How to Prepare for Year-End Physical Inventory Counts

As year end approaches, it’s time for calendar-year entities to perform physical inventory counts. This activity is more than a compliance chore. Proactive companies see it as an opportunity to improve operational efficiency.

Inventory basics

Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), inventory is recorded at the lower of cost or market value. There are three types of inventory:

  1. Raw materials,
  2. Work-in-progress, and
  3. Finished goods.

Estimating the value of inventory may involve subjective judgment calls, especially if your company converts raw materials into finished goods available for sale. The value of work-in-progress inventory can be especially hard to assess, because it includes overhead allocations and, in some cases, may require percentage-of-completion assessments.

Physical counts

A physical inventory count gives a snapshot of how much inventory your company has on hand at year end. For example, a manufacturing plant might need to count what’s on its warehouse shelves, on the shop floor and shipping dock, on consignment, at the repair shop, at remote or public warehouses, and in transit from suppliers and between company locations.

Before counting starts, you should consider:

  • Ordering or creating prenumbered tags that identify the part number and location and leave space to add the quantity and person who performed the count,
  • Conducting a dry run a few days before the count to identify any potential roadblocks and determine how many workers to schedule,
  • Assigning two-person teams to count inventory to minimize errors and fraud,
  • Carving the location into “count zones” to ensure full coverage and avoid duplication of efforts,
  • Writing off any unsalable or obsolete items, and
  • Precounting and bagging slow-moving items.

It’s essential that business operations “freeze” while the count takes place. Usually, inventory is counted during off-hours to minimize the disruption to business operations.

Auditor’s role

If your company issues audited financial statements, one or more members of your external audit team will be present during your physical inventory count. They aren’t there to help you count inventory. Instead, they’ll observe the procedures, review written inventory processes, evaluate internal controls over inventory, and perform independent counts to compare to your inventory listing and counts made by your employees.

Be ready to provide auditors with invoices and shipping/receiving reports. They review these documents to evaluate cutoff procedures for year-end deliveries and confirm the values reported on your inventory listing.

Making counts count

When it comes to physical inventory counts, our auditors have seen the best (and worst) practices over the years. For more information on how to perform an effective inventory count, contact us before year end.

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