Materiality and Contingent Tax Liability Reporting

Posted: 1 Apr 2002

See all articles by Cristi A. Gleason

Cristi A. Gleason

University of Iowa - Department of Accounting

Lillian F. Mills

University of Texas at Austin - McCombs School of Business

Abstract

We investigate factors that explain firms' decisions to disclose and record contingent tax liabilities. Our findings are based on confidential Internal Revenue Service audit data and financial statement footnotes for 100 large industrial firms from 1987 to 1995. Descriptive statistics indicate that these firms often fail to disclose IRS claims for tax deficiencies that exceed a 5-percent-of-income rule of thumb. We find that the probability of disclosure increases in the relative amount of the claim or the expected loss, although the largest claims drive this result. Our evidence is consistent with firms using a stable measure of size, such as assets or normal income, to gauge materiality, rather than relying only on current period reported income. We also find that the amount accrued for the contingent liability increases in the amount of the expected loss. However, our inferences may not generalize beyond a population of large, frequently audited firms.

Keywords: materiality, discretionary disclosure, SFAS No. 5, tax cushion

JEL Classification: M41, M45, H25

Suggested Citation

Gleason, Cristi A. and Mills, Lillian F., Materiality and Contingent Tax Liability Reporting. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=301882

Cristi A. Gleason (Contact Author)

University of Iowa - Department of Accounting ( email )

108 Pappajohn Business Building
Iowa City, IA 52242-1000
United States

Lillian F. Mills

University of Texas at Austin - McCombs School of Business ( email )

Austin, TX 78712
United States

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