CAFR stands for Comprehensive Annual Financial Report . A CAFR is a set of financial statements for a state, municipality or other governmental entity that comply with the accounting requirements established by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). It must be audited by an independent auditor using generally accepted government auditing standards.
The CAFR consists of three sections: Introductory, Financial and Statistical.
The Introductory section orients and guides the reader through the report. The Financial section presents the entity’s basic financial statements as well as notes to the statements and the independent auditors’ report. The Statistical section provides additional financial and statistical data, including data about financial trends that may better inform the reader about the government’s activities.
A regular annual report typically presents only basic financial statements about the government. A CAFR, by contrast, presents a wider variety of important information intended to help the reader properly understand the basic statements.
A budget is a plan for a future fiscal period, typically a year, primarily showing how tax revenue will be allocated; a CAFR contains the actual results of the prior year’s financial activities.
No . Most state and local governments are required by law to issue basic financial statements, and some, including Texas, are legally required to issue a CAFR as well. Many governments not required to issue a CAFR do so anyway because it represents a best practice in government finance.
GASB sets the standards governing the content of a CAFR. GASB is an arm of the Financial Accounting Foundation, which also administers the Financial Accounting Standards Board that establishes accounting standards for private companies.
When developing proposals for new standards, GASB solicits feedback from the governmental accounting community through a variety of avenues, including public hearings, public forums, task forces and focus groups. The primary feedback mechanism, however, is a request for written comments from GASB, which anyone can submit.
There is no single, central location for all government CAFRs. Typically, CAFRs are posted on a government’s website under “Publications” or “Reports,” along with other financial documents such as budgets and performance reports.
CAFRs typically are stored as a PDF available for download. The Texas Comptroller’s office provides links to annual reports and CAFRs for certain participating Texas local governments through our Transparency Stars program .
A CAFR presents a wide variety of important information. Depending on the reader’s specific focus, various sections might be of interest.
Generally speaking, a reader can find the “high points” by reading through the Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) in the financial section. The MD&A describes the previous year’s results and key factors influencing them; shows the entity’s current financial condition; and provides an overview of likely future prospects.
Long-term debt information can be found in all three general sections (Introductory, Financial and Statistical). The best way to locate debt information is to start with the table of contents and look for the following:
Debt capacity is a general term describing the amount of debt the government can repay in a timely manner from available resources without jeopardizing its financial viability. In layman’s terms, it’s how much debt the government can prudently afford.
The legal debt margin or debt service margin is the difference between the amount of debt or debt service the government is authorized to carry and the amount of debt or debt service the government is actually carrying. It indicates how much room the government has for additional debt before it reaches its legal limit. For example, the state of Texas has a constitutional debt limit restricting the authorization of additional state debt to be repaid with unrestricted General Revenue to an amount that ensures annual debt service payments do not exceed 5 percent of the three-year average of unrestricted General Revenue Fund revenues. The point of a legal debt margin is to restrict a government from taking on new debt past a limit that lawmakers believe is prudent.
These ratios give readers a general idea of the government’s overall debt capacity. Debt ratios often are used to assess the overall level of financial risk a government and its creditors face, and also can help relate the government’s debt to its taxpayers in a more personal way, such as the Debt Per Capita ratio. Another common ratio used in government financial reporting is Percentage of Debt to Tax Collections, which compares the government’s debt with its tax revenue.
In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 855, which requires state agencies to publish a list of the three most commonly used Web browsers on their websites. The Texas Comptroller’s most commonly used Web browsers are Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Apple Safari.
Phillip Ashley, Director of Fiscal Management, provides a brief overview of a CAFR and difference between a budget and a CAFR.
The significance of debt ratios, debt capacity and legal debt margin are explained.
This video tells you where in the CAFR to look for debt information.