As mandated by Sarbanes-Oxley, the SEC reviews the financial reports of public companies and challenges the appropriateness of accounting that seems questionable or unclear. We investigate whether the likelihood of an SEC comment (challenge), and the time needed to resolve such comments, depends upon either of two characteristics of the underlying accounting standard—rules and accounting estimates. We find that the probability of an SEC comment increases with the rules-based characteristics in the standard, but find little evidence that time to resolution is related to such characteristics. We also find that the extent of estimates required to implement the standard is positively associated with both the probability of an SEC comment and the time to resolve the comment. Our findings should help inform the debate over the appropriate level of rules and estimates in GAAP, and are especially timely in light of the potential convergence between more rules-based U.S. GAAP and more principles-based IFRS GAAP.

Data Availability: Data are available from public sources.

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