Financial Statements: How to Weigh Compilation vs. Review vs. Audit

September 27, 2017

Any business needs credibility in its financial statements. There are three main ways to do so: a compilation, a review, and an audit, the latter being the most formal option. We’ll uncover the differences between a compilation vs. a review vs. an audit.

Say you’re finally about to close a deal that could change everything for your company. But before you take such a momentous step, you have to take a good, hard look at your records – maybe just in the financial assurance mirror through a compilation, but it could possibly mean under the microscope of an audit.

To choose the right level of scrutiny for your financial reports, you’ll need to get help from an auditor or a certified public accountant (CPA) and pick one of three views: a basic compilation report, a more involved review or the most thorough, an audit.


This is the most basic accounting service, a cover page written by a CPA that accompanies a set of your financial statements. Having compiled financial statements shows lenders you have an association with a CPA, but doesn’t offer a deep level of assurance on the accuracy of the financial statements.

Since the CPA does a cursory check on basic features of your financial statements to write a compilation letter, no special preparation is required on your part.

A compilation may be sufficient for a small business owner seeking a personal loan. But most of the time, a more credible reviewed financial statements or an audit will be required for a business loan.


Overall, the review process involves:

  • Review and inquiries on financials;
  • Making inquiries related to the accounting practices and principles used by the business; and
  • Performing analytical procedures to understand current-year and prior-year balances, or current-year balances outside the CPA’s expectations.

To know where to look for potential accounting errors, the CPA needs to have enough information about your company and understand your industry and its accounting principles. You need to gather all documents requested in advance by the CPA, including your:

  • Trial balance;
  • Bank reconciliations; and
  • Accrual schedule, deferred revenue and more.

A review will usually satisfy prospective lenders, buyers and investors who don’t have a lot at stake. In particular, reviewed financial statements are used for seeking a smaller line of credit or a small business loan.

When the loan requires a company to comply with certain loan covenants, a review vs. audit discussion is probably needed. Businesses often use a review as a stepping stone to reduce the challenges of a first-year audit.


The audit is the most thorough assurance service, requiring considerably more effort on the CPA’s  part — and yours, as you’ll field more information requests.

In an audit, a CPA is required to obtain evidence through inquiry with appropriate personnel, physical inspection, verification and substantive testing procedures. A CPA or auditor also will examine supporting or source documents, send third-party confirmations to confirm the balances and legal matters, and perform analytical and other procedures.

Auditors want to be sure your financial statements are free from material error or fraud. Audits are generally required if you are:

  • Planning a major financing;
  • Looking for extended credit from major suppliers;
  • Raising equity;
  • Planning to sell a business;
  • Expecting your company to have a public offering in the future; or
  • Expecting your company will be funded by the federal or state governments.

All publicly traded companies are required to have their financial statements audited and reported to the SEC on a quarterly and annual basis.

Get Help from the Expert CPAs and Auditors at Aprio

When considering an audit vs. review vs. compilation, don’t buy an electron microscope when a magnifying glass will do. Depending on your business goals, a simple compilation may work well instead of a full audit. Knowing what level of service you need can save you time, energy and money. Consult with the expert CPAs and auditors at Aprio to identify the service level suitable to your needs.

Stay informed with Aprio.
Get industry news and leading insights delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Articles