How to Create a QuickBooks Income Statement

Create and customize an income statement to fit your business's needs, then save, print or send.
Billie Anne Grigg
By Billie Anne Grigg 
Edited by Claire Tsosie

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Of all the financial statements you can create in QuickBooks, the income statement is almost certainly the one you’ll run most often. That’s why it’s absolutely vital that you know how to create one. And although creating and printing the statement isn’t difficult, there are a number of different ways you can customize, save and send this report. With a little bit of setup work, you can create the perfect income statement for your business accounting needs.

Here's how to use QuickBooks Online to create an income statement — as well as QuickBooks Desktop — plus, everything else you’ll need to become an expert at this absolutely essential function.

Your tax preparer or loan officer might ask you for either an “income statement” or a “profit and loss statement.” What’s the difference? Is there one?

Traditionally, accountants referred to the statement of earnings and expenses in business as an income statement. Accountants, loan officers, and others who request a statement of earnings and expenses for your business and aren’t familiar with QuickBooks’ terminology will likely ask for an “income statement.”

In QuickBooks, you want to go to the “profit and loss statement” when asked for an income statement. Also referred to as a P&L, the profit and loss statement is exactly the same thing as an income statement. The two accounting terms are used interchangeably. Neither name is more correct than the other, though some might argue that “profit and loss” is more accurate since the report shows more than just a business’s income.

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Step 1: Find the income statement in QuickBooks

The location of the income statement depends on the version of QuickBooks you’re using.

You can find the income statement — or “profit and loss statement,” as QuickBooks calls it — by using the Search bar near the top right corner of your screen. Just type in “Profit and Loss,” and QuickBooks will show you all reports available with that title in a dropdown box. Choose the format you want, and QuickBooks will automatically produce the report for you.

If you don’t have the accountant’s version of QuickBooks Online, it’s still easy to find your income statement. Click on the Reports tab on the left side of your screen and then scroll down until you see “Profit and Loss.” Or, you can enter “Profit and Loss” in the Search bar at the top of the Reports screen and choose from all the available profit and loss formats.

In these versions, there are a couple of different ways to find your income statement:

Click on the “Insights” tab at the top of your Home screen. If you have chosen to display your Profit and Loss on this screen, you will see it on your dashboard. From the dashboard, you can customize your report and see the information in graph form.

You can produce a more traditional QuickBooks income statement by clicking on the Reports tab in the toolbar at the top of your screen. Scroll down to “Company & Financial,” and then choose the profit and loss format you want.

Step 2: Choose your income statement report format

By now, you’ll have noticed several different report format options for your QuickBooks income statement. Which one is the best one for you to use? The answer depends on why you are creating your income statement in the first place:

  • For management purposes, you might be more interested in the Profit and Loss by Customer or Profit and Loss as % of Total Income formats.

  • For tax purposes, a standard Profit and Loss statement will suffice.

  • For a business loan application, ask your loan officer what format they prefer.

Step 3: Customize your income statement

Once you’ve determined the basic format for your income statement, you’ll have the option to customize it further. QuickBooks has made customizing your income statement easy. With a few clicks, you can choose between cash and accrual basis, determine the date range for the report and customize which columns appear on the report.

Many business owners wonder if they should produce cash or accrual basis income statements. For tax purposes, most small businesses need to create cash-basis income statements. A cash-basis statement shows your income as it is received and your expenses as they are paid. If you’re creating your QuickBooks income statement for tax- or loan-application purposes, ask your tax advisor or business loan officer which basis they need.

For management purposes, it's best to use an accrual-basis income statement. The accrual-basis income statement shows your income as it’s earned and your expenses as they’re incurred. If you invoice your customers and they pay at some point in the future, the income is technically earned when you invoice them, not when they pay you. An accrual-basis income statement will include the invoiced income on your income statement.

Similarly, if your vendors bill you and you pay them at some point in the future, those expenses are incurred as of the date of the bill, not when you actually pay it. An accrual-basis income statement will include bills that are not yet paid in your expenses.

QuickBooks Online: Here, you can easily switch between cash and accrual basis income statements by clicking the radio button next to “Cash” or “Accrual” right above where your income statement begins.

QuickBooks Desktop: You’ll need to click on the Customize Report button at the top of your income statement to switch accounting methods.

Your income statement reflects activity for a specified date range. For tax purposes, you want to create an income statement in QuickBooks which shows the entire year. Your business loan officer might want an income statement for multiple years.

There are a couple of different ways to set the date range for your QuickBooks income statement. Unlike other customizations, the method for changing the date range on your income statement is the same in both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop.

  • The very first field at the top left corner of your income statement is a dropdown box, which lets you choose from a number of predetermined date ranges. Click on the dropdown box and choose the date range you need.

  • You can also manually enter the starting and ending dates for your income statement in the two fields next to the date dropdown box.

The default for income statements in all versions of QuickBooks is to show only the ”Total” column for the date range you choose for your report. You can use the “Display columns by” dropdown field in QuickBooks Online or the “Customize Report” button in QuickBooks Desktop to determine which columns appear on your income statement.

Customizing the columns on your income statement allows you to break down multiple time periods on the same income statement. For example, if your loan officer asks for income statements for the last three years, you can set the date range to include all three years and then select the “Years” option for your columns. This will allow you to print one report for all three years, which in turn allows for easier side-by-side analysis of your business’s profitability and growth.

You can also show the profit and loss for your business by shorter time periods — days, weeks, months and quarters — or by vendor, customer, employee or product and service. This is extremely helpful for management and planning purposes.

Customize your QuickBooks income statement even further by setting specific filters, comparing your profit and loss for the date range you’ve chosen to another period and by creating special headers and footers.

QuickBooks Online: Click the “Customize” button at the top right corner of your income statement to find filtering and header and footer options. You can use the dropdown box at the top of your profit and loss statement to choose to compare your numbers to another period.

QuickBooks Desktop: Click the “Customize Report” button at the top left corner of your income statement to find these same options.

Adding notes to your income statement can help explain anomalies in your QuickBooks financial statements or ask questions about certain line items.

QuickBooks Online: You can add and save notes in QuickBooks Online by clicking the “Add notes” link at the top of your income statement.

QuickBooks Desktop: Here, notes are called comments. Click on the “Comment on Report” button at the top of your profit and loss statement to add comments on the report.

Step 4: Produce your income statement in QuickBooks

Now that you’ve finished customizing your income statement, it’s time to run the report.

QuickBooks Online: Here, you’ll need to click the “Run report” button near the top right corner of your income statement to produce the report according to your customizations.

QuickBooks Desktop: The report refreshes automatically as you customize it. You can also click on the Refresh button at the top right corner of your profit and loss statement to make sure the customizations have taken effect.

Step 5: Save, print and send your QuickBooks income statement

Once you set up and save your customizations (which can be surprisingly fun?), it only takes a couple of clicks to access your income statement again. After you’ve customized and run your income statement, you might also want to print and send your statement.

QuickBooks Online: You can save your customizations by clicking on the “Save customization” button at the top right corner of your income statement. Give your report a name so you can find it again easily. You can also choose to include your customized report in a group of reports and specify who should be able to access the customized report.

QuickBooks Desktop: You can find these same options for saving your customized income statement by clicking the “Memorize” button at the top of your profit and loss report.

QuickBooks Online: Clicking on the printer icon at the top of your profit and loss statement in QuickBooks Online will allow you to send your report to the printer of your choice. You can also click the document icon next to the printer icon to export your report to PDF or Excel, so you can save your income statement on your hard drive.

QuickBooks Desktop: The “Print” button at the top of the profit and loss statement in QuickBooks Desktop is used to print the report or to export it as a PDF. There’s a separate “Excel” button for exporting your income statement to Excel, if you want to save your income statement in that format.

There are two options for emailing your income statement. You can export it as a PDF or Excel worksheet, attach it to an email and send it to your accountant, loan officer or financial advisor. Or you can send the report from directly within QuickBooks.

QuickBooks Online: Click the envelope icon at the top of your report. A pop-up window will give you the option to email the report, print it or save it as a PDF. If you want a record of sending your report, enter your email address in the “CC” field on the Email Report screen.

QuickBooks Desktop: Click the “Email” button at the top of your report. The pop-up window will allow you to customize your message. Depending on your “Send Forms” preferences (found under Edit > Preferences,) your report will be sent using email. If you send your report using your email account, the email will appear in your sent items folder.

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A version of this article was first published on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.