Why Should You Use The Indirect Method for Cash Flow Statement Preparation and Analysis

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Understanding the Indirect Method for Cash Flow Statement Preparation and Analysis



Financial statements offer a window into a company's health, but true financial strength lies in its cash flow. The cash flow statement, particularly when prepared using the indirect method, provides a powerful tool for analyzing a company's ability to generate and manage cash.

This article discusses the indirect method for cash flow statement preparation and analysis. We'll unveil the step-by-step process of transforming net income into a clear picture of a company's cash flow from operations, investing, and financing activities. By understanding the adjustments made in the indirect method, you'll gain valuable insights into a company's cash-generating power, investment strategy, and debt management practices.

What is an indirect cash flow statement?

What is the Indirect Method for Cash Flow Statements?

Definition and Explanation

A statement of cash flows is a financial statement that shows a company's actual cash inflows and outflows during a specific period. It includes cash flow from operating activities, investing activities, and financing activities. The statement is prepared using either the direct or indirect method to calculate the cash balance.

The income and balance sheets are used to create a cash flow statement. The indirect method uses information from the income statement to calculate the cash flow from operations. The direct method uses actual cash inflows and outflows to determine the actual cash the company generates.

The cash flow method is essential for understanding a company's cash position and available cash for future investments. It helps identify the sources and uses of cash within the business. Companies may prefer the indirect method as it is simpler to prepare than the direct method.

Operating cash flow measures the cash generated from a company's core business activities. Investors closely monitor this cash flow section to assess the company's ability to generate free cash flow to meet its cash payments and have a solid cash basis for continued operations.

Further Reading: How To Make A Balance Sheet For A Small Business: A Step-by-Step Guide To Create A Balance Sheet

Key Differences from the Direct Method

One key difference between the direct and indirect methods of preparing a cash flow statement is how the actual cash flows are calculated. The direct method focuses on cash payments and receipts, while the indirect method starts with net income from the income statement.

Another key distinction is in the presentation of cash flow from investing activities. Under the direct method, this figure represents the cash a company generates or uses in investments. In contrast, the indirect method shows adjustments to net income to arrive at the cash flow.

Also, the direct method reports cash from financing activities as a separate line item in the operating section of the cash flow statement. In contrast, the indirect method includes cash from financing activities in the net income adjustments. The direct method provides a clearer picture of the actual amount of cash flowing in and out of a company, making it a more transparent accounting method for investors.

On the other hand, the indirect method is based on the accrual method of accounting, which involves recognizing revenues and expenses when they are incurred rather than when cash is exchanged. This method can be more complex and less intuitive for users than the direct one.

Ultimately, both direct and indirect cash flow methods have advantages and limitations, and the choice between them often depends on the company's and its stakeholders' specific needs.

How to Prepare a Cash Flow Statement Using the Indirect Method?

Step-by-step Guide

1. Operating Activities: List all the cash flows related to your company's core business operations. This includes revenues, expenses, and changes in working capital.

2. Investing Activities: Next, document any cash flows from investments in assets like property, equipment, or securities. This section also covers any proceeds from asset sales.

3. Financing Activities: Lastly, detail cash flows from sources like loans, stock issues, and dividends. This section helps analyze how the company funds its operations and growth.

4. Net Cash Flow: Finally, calculate the net cash flow by summing up the cash flows from operating, investing, and financing activities. This figure indicates the company's overall cash position.

Examples and Illustrations

Here are a few examples and illustrations of how the indirect method works in a cash flow statement:

  1. Net Income Adjustment: The indirect method starts with the net income figure from the income statement. This is the starting point if a company reports a net income of $100,000. However, some items in the net income might not have affected cash directly.

    For instance, depreciation expense is included in net income but doesn't involve cash outflow. Therefore, we need to adjust for these non-cash items to get a more accurate picture of cash flow.
  2. Changes in Working Capital: The indirect method accounts for changes in working capital accounts such as accounts receivable, accounts payable, and inventory. For example, if accounts receivable increased from the beginning to the end, it means that less cash was collected from customers during the period than the revenue recognized.

    We adjust by subtracting the increase in accounts receivable from net income. Similarly, if accounts payable decreased, the company paid more cash than the expenses recognized, so we adjusted by adding the decrease in accounts payable to net income.
  3. Non-operating Activities: The indirect method also adjusts for non-operating activities that affect cash flow, such as interest expense and income taxes. For example, suppose a company paid $10,000 in interest during the period. In that case, this amount needs to be added back to net income since it represents a cash outflow that was already accounted for in the net income figure.

How to Calculate Indirect Cash Flows in Financial Statements?

Formula and Methodology

Cash flow statement is a financial statement that shows how changes in balance sheet and the income statement affect cash and cash equivalents. The cash flow statement is one of the most important financial statements for investors. The indirect method is a way to prepare the cash flow statement.

This method starts with the net income from the income statement and adjusts it for non-cash items to arrive at the cash flow from operating activities. The first line of the cash flow statement is the net income, while the last line of the cash flow statement is the change in cash and cash equivalents. The indirect method is based on accrual accounting principles.

Interpreting Net Cash Flows

Cash flow statement is one of the most important financial documents for a company to analyze. It provides a detailed breakdown of the flow statement is a financial snapshot of the company's financial health.

The cash flow statement is one of the three main financial statements, along with the balance sheet and the income statement. The indirect method is a way to interpret net cash flows by starting with the net income from the income statement and adjusting for non-cash items.

Further Reading: Learn About Small Business Income Statements Alongside Balance Sheet Insights


The indirect method of the cash flow statement provides an example of how much cash a company has generated by reconciling the flow statement from the accrual perspective.

This method focuses on the overall amount of cash generated or used during a period, making it a preferred method for many accountants. It adjusts net income to account for non-cash expenses and changes in working capital, providing a clearer picture of actual cash flow.

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April 12, 2024


Kristal Sepulveda, CPA

Kristal Sepulveda, CPA


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