Getting ready to file by May 30? Keep your annual report preparation on track with a checklist

May 4, 2022

Before you go to the grocery store, do you make a list to ensure you purchase everything you need? Checklists are a great tool for simple tasks like grocery shopping, but they can also be an important tool for increasing productivity, ensuring your government performs key controls or processes, and preventing or reducing errors in the workplace.

Airline pilots use checklists to prepare for takeoff. Surgeons use them to make sure all their tools are accounted for before closing up a person after surgery. No matter how many times you've performed a task, checklists reduce the likelihood that you'll miss an important step.

Some of our audit findings are the result of someone forgetting an important step when preparing the financial statements. For example, sometimes a cash basis entity forgets to implement a new requirement or a GAAP entity neglects to recheck the major fund calculation after preparing the statements. That's why we promote the use of checklists.

We've developed a checklist for each potential reporting basis—cash basis and GAAP. You can use our checklists in their entirety or as a jumping-off point to create your own. Either way, using a checklist is a great way to ensure that you don't miss a step when preparing your financial reports.

Here are some of the checklists you can download today to function as part of your internal control structure and document the tasks you completed.

For cash basis reporting entities

We updated the cash basis financial statement preparation tool in January for the 2021 reporting year. The checklist, which we update annually, can help you avoid common mistakes that governments make when preparing financial statements and remind you of important Budgeting, Accounting and Reporting System (BARS) Manual changes. To read more about the latest improvements, check out our blog post from early January. This tool is optional, but we encourage you to use it before you file your annual report.

For Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) reporting entities

It's challenging to create a preparation checklist for GAAP reporting entities because each local government has its own unique system and processes. But there are some steps that should be common to everyone. SAO's customizable GAAP preparation checklist has steps to help you close your books, prepare your report, and review the final reporting package.

To help you do a technical review of the financial statements, GAAP entities also have access to the Government Finance Officers Association's (GFOA) checklist. If this checklist seems overwhelming, focus on the starred items first since they are considered the most important. You don't have to participate in the award program to use this checklist, and it can be a great training tool for staff.

Other SAO resources

Remember, we are here to help. If you have specific technical accounting questions, submit them using our HelpDesk in the client portal.

We also have financial management specialists at the Center available to talk through projects you might be working on that affect your internal control systems, such as projects to improve financial statement preparation or financial reporting. For assistance, reach out to the Center for Government Innovation at