recorded as an asset. A capitalized lease is in substance a purchase to the lessee. An asset is recorded equal to the present value of the lease payments, which is also recorded as a liability. Payments, partly interest and partly principal, are made on the lease liability. The lease asset is depreciated by the lessee as though it were legally owned by the lessee.
caveat A warning or caution.
check digit A redundant digit added to a code to check accuracy of other characters in the code.
check register A listing of checks issued, normally in numeric sequence and in order by date issued.
classification Arrangement or grouping. Assets and liabilities are normally classified as current or noncurrent.
collateralize To pledge property as security (collateral) for a debt.
collusion A secret agreement between two or more parties for fraud or deceit.
comfort letter A letter written by the auditor to an underwriter of securities, which expresses an opinion about whether the audited financial statements and schedules in the registration statement comply as to form with applicable accounting requirements of the Act and related rules and regulations adopted by the SEC. Procedures performed are specified by the underwriter.
comparability Users evaluate accounting information by comparison. Similar companies account for similar transactions in similar ways. Another goal is comparison of one company's information from one period to the next (consistency). Operating trends should not be disguised by changing accounting methods.
comparative Financial statements of a prior period shown with those of the current period to aid in comparisons between periods.
compare (comparison) An audit procedure. The auditor observes similarities and differences among similar items such as an account from one year to the next.
compensating balance An offsetting balance. A requirement by some banks that a borrower maintain a minimum balance in a checking or savings account as a condition of a loan. The offsetting balance increases the effective interest rate to the bank since the net amount loaned is reduced but the interest paid is unchanged.
competence of an internal audit staff is a function of qualifications, including education, certification, and supervision. Competent audit evidence is valid and reliable.
compile (compilation) A compilation is presenting in the form of financial statements information that is the representation of management without expressing assurance. Compilation of a financial projection is assembling prospective statements based on assumptions of a responsible party, considering appropriateness of presentation, and issuing a compilation report. No assurance is provided on the statements or underlying assumptions. The accountant need not be independent.
completeness Assertions about completeness deal with whether all transactions and accounts that should be in the financial statements are included. For example, management asserts that all purchases of goods and services are included in the financial statements. Similarly, management asserts that notes payable in the balance sheet include all such obligations of the entity.
compliance Following applicable rules or laws.
comprehensive basis of accounting A complete set of rules other than U.S. GAAP applied to all items in a set of financial statements. Examples include a basis of accounting required by a regulatory agency, a basis of accounting the entity uses for its income tax return and the cash receipts and disbursements basis.
computer controls Internal controls performed by computer (software controls) as opposed to manual controls. Also means general and application controls over the computer processing of data.
condensed financial statements are presented in considerably less detail than complete financial statements.
confirm (confirmation) Communication with outside parties to authenticate internal evidence.
consignment Transfer of possession but not title to goods. Title stays with the consignor, while the consignee has possession.
consistency To achieve comparability of information over time, the same accounting methods must be followed. If accounting methods are changed from period to period, the effects must be disclosed.
consulted Sought advice or information.
consulting services performed by CPAs include consultations, advisory services, implementation services, product services, transaction services, and staff and support services.
contingency is an existing condition involving uncertainty as to possible gain (gain contingency) or loss (loss contingency) that will be resolved by future events. Estimates, such as the useful life of an asset, are not contingencies. Eventual expiration of the asset's utility is not uncertain.
continuing auditor is the auditor of the current year who also audited the financial statements of the client for the previous year.
continuing accounting significance Matters of continuing accounting significance are those normally included in the permanent audit documentation, such as the analysis of balance sheet accounts, and those relating to contingencies. Such information from a prior year is used by the auditor in the current year's audit and is updated each year.
control accounts are general ledger accounts that report totals of details included in subsidiary ledger accounts. For example, Accounts Receivable is a general ledger account with a balance equal to the total of the individual receivables included in the subsidiary accounts receivable ledger.
control A policy or procedure that is part of internal control.
control environment is the attitude, awareness, and actions of the board, management, owners, and others about the importance of control. This includes integrity and ethical rules, commitment to competence, board or audit committee participation, organizational structure, assignment of authority and responsibility, and human resource policies and practices.
control policies and procedures Control activities are the policies and procedures that help ensure management directives are carried out. Those pertinent to an audit include performance reviews, information processing, physical controls and segregation of duties.
control risk The risk that material error in a balance or transaction class will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis by internal controls.
controller An officer who supervises financial affairs of an entity. In internal control the controller is often the person with record keeping (general ledger) responsibilities, as contrasted with asset custody, management decision-making, and internal audit functions.
corroborate (corroborating) (corroboration) (corroborative) To strengthen with other evidence, to make more certain.
count Enumerate some characteristic such as the number of items in inventory.
cumulative effect of changing to a new accounting principle is the effect on retained earnings at the beginning of the current period. It is included in net income after extraordinary items. Only the direct effect (net of income tax effect) is considered.
current ratio Total current assets divided by total current liabilities.
custodian One who has possession or is in charge of something. Some entities entrust investment securities to a bank, which is custodian of the company's securities.
custody Possession.
cutoff Designating a point of termination. An auditor uses tests of cutoff to obtain evidence that transactions for each year are included in the financial statements of the appropriate year.
defalcation To misuse or embezzle funds.
deficiency An internal control shortcoming or opportunity to strengthen internal controls.
detection risk The risk audit procedures will lead to a conclusion that material error does not exist when in fact such error does exist.
detective control A control designed to discover an unintended event or result.
deviation Departure from prescribed internal control. Often expressed as a rate at which the departure occurs.
disclaimer (disclaim) A statement that the auditor is unable to express an opinion as to the presentation of financial statements in conformity with U.S. GAAP.
disclosure Revealing information. Financial statement footnotes are one way of providing necessary disclosures.
discovery sampling Acceptance sampling (sampling to determine whether internal control compliance is greater than or less than the tolerable deviation rate) when the expected attribute occurrence rate is zero.
document (documentary) (documentation) Written or printed paper that bears information that can be used to furnish decisive evidence. Could also be a recording, computer readable information, or a photograph.
dual date If a major event comes to the auditor's attention between the report date and issuance of the report, the financial statements may include the event as an adjustment or disclosure. The auditor dual dates the audit report (as of the end of fieldwork, except footnote XX, which is dated later).
dual-purpose test Audit procedures are classified as substantive tests or tests of controls. If a procedure provides both types of evidence it is a dual-purpose test.
EDI or Electronic Data Interchange is the use of communication between an entity and customers or suppliers to transact business electronically. Purchase, shipping, billing, cash receipt, and cash disbursements can be completed entirely by exchanging electronic messages.
edit check Reasonableness, validity, limit, and completeness tests that are programmed routines designed to check input data and processing results for completeness, accuracy and reasonableness.
EDP or Electronic Data Processing Processing of information by computer as opposed to handwritten records.
effective income tax rate The income tax provision (expense) shown on an income statement divided by pretax income. This differs from the statutory rate because of deductions, credits, and exclusions.
effective internal control Reasonable assurance that the entity’s operational objectives are achieved, that published financial statements are reliably prepared, and applicable laws and regulations are complied with.
effectiveness Producing a desired outcome. An audit procedure is effective if the evidence supports a correct conclusion.
efficiency The ratio of the audit evidence produced to audit resources used.
embedded control performance deals with unexpected changes to data.
embezzlement To take assets in violation of trust.
encryption is scrambling data so it is meaningless to anyone but the intended recipient, who has the key to unscramble the data.
engagement letter A letter that represents the understanding about the engagement between the client and the CPA. The letter identifies the financial statements and describes the nature of procedures to be performed. It includes an explanation of the objectives of the procedures, an explanation that the financial information is the responsibility of the company's management, and a description of the form of report.
environment The control environment is the attitude, awareness, and actions of the board, management, owners, and others about importance of control. It includes integrity and ethical rules, commitment to competence, board or audit committee participation, organization structure, assignment of authority and responsibility, and human resource policies and practices.
error Unintentional misstatements or omissions in financial statements. Errors may involve mistakes in gathering or processing accounting data, incorrect estimates from oversight or misinterpretation of facts, and mistakes in application of principles relating to amount, classification, presentation or disclosure.
estimation sampling is sampling to estimate the actual value of a population characteristic within a range of tolerable misstatement.
evidence (evidential matter) includes written and electronic information (such as checks, records of electronic fund transfers, invoices, contracts, and other information) that permits the auditor to reach conclusions through reasoning.
examination is evaluating the preparation of prospective statements, support underlying assumptions, and presentation. The accountant reports whether, in his or her opinion, the statements conform to AICPA guidelines and assumptions provide a reasonable basis for the responsible party's forecast. The accountant should be independent, proficient, plan the engagement, supervise assistants, and obtain sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable basis for the report.
examine (examining) As an audit procedure, to examine something is to look at it critically.
except for A qualified opinion. An auditor can qualify the audit opinion for both departures from U.S. GAAP in the financial statements and restrictions on the scope of the audit. The opinion paragraph of the qualified report is worded "In our opinion, except for..."
execute (execution) To carry out an internal control procedure, such as to sign and mail a check after inspecting supporting documents.
existence Assertions about existence deal with whether assets or liabilities exist at a given date. For example, management asserts that finished goods inventories in the balance sheet are available for sale.
expenditure Cash paid or liability incurred.
explanatory A paragraph added to an audit report to explain something, such as the reason for a qualified or adverse opinion.
explicitly Fully and clearly expressed, leaving nothing implied.
extend means to multiply one number by another (to test extensions is to test the accuracy of multiplication done by the client). To extend audit procedures is to apply additional audit procedures to obtain more evidence.
FASAB or Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board An organization that sets GAAP in the U.S. for federal government entities.
FASB or Financial Accounting Standards Board A nongovernment private organization that sets GAAP in the U.S. for profit making entities and not-for-profit nongovernmental organizations.
field work The performance of audit procedures outside the CPA's office. Much field work, but not all, is done in the client's offices after the balance sheet date.
FIFO or First In First Out inventory cost flow.
financial forecasts are prospective financial statements that present expected future financial position, results of operations, and cash flows based on expected conditions. A financial forecast is of the most likely future scenario.
financial projections are prospective financial statements that present, given one or more hypothetical assumptions, an entity's expected financial position, results of operations, and changes in financial position. A financial projection includes several alternative scenarios while a forecast is the single most likely scenario.
financial institution confirmation request A confirmation sent to the client's bank or other financial institution asking the bank to confirm directly to the auditor information about balances at a particular date.
flowchart A schematic representation of a sequence of operations in an accounting system or computer program. Also called a flow diagram or flow sheet.
foot a column is to add a column of numbers.
fraud A deliberate deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain. False representation intended to deceive relied on by another to that person's injury. Fraud includes fraudulent financial reporting undertaken to render financial statements misleading, sometimes called management fraud, and misappropriation of assets, sometimes called defalcations.
GAAP or Generally Accepted Accounting Principles According to Rule 203 of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct, GAAP for nongovernment entities include (in a conflict the source earlier in the list prevails): 1. FASB Statements and Interpretations, APB Opinions, ARBs. 2. FASB Technical Bulletins, AICPA Guides and AICPA Statements of Position. 3. Positions of the FASB Emerging Issues Task Force and AICPA Practice Bulletins. 4. AICPA accounting interpretations, FASB staff "Qs and As", and widely recognized industry practices. 5. FASB Concepts Statements, textbooks, articles.
GAAS or Generally Accepted Auditing Standards The ten auditing standards adopted by the membership of the AICPA. Auditing standards differ from audit procedures in that "procedures" relate to acts to be performed, whereas "standards" deal with measures of the quality of the performance of those acts and objectives of the procedures.
GASB or Government Accounting Standards Board A nongovernment private organization that sets GAAP in the United States for governmental entities.
general controls Policies and procedures to assure proper operation of computer systems, including controls over data center and network operations, software acquisition and maintenance, and access security.
general journal A book of original entry in a double-entry system. The journal lists transactions and indicates accounts to which they are posted. The general journal includes all transactions not included in specialized journals used for cash receipts, cash disbursements, and other common transactions.
general ledger A record to which monetary transactions are posted (in the form of debits and credits) from a journal. It is the final record from which financial statements are prepared. General ledger accounts are often control accounts that report totals of details included in subsidiary ledgers.
general standard In the ten U.S. generally accepted auditing standards there are three general standards: 1. The examination is to be performed by a person or persons having adequate technical training and proficiency as an auditor. 2. In all matters relating to the assignment, an independence in mental attitude is to be maintained by the auditor. 3. Due professional care is to be exercised in performing the examination and preparation of the report.
generalized audit software Packaged computer programs used on a variety of computers during audit field work to read computer files, select information, perform calculations, create data files, and print reports in a format specified by the auditor.
going concern assumption assumes the company will continue in operation long enough to realize its investment in assets through operations (as opposed to sale). Presenting assets at historical cost is justified by assuming productive assets will be used rather than sold. This makes market values irrelevant and supports accounting methods that match the actual cost of an asset to periods benefited.
Government Auditing Standards A book issued by the comptroller general of the United States, sometimes called the "yellow book." Government Auditing Standards contains standards for audits of government organizations, programs, activities, and functions and of government assistance received by contractors, not-for-profit organizations, and other nongovernment organizations. These standards, which include designing the audit to provide reasonable assurance of detecting material misstatements resulting from noncompliance with provisions of contracts or grant agreements that have a direct and material effect on determination of financial statement amounts, are followed when required by law, regulation, agreement, contract, or policy. For financial audits, Government Auditing Standards prescribes fieldwork and reporting standards beyond those required by GAAS.
gross margin percentage The gross margin from an income statement divided by net sales revenue.
hard copy A printed copy of information as opposed to information stored in computer readable form.
hardware A computer and associated physical equipment involved in data processing or communications functions as opposed to software (the computer programs that provide instructions the computer follows).
hardware control Computer controls built into physical equipment by the manufacturer.
hash total A control total that has no meaning in itself except for control, e.g., total social security numbers of employees paid.
hedges protect an entity against the risk of adverse price or interest-rate movements on its assets, liabilities, or anticipated transactions. A hedge avoids or reduces risk by counterbalancing losses with gains on separate positions.
Image-processing systems scan documents into electronic images for storage. Reference and source documents may not be retained after conversion.
immaterial Of no importance. Something in financial statements that will not change decisions of investors.
implicitly Implied or understood even though not directly expressed.
implied control performance deals with expected changes to data.
incompatible duties Internal control systems rely on separation of duties to reduce the chance of errors or fraud. Duties are incompatible if they should be separated for control. For example, one person should not be in a position to both embezzle funds and to hide the embezzlement by changing the recorded accountability.
incorrect acceptance The risk of incorrect acceptance is the risk the sample supports the conclusion that the recorded balance is not materially misstated when it is materially misstated.
incorrect rejection The risk of incorrect rejection is the risk the sample supports the conclusion that the recorded balance is materially misstated when it is not materially misstated.
independent In all matters relating to the assignment, an independence in mental attitude is to be maintained by the auditors. This means freedom from bias, which is possible even when auditing one's own business (independence in fact). However, it is important that the auditor be independent in appearance (that others believe the auditor is independent).
information systems consist of infrastructure (physical and hardware components), software, people, procedures (manual and automated), and data.
inherent limitation The potential effectiveness of an entity's internal control is subject to inherent limitations. Human fallibility, collusion, and management override are examples.
inherent risk The susceptibility of a balance or transaction class to error that could be material, when aggregated with other errors, assuming no related internal controls.
input control Computer controls designed to provide reasonable assurance that transactions are properly authorized before processed by the computer, accurately converted to machine readable form and recorded in the computer, that data files and transactions are not lost, added, duplicated or improperly changed, and that incorrect transactions are rejected, corrected and, if necessary, resubmitted on a timely basis.
inquire (inquiry) Ask questions of client personnel.
inspect (inspection) As an audit procedure, to scrutinize or critically examine a document. As part of a CPA firm's quality control system, to monitor the effectiveness of the system.
integrated test facility A "dummy" unit (e.g., a department or employee) is established. Test (fictitious) transactions are posted to the dummy unit during the normal processing cycle. If test transactions are processed correctly that provides evidence that transactions of other units are processed correctly as well.
integrity Consistent adherence to an ethical code. If client management lacks integrity the auditor must be more skeptical than usual.
interim audit procedures are done during the year under audit, before year-end.
interim financial information is financial statements of a time period less than a full year.
internal auditors are employees of the client responsible for providing analyses, evaluations, assurances, recommendations, and other information to the entity's management and board. An important responsibility of internal auditors is to monitor performance of controls.
internal control Policies and procedures designed to provide reasonable assurance that specific entity objectives will be achieved. It consists of: the control environment, risk assessment, control activities, information and communications, and monitoring.
internal control questionnaire A list of questions about the existing internal control system to be answered (with answers such as yes, no, or not applicable) during audit fieldwork. The questionnaire is a part of the documentation of the auditor's understanding of the client's internal controls.
internal control weakness A defect in the design or operation of internal controls. A material weakness is a reportable condition that does not reduce to a relatively low level the risk that material errors or fraud would not be detected in a timely manner by employees in the normal course of their duties.
introductory paragraph The first paragraph of the auditor's standard report, which identifies the financial statements audited, states the financial statements are the responsibility of management and that the auditor's responsibility is to express an opinion on the financial statements based on the audit.
inventory tag A tag attached to inventory items that identifies the inventory items to aid in counting the physical inventory.
inverse The opposite or reverse. An inverse relationship between two variables means that when one increases the other decreases.
investee The company in which an investment is held. Often used to describe an equity method investment, in which the investor reports a share of the investee's net income.
invoice An itemized list of goods shipped or services rendered with costs.
ISB Independence Standards Board.

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