It's October, and thousands of investors will soon wait with bated breath at their computers and phones.

Over the next several weeks, on any given day of business, a few minutes can signal the difference between millions of dollars in profit or loss.

It's earnings season.

Even if you're new to the investing game, you've probably overheard the earnings frenzy that takes place four times each year for publicly traded companies. This earnings season will be a particularly significant one, considering the current state of economic emergency. A worse-than-expected earnings season could mean a lot of trouble for Wall Street and your investment portfolio.

Over the next few days, as you keep tabs on what goes down on Capitol Hill, find some time to get up to speed on earnings season as well. That said, here's a look at the life cycle of an earnings release.

First, Earnings Matter

Earnings releases are a big deal for one simple reason: The numbers a company delivers can have a monumental effect on its stock price. Just look at Deere ( DE), whose stock price plummeted more than 12% after the company issued an August earnings release that missed earnings targets and offered a weak outlook.

On the flip side, exceedingly good earnings can mean a windfall for investors. Tech darling Cisco Systems ( CSCO) reported earnings that beat Wall Street's estimates late last season, bumping its share price up more than 9%.

But a company's earnings are rarely as simple as subtracting their expenses from the money they took in that quarter. Trust me. I've spent the last few months getting intimate with Wall Street financials, as an auditor at one of the biggest public accounting firms in the world.

So, what exactly goes into getting those earnings releases out?

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