CheckFree (NASDAQ:CKFR), the electronic bill payment company, treated its shareholders to several pieces of good news in its second-quarter earnings announcement, released after-hours on Tuesday.

Revenues climbed 11% over comparable second-quarter 2002 figures. The net loss shrank from $0.13 to $0.02 per share. And this is just the beginning -- the company expects to finally become GAAP-earnings positive next quarter and to remain so for the year, predicting $0.05 to $0.07 and $0.04 to $0.08 in earnings, respectively.

In fact, the company is so optimistic about its prospects that this quarter it decided to redeem all of its $172.5 million worth of convertible debt, even though this necessitated paying about a $5 million premium to the holders of the debt.

Despite all the good news going for the company, however, CheckFree still felt the need to "personalize" its results with its own particular style of pro forma numbers. CheckFree calls its pro forma numbers "underlying results," and basically these numbers exclude amortization of goodwill on its acquisitions, write-offs of various expenses, and investment losses (however, to be fair, the company does also exclude certain income tax benefits from these numbers -- so, this is not unmitigated boosterism).

Still, it's not surprising to see that after you exclude all the bad stuff, CheckFree's results come out looking even better than before: a positive $0.25 in per share underlying earnings vs. yet another positive $0.20 from the corresponding 2002 quarter.

But like choosing the "Puppies and Kittens" background for your paper checkbook, when CheckFree describes its results in underlying results parlance, it is only making its results "easier on the eye" for the investing public. That doesn't change the fact that it's what is written on top of that background that counts.

Maybe in its youthful and spendthrift past, CheckFree felt the need to use the financial equivalent of pretty background paper to distract the tellers at the National United First Bank of Shareholders to get them to accept its checks payable to "Cash." But today CheckFree has a FICO score of 700, a steady job, a wife, a Volvo, and a house in the suburbs. It's time to cut out the cutesy stuff and just use the grown-up, GAAP-standard checks now.

Rich Smith does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. When he reads the words "pro forma" in a press release, he feels an uncontrollable urge to sneeze something unprintable. To learn why, consider taking one of our online How-to guides , which feature money-back guarantees.