Fiscal Year: Definition, Federal Budget Examples

When the New Year Doesn't Start January 1

Desk Calendar
Most businesses use a different fiscal year than the government.. Photo: DAJ/Getty Images

Definition: Fiscal Year (FY) is an organization's budget or financial year, as opposed to its calendar year. It's used to report revenue, costs and the profit margin. This will tell the organization's management whether it has met its goals. This is used to adjust operations for the future.

Most organizations' fiscal year coincides with the calendar year, which starts January 1. That's because most companies except for corporations must use the tax year as their fiscal year.

 Organizations whose fiscal year doesn't coincide with the calendar year will usually start it at the beginning of a quarter, such as April 1, July 1 or October 1. 

Examples Using the Federal Government Fiscal Year

One of the most important fiscal years for the economy is the federal fiscal year, which defines the U.S. government's budget. It runs from October 1 of the prior year through September 30 of the year being described. For example:

  • FY 2015 was from October 1, 2014, through September 30, 2015.
  • FY 2016 is from October 1, 2015, through September 30, 2016.
  • FY 2017 is from October 1, 2016, through September 30, 2017.
  • FY 2018 is from October 1, 2017, through September 30, 2018.

The Federal fiscal year allows newly elected officials to participate in the next year's budget process. For example, Congressmen elected in November 2016 will take office in January 2017. They can take part in the FY 2018 budget.


Want to know more about the federal budget for each Fiscal Year? Track the progress with these articles:

  • Fiscal Year 2017 - The President budgeted $4.147 trillion in spending and $3.644 in revenue. That creates a $503 billion deficit. 
  • Fiscal Year 2016 - Spending of $3.952 trillion is $616 billion more than $3.336 trillion in revenue. Mandated benefits cost $2.487 trillion. Congress appropriated $1.15 trillion to discretionary programs and added $82.8 billion in emergency funding. 
  • Fiscal Year 2015 - With expected revenue of $3.337 trillion, and spending of $3.901 trillion, the budget deficit will be $564 billion.
  • Fiscal Year 2014 - The deficit is projected to be $649 billion, after taking in $3.005 trillion in revenue and spending $3.651 trillion.
  • Fiscal Year 2013 - This budget was never actually approved. Instead, the government operated with across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. As a result, only $3.454 trillion was spent, lower than the $3.8 trillion estimated by the Obama administration. Revenue was $2.774 trillion, also better-than-expected. The deficit was only $680 billion. Why wasn't the budget approved? Tea party Republicans refused to enact another continuing resolution unless Obamacare was defunded. The government shut down for 16 days, before the two parties agreed to keep things running until January 15, 2014. Meanwhile, another bicameral conference committee negotiated the FY 2014 budget by December 15, 2013. 
  • Fiscal Year 2012 - The Federal government received $2.469 trillion in revenue, but spent $3.796 trillion, creating a $1.327 trillion deficit. A continuing resolution allowed the government to keep running until the budget was quietly approved on December 31, 2011.

Tax Year

The tax year is the fiscal year for all individuals, and most businesses. It starts on the calendar year, January 1. However, taxes aren't due until April 15, three and a half months later. That's because, in 1913, Congress passed the law creating the income tax in February. Over the years, Congress extended the deadline, giving you more and more time to pay your taxes...and them more time to hold onto your money before issuing refunds. For more, see Why Is April 15 Tax Day?

Business Fiscal Year

Most businesses must use the same tax year as their owners. That means single proprietors, partnerships, and S corporations use the calendar year. That goes for LLCs that fall under those classifications for tax purposes. Businesses use the fiscal year to track revenue, costs and profit for the prior twelve months.

C corporations file their tax returns separately from their owners. Their tax year coincides with their fiscal year. Their taxes are due three months later on the 15th. For more, see 2Business Tax Due Dates

Many corporations find advantages for starting the fiscal year other than January 1. For example, some businesses might choose to start their fiscal year in April for tax purposes. They can shift income and expenses to a month outside of the fiscal year to improve their taxable income.

Businesses that are seasonal might start their fiscal year on July 1. A business that has most of its income in the fall and most of its expenses in the spring might start its fiscal year on October 1. That way, they know what their income will be for the year, and can adjust their expenses to maintain their desired profit margins.

Regardless of when their fiscal year starts, most companies report on a quarterly basis. This is critical for publicly-owned corporations. That's why, in the stock market, the beginning of each quarter is know as "earnings season." For more, see How Does the Stock Market Work?

Fun Fact: The word "fiscal" was originally a Latin word meaning "a small rush basket," used as a purse. This became the "public purse," which became the French word fiscal, meaning "to tax."  Article updated February 25, 2016.

Continue Reading...