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What is the a prospective change vs a retrospective change?

A prospective change means that the change needs to be accounted for on a go-forward basis (only looking forward). For example, if the company changes an estimate, then only the current year financials need to reflect the change and not the prior period financials.

A retrospective change means that the change needs to be accounted for in historical periods as well as the current and future periods. For example, if the company changes accounting principles, that requires retrospective treatment. Any prior periods that are included in the current year financial statements need to be updated to be presented consistent with the new accounting principle.

The visual below outlines the common accounting changes and whether the change should be accounted for on prospective or retrospective basis.


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