A fiscal year is the twelve-month period over which an entity reports on the activities that appear in its annual financial statements. This period does not have to correspond to the calendar year. For example, a fiscal year might span the period from May 1 to April 30 of the following year. The span chosen usually corresponds to the natural business cycle of an entity.
This period is also commonly used for the annual organization budget. From a financial analysis perspective, one might compare the fiscal year results of a business for several consecutive years, to discern trends.
A fiscal year is referred to by the date on which it ends. For example, a company's annual income statement might be described as "for the year ended November 30, 20X1".