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Accountancy
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Key concepts
Accountant · Bookkeeping · Trial balance · General ledger · Debits and credits · Cost of goods sold · Double-entry system · Standard practices · Cash and accrual basis · GAAP / IFRS
Financial statements
Balance sheet · Income statement · Cash flow statement · Equity · Retained earnings
Auditing
Financial audit · GAAS · Internal audit · Sarbanes–Oxley Act · Big Four auditors
Fields of accounting
Cost · Financial · Forensic · Fund · Management · Tax

In accounting, retained earnings refers to the portion of net income which is retained by the corporation rather than distributed to its owners as dividends. Similarly, if the corporation makes a loss, then that loss is retained and called variously retained losses, accumulated losses or accumulated deficit. Retained earnings and losses are cumulative from year to year with losses offsetting earnings.

Retained earnings are reported in the shareholders' equity section of the balance sheet. Companies with net accumulated losses may refer to negative shareholders' equity as a shareholders' deficit. A complete report of the retained earnings or retained losses is presented in the Statement of retained earnings or Statement of retained losses.

Stockholders' equity

When total assets are greater than total liabilities, stockholders have a positive equity (positive book value). Conversely, when total liabilities are greater than total assets, stockholders have a negative stockholders' equity (negative book value) — also sometimes called stockholders' deficit. A stockholders' deficit does not mean that stockholders owe money to the corporation as they own only its net assets and are not accountable for its liabilities. It means that the value of the assets of the company must rise above its liabilities before the stockholders hold positive equity value in the company. Liabilities that exceed assets is the classic definition of bankruptcy.

Dividends

The decision of whether a firm should retain net income or have it paid out as dividends depends on several factors including, but not limited to the:

  • Tax treatment of dividends; and
  • Funds required for reinvestment in the corporation (called retention).

See also

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