App version: 0.1.0

Guide to Variable Costing Income Statements

Variable Costing Income Statement Explained
Lauren Ward
Lauren WardUpdated February 27, 2023
Share this article:
Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
A variable cost is an expense that rises and falls in proportion with how much your business produces or sells. A variable costing income statement is a type of income statement in which you subtract variable expenses from total sales revenue to arrive at a separate line item called contributions margin (the money left over from sales after paying all variable production expenses). From there, you subtract fixed expenses, such as rent and salaries, to get your net income, or profit.Read on for a closer look at variable costing income statements, including how they differ from traditional income statements, what they can tell you about your small business, and the pros and cons of preparing this type of income statement.

What Is Variable Costing?

Your business incurs both variable and fixed costs. Variable costs fluctuate depending on the number of products you produce or sell, whereas fixed costs stay the same regardless of how much you produce or sell. Variable costing is a method of cost accounting that excludes fixed manufacturing expenses from the cost of making products. It differs from absorption costing, in which you allocate fixed overhead costs to products produced.Variable production costs include the cost of materials, packaging, and supplies. In some cases, variable costs might also include overhead costs that vary based on the number of products sold, such as commissions paid to salespeople. To calculate your total variable production expenses, you add your total variable cost of goods sold with your total variable selling expenses. While the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) does not allow the use of variable costing in financial reporting, business owners and managers will often use the variable costing method to calculate the contribution margin, which is metric that tells you your break-even point, or how many units need to be sold before you start earning a profit.

What Are Variable Costing Income Statements? 

A variable costing income statement is a financial report in which you subtract variable expenses from revenue, resulting in a contribution margin. From there, you subtract all fixed expenses to arrive at the net profit (or loss) for the accounting period.Variable costing income statements differ from traditional income statements in that all fixed production costs are listed lower in the statement, after the contribution margin. Fixed overhead is regarded as a period cost and is charged against revenue in the period it is incurred.Two other key differences:
  • All variable selling and administrative expenses are combined with variable production costs to calculate contribution margin. 
  • Gross margin (which includes both variable and fixed production costs in the cost of goods sold) is replaced by the contribution margin (which only includes variable costs in the cost of goods sold).
Under both a variable costing income statement and a normal income statement, the net profit or loss will be the same.Recommended: GAAP vs Non-GAAP: Compared and Explained 

Pros and Cons of Variable Costing Income Statements

Provides all the data needed to conduct a break-even analysis By ignoring overhead costs, variable costing may understate a product’s overall cost
Offers a more accurate picture of your cash flowCan sometimes be difficult to determine if a cost is fixed or variable
Gives you a clearer picture of the effect of fixed costs on net profitNot GAAP compliant
Helps you more accurately set the price of a special orderMight need to have two sets of income statements (normal for external use, and variable for internal use)

Normal Income Statements vs Variable Costing Income Statements

Normal Income StatementVariable Costing Income Statement
Accounting methodAbsorption costingVariable costing
How overhead costs are treatedPer-unit basisPeriodic basis
Type of margin calculatedGross marginContribution margin
GAAP compliant?YesNo
Both variable costing income statements and normal income statements report a company's profit or loss for a specific accounting period. However, they arrive at a company’s “bottom line” in different ways.Traditional income statements use absorption costing, which allocates all manufacturing costs to finished goods. Fixed overhead costs are spread out among all goods produced and added to the total cost of producing each good.By contrast, variable costing income statements use variable costing. With this approach, only variable costs are included in the cost of goods sold; overhead costs are considered on a periodic basis rather than a per-unit basis and listed lower in the statement.Another key difference is that a standard income statement calculates a gross margin, while a variable costing income statements calculates a contribution margin.Recommended: What Are Key Business Financial Statements? 

Variable Costing Income Statement Example

Here’s an example of a variable costing income statement for a fictional small business that manufactures vinyl records.Variable Costing Income Statement for XYZ Vinyl  
Price per record$25
Number of records sold500
Total Sales Revenue$25 x 500 = $12,500
Production costs per record$5
Selling costs per record$3
Variable cost of goods sold500 x $5 = $2,500
Variable selling expenses500 x $3 = $1,500
Total variable production expenses$2,500 + $1,500 =  $4,000
Fixed Costs
Contribution margin$12,500 - $4,000 = $8,500
Fixed overhead costs $1,200
Fixed production expenses $400
Administration costs$500
Total fixed production expenses$2,100
Net Income$8,500 - $2,100 = $6,400
Recommended: What Is Net Income (NI)? Definition, Calculation, and Example

Other Kinds of Income Statements

All income statements report a company’s profit or loss. However, they can be formatted in different ways. Here’s a look at two other types of income statements. 

Contribution Margin

Just like the variable costing income statement, a contribution margin income statement only includes variable expenses in the cost of goods sold, and pushes fixed production costs lower down in the statement to make it easier to understand the contribution margin on sales.


A traditional income statement focuses on the revenue, expenses, gains, and losses of a company during a particular period. This format is GAAP compliant and uses absorption costing, which captures all costs (fixed and variable) associated with manufacturing a particular product.Recommended: Balance Sheet vs Income Statement Compared 

The Takeaway

A variable cost income statement is a financial report prepared using the variable costing method, in which you only deduct variable expenses from total sales for a specific period to come up with a contribution margin. The statement then deducts fixed costs, which it considers period costs. Variable cost income statements are typically prepared for internal use to help inform decisions about pricing and cost management. However, this type of income statement is not GAAP compliant. If you decide to seek outside funding, through an investor or a small business loan, you will likely need to prepare a traditional income statement.

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. If you are launching a new business or your business is young, lenders will consider your personal credit score. Eventually, though, you’ll want to establish your business credit.
  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

What are the advantages of using variable costing when preparing income statements?
What exactly is variable costing? What are variable costs?
Which costs are treated as product costs under variable costing?
Photo credit: iStock/staticnak1983

About the Author

Lauren Ward

Lauren Ward

Lauren Ward is a personal finance expert with nearly a decade of experience writing online content. Her work has appeared on websites such as MSN, Time, and Bankrate. Lauren writes on a variety of personal finance topics for SoFi, including credit and banking.
Share this article: