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Traditional Income Statements, Explained

What Are Traditional Income Statements?
Susan Guillory
Susan GuilloryUpdated February 25, 2023
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One of the most common types of financial statements used by businesses is the income statement. Also known as a profit and loss statement, an income statement shows a company’s income and expenditures and whether that company is making a profit or loss for a given period. There is more than one type of income statement, but the one most widely used by businesses, and accepted by the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP),  is the traditional income statement. Here’s what you need to know about traditional income statements, including an example of a traditional format income statement, plus how these statements differ from contribution margin income statements.

What Are Traditional Income Statements?

Traditional income statements record both the income and expenses of a business and show how profitable a business was during a particular period, such as a month, quarter, or year. Because a traditional income statement captures all the costs associated with manufacturing a product (both fixed and variable), it’s sometimes referred to as the absorption costing income statement.The income statement is one of the three most important financial statements in financial accounting, along with the balance sheet and the cash flow statement.Recommended: 5 Small Business Tax Tips for Business Owners

Calculating the Components of Traditional Income Statements

Here’s a look at the common components included in a traditional income statement.

Sales Revenue 

The first section of the income statement provides a summary of the company’s gross sales. In some cases, revenue may be divided into two types — operating revenue (the revenue gained by a company’s primary activities) and nonoperating revenue (the revenue gained from noncore business activities).

Cost of Goods Sold

Commonly referred to as COGS, this is how much it cost to produce all the goods or services that were sold during the reporting period. If a company is a service business, this might be referred to as Cost of Sales. COGS only includes the cost of items actually sold and only direct costs (such as raw materials, labor, and shipping). It doesn’t include indirect costs, such as overhead. This number may fluctuate each period, depending on how many units were sold.

Gross Profit

Gross profit is calculated by subtracting total COGS from total sales revenue. This is the amount left over after the costs for manufacturing the products have been paid. However, gross profit does not include general overhead expenses.

Selling, General, & Administrative Expenses

Also referred to as “general expenses” or “operating expenses,” selling, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses are expenses the business incurs outside of the costs directly involved in developing its products or services. This may include marketing, advertising, rent, utilities, sales, and accounting. These expenses act as a separate line item from COGS on the traditional income statement. 

Operating Income

Once you calculate gross profit, you can subtract those SG&A expenses to calculate operating income. This is the amount the business has available in working capital once all expenses are paid. Operating income tells you how much your business made after subtracting all internal costs (which are costs you can control) but before covering external expenses, such as interest on loans and taxes (which you have less control over).

Interest expense

This includes the total amount of interest a business pays on any debt, such as different types of small business loans

Earnings Before Income Tax

This is the business’s profitability before it pays its taxes.

Income Tax Expense

This is how much the business paid in income taxes during the accounting period.

Net Profit

Also known as a company’s “bottom line,” net profit is the total profit a business has earned after subtracting total expenses from total revenue.Recommended: EBITDA vs Net Income: Differences and Relationship 

Pros and Cons of Using Traditional Income Statements

So should your company use a traditional income statement? Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of preparing this type of financial statement.
Offers complete revenue information and takes all expenses into accountIt can misrepresent the value of the company, since it includes money due but not yet received
Helps investors and lenders assess a company’s financial healthDoesn’t look at nonrevenue factors that can affect a company’s success (such as how wages compare to competitors’)
Looking at income statements over time allows you to track overall performanceRequires time and effort to prepare (even if you use accounting software)
Recommended: 5 Business Financial Software Options 

Traditional Income Statements vs Contribution Income Statements

Another type of income statement is the contribution (or contribution margin) income statement. While there are similarities between these two types of financial statements, there are also some key differences.
Traditional Income StatementContribution Margin Income Statement
Separates production costs from period/overhead costsSeparates variable costs from fixed costs
Uses absorption costing (includes both variable and fixed costs in COGS)Uses only variable costs when calculating COGS
Used externallyUsed primarily internally
The traditional and contribution margin income statements both provide information about a company's revenues, expenses, and profits (or losses) for a defined period. For both, the top line is revenue and the bottom line is net income. Where they differ is how they arrive at that bottom line. A traditional income statement separates costs by production/manufacturing costs (both variable and fixed) and period/overhead costs. The contribution margin income statement, on the other hand, separates costs into variable and fixed. Fixed manufacturing costs are considered part of overhead costs and, as a result, are not included in production costs.Also, a contribution margin income statement deducts variable expenses from sales to arrive at a “contribution margin.” A contribution margin is essentially how much of a company's revenues are contributing to its fixed costs and net income. Once the contribution margin is calculated, you then subtract all applicable fixed costs to arrive at a net profit for that period.Typically, a company will use a traditional income statement for external reporting purposes and a contribution margin income statement to analyze the performance of a specific product or product category internally.Recommended: What Is EBITDA Margin & How Does It Work? 

Traditional Income Statement Example and Format

Here’s an example of a traditional income statement for a fictional company that manufactures widgets. Last quarter, the company generated $200,000 in sales. Its COGS was $110,000, and SG&A expenses were $48,200.
Less COGS$110,000
Gross profit$90,000
Less SG&A expenses$48,200
Operating income$41,800
Interest expenses($600)
Income before tax41,200
Less income tax$8,240
Net income$32,960
Recommended: Understanding Pro Forma Income Statements

The Takeaway

A traditional income statement shows business revenue minus expenses and losses for a certain accounting period. It tells you how much income your business netted during that period of time.Preparing income statements on a regular basis can help you analyze trends within your company, determine if your expenses and/or prices are too high or too low, and make plans for the future. Having a traditional income statement can also come in handy if you decide to apply for a small business loan or woo an investor, since lenders and investors typically want to see a company’s traditional income statement.Recommended: Understanding Budgeted Income Statements

3 Small Business Loan Tips

  1. Online lenders generally offer fast application reviews and quick access to cash. Conveniently, you can find recommended small business loans by using Lantern by SoFi.
  2. Traditionally, lenders like to see a business that’s at least two years old when considering a small business loan.
  3. If you need to borrow money to cover seasonal cash flow fluctuations, a business line of credit, rather than a term loan, provides the flexibility you likely need.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are traditional income statements vs contribution income statements different?
What kinds of businesses use traditional income statements?
How do traditional income statements classify costs?
Photo credit: iStock/AmnajKhetsamtip

About the Author

Susan Guillory

Susan Guillory

Su Guillory is a freelance business writer and expat coach. She’s written several business books and has been published on sites including Forbes, AllBusiness, and SoFi. She writes about business and personal credit, financial strategies, loans, and credit cards.
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