City, county and state governments are required by law to produce basic financial statements. The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report is an audited public document that provides financial information but unlike basic financial statements goes on to provide more detailed economic, demographic and statistical information. Governments are encouraged to create a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report but because of their complexity are not required by law or statute to do so. Wake County creates a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report annually, which is available from the Finance office as well as on this website.

A Comprehensive Annual Financial Report includes combined statements of revenues, expenditures and changes in financial position, somewhat similar to the financial statements of a business. In addition, it provides supporting schedules necessary to demonstrate compliance with finance-related legal and contractual provisions and must include an introductory document called a Letter of Transmittal that is free-format and allows a government to highlight its bright spots or downplay the negative ones. The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report enables taxpayers to assess proper use of public funds and is used extensively by bond rating agencies, underwriters and bondholders to assess the investment risk of a government.

To encourage governments to create Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports that are easily readable and efficiently organized, the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) asks that governments submit their Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for inspection to the GFOA. If the content and format meet the high standard of quality set out by the GFOA, it will award a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting to that government. Wake County has been awarded this Certificate of Achievement for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for each fiscal year since 1984.