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How Can I Change Accounting Methods?

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Question: How Can I Change Accounting Methods?
The United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows businesses to use either the accrual accounting method or the cash accounting method, or a combination of both accounting systems, to track and report financial data for a business.

However, whatever method you inform the IRS that you have chosen during the first year of your business you must continue to use.

Answer:

If you wish to change accounting methods you are required to get permission from the IRS in advance. Failure to do so can result in penalties imposed by the IRS.

Once you have set up your accounting method and filed your first return, you must get IRS approval before you change the method. In general, you must file a current Form 3115 to request a change in either an overall accounting method or the accounting treatment of any item.

The following are changes in accounting method that require approval from the IRS:

  • Switching from a cash basis method to an accrual basis method;
  • Switching from an accrual basis method to a cash basis method;
  • Change in method or basis used to value your inventory; and
  • A change in depreciation or amortization method (exception: some changes in the straight-line method are permitted without permission from the IRS.)

When and Where To File Form 3115

There are two ways you can request approval for a change in accounting methods:

  1. Automatic Change Requests: File Form 3115 in duplicate. Attach the original Form 3115 to your federal income tax return for the year of change (including extensions.) A copy of the Form 3115 must also be filed with the IRS National Office no earlier than the first day of the year of change and no later than when the original is filed with the federal income tax return for the year of change. List of IRS National Office Locations
  2. Advance Consent Requests: A Form 3115 must be filed during the tax year for which the change is requested. According to the IRS, "If the tax year is a short period, file Form 3115 by the last day of the short tax year. File the Form 3115 with the IRS National Office (List of IRS National Office Locations). Form 3115 should be filed as early as possible during the year of change to provide adequate time for the IRS to respond prior to the due date of the filer's return for the year of change."

Find the Most Recent IRS Form 3115 and Published Instructions

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