What Is Deferred Revenue And Why Is It A Liability?

What is unearned revenue? definition and meaning

The customer can cancel their contract anytime before the meals are delivered, which makes unearned revenue or prepayments a liability to the company. Unearned revenue is important to the accrual method of accounting.

Once the expected goods and services are however delivered, the real income value can be accounted for. An accumulated income also refers to the interest that a company accumulates on income that has been earned but is yet to be received. This interest is recorded as interest receivable in a company’s active account. Accounting for the full income in advance would lead to an overstatement of revenues in one accounting period and understatement in the other. Although both terms seem different, they represent the same type of revenue.

First, it’s important to have resources planned for the future for product and service delivery. Without them, a business may be selling something they can’t support or deliver. If a business has reason to believe that a customer will not pay, there must be an estimate of the unpaid amount. If a customer calls their insurance company to notify them that they have lost their job and will not be able to pay their bill, the company will not be able to record the unearned revenue as earned. The insurance company should record the amount by which the customer cannot pay in an allowance for doubtful account. The income statement should show if and when the promised good or service has been delivered, and whether or not it is still considered a liability to the company. An easy way to understand deferred revenue is to think of it as a debt owed to a customer.

What is unearned revenue? definition and meaning

Common prepaid expenses may include monthly rent or insurance payments that have been paid in advance. The remaining $150 sits on the balance sheet as deferred revenue until the software upgrades are fully delivered to the customer What is unearned revenue? definition and meaning by the company. For accounts receivable, the only remaining step is the collection of cash payments by the company once the customer fulfills their end of the transaction — hence, the classification of A/R as a current asset.

So, the deferred revenue is accrued if the client has paid for goods or services in advance, but the company is still to deliver them later. The revenue is then recognized as the revenues over the period of time over the life of services or subscriptions. As mentioned in the example above, when an advance payment is received for goods or services, this must be recorded on the balance sheet.

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Another example of unearned revenue is rent that a landlord collects in advance. Unearned revenue is most often a short-term liability, meaning that the business enters a delivery agreement with the customer or client and must fulfill its obligations within a year of purchase. Services that will take over a year to deliver upon should be marked as a long-term liability on the balance sheet. Media companies like magazine publishers often generate unearned revenue as a result of their business models. For example, the publisher needs the cash flow to produce content through its various teams, market the content compelling to reach its audience, and print and distribute issues upon publication. Each activity in a publisher’s business strategy can benefit from the resulting cash flow of unearned revenue. A business generates unearned revenue when a customer pays for a good or service that has yet to be provided.

  • By definition, unearned revenue is the revenue that an entity is yet to earn.
  • Unearned revenue is the revenue a business has received for a product or service that the business has yet to provide to the customer.
  • Deferred revenue and prepaid expenses are important concepts in accrual accounting.
  • Second to recognize the income and remove the liability initially recorded.
  • Although the concept of unearned income is widely used; it comes with some disadvantages as well.
  • Unbilled revenue is revenue that has been earned by a company or individual but not yet recorded on their accounts.

This money has not been earned and thus can’t be reported on the income statement. You record deferred revenue as a short term or current liability on the balance sheet. Current liabilities are expected to be repaid within one year unlike long term liabilities which are expected to last longer. Deferred revenue is a short term liability account because it’s kind of like a debt however, instead of it being money you owe, it’s goods and services owed to customers. Understanding the basics of accounting is vital to any business’s success.


Harold Averkamp has worked as a university accounting instructor, accountant, and consultant for more than 25 years. He is the sole author of all the materials on AccountingCoach.com. Recognize revenue when the entity satisfies a performance obligation. Allocate the transaction price – Each performance obligation should have an amount allocated to it.

  • By meaning, unearned revenue is the income that an entity has not earned yet.
  • The unearned revenue earned is then recognized as sales revenue on an income statement.
  • For any company that has a large number of transactions, putting all the details in the general ledger is not feasible.
  • The portion that has not yet been rendered should be transferred to Unearned Service Revenue.
  • If you enter an invoice with a Bill in Advance invoicing rule, Receivables creates the following journal entries.

AccountDebitCreditCash Account$ 6,000Deferred Revenue$ 6,000The company can gradually record its income and remove the deferred income liability. Although the concept of unearned income is widely used; it comes with some disadvantages as well. Deferred revenue is a form of advance payment in business dealings normally. It is a common practice in professional service industries such as online subscriptions, marketing plans, online tutoring, and airline tickets. In many cases, it comes in the form of advance payment for a large contract.

Debit balances related to accrued revenue are recorded on the balance sheet, while the revenue change appears in the income statement. Typically, deferred revenue is listed as a “current” liability on the balance sheet due to prepayment terms ordinarily lasting fewer than twelve months. In some industries, the unearned revenue comprises a large portion of total current liabilities of the entity. For example in air line industry, the unearned revenue liability arisen from tickets issued for future flights consists of almost 50% of total current liabilities. An example of unearned revenue might be a publishing company that sells a two-year subscription to a magazine. The liability arises from the fact that the company has collected money for the subscription but has not yet delivered the magazines.

The Importance Of Unearned Revenue

The accounting cycle explains the flow of converting raw accounting data to financial information whereas general ledger process flow explains how journals flow in the system. One of the greatest benefits of using a double-entry accounting system is the capability to generate a trial balance.

What is unearned revenue? definition and meaning

However, a business owner must ensure the timely delivery of products to its consumers to keep transactions steady and drive customer retention. This is why it is crucial to recognize unearned revenue as a liability, not as revenue. Once the business actually provides the goods or services, an adjusting entry is made. The unearned revenue account will be debited and the service revenues account will be credited the same amount, according to Accounting Coach.


It records a liability until the company delivers the purchased product. Let’s say they were obligated to and performed three-quarters of the total contract in a 90-day accounting period.

What is unearned revenue? definition and meaning

Unearned revenue is a liability to the entity until the revenue is earned. As specified byGenerally Accepted Accounting Principles , accrued revenue is recognized when a performance obligation is satisfied by the performing party. For example, revenue is recognized when the customer takes possession of a good or when a service is provided, regardless of whether cash was paid at that time. The journal entry for unearned revenue shows a debit to the unearned revenue account and a credit to the cash account. Once an adjusting entry is made when the unearned revenue becomes sales revenue, the sales revenue account is debited and the unearned revenue account is credited.

Unearned Revenue Accounting

Unearned income relies on the quality and timely delivery of future services or goods that may go wrong. This concept helps professional service organizations that rely on advance payments and subscriptions. In practice, deferral refers to the delay in delivering the goods or services against which the entity has earned income. It means an entity cannot record the income as it has not yet fulfilled its trade contract with the counterparty. By definition, unearned revenue is the revenue that an entity is yet to earn.

  • A publishing company may offer a yearly subscription of monthly issues for $120.
  • Note that in double-entry bookkeeping the recorded debits must equal the recorded credits.
  • The contract states that the client will make an advance payment for a period of 6 months.
  • Deferred income, at the moment it is given to the company and at the point that the good or service is supplied, is listed as a liability in the accounting books.
  • The agreement pertaining to this transaction stats that the company must manufacture and provide goods to the buyer on January 15, 2021 against the prepayment received from him on December 1, 2020.
  • Current LiabilitiesCurrent Liabilities are the payables which are likely to settled within twelve months of reporting.

When the transaction occurs, such as a publishing company selling a magazine subscription, the journal entry includes a debit to cash and a credit to unearned revenue. The income statement, or statement of earnings, does not reflect that the company has made a sale until it has earned the income by delivering the magazines to the customer. An airline that receives advance payment for tickets should also record the transactions as unearned revenue.

What Is Unearned Revenue? Definition, Nature, Recognition

Learn strategies on how you can maximize income by consulting a financial advisor in Fort Worth, TX. If you live outside the vicinity, please check out our financial advisor page to see the areas we serve. Income from social security is sometimes taxed at a lower rate as well, depending on the amount of income an individual receives from other sources. Appendix A to IAS 18 provides illustrative examples of how the above principles apply to certain transactions. The adjustment might include a review of the revenues to ensure that all incomes are well accounted for and put in right categories. Unearned revenue reported earlier needs to be reversed if the contract does not complete satisfactorily. Primarily, cash accounting would also stipulate the same concept with different implementation guidelines. Dr.Cash6,000.00Cr.Service Revenue6,000.00At the end of the year, the following entry is made to adjust the accounts.

Similarly, professional service providers such as accounting, legal, and contracting firms that accept deposits should record them as unearned revenue. Companies that provide warranties to their customers for an extended time period and charge for these warranties also deal with unearned incomes. This means that all revenues are recorded when earned regardless of when the cash is actually received. In other words, a customer who buys a shirt on December 31 and pays for in on January 1 is considered to have bought the shirt on December 31.

Accounting For Deferred Expenses

Unearned revenue is recognized as a current liability for the seller’s accounting records, as the revenue is not yet earned because the good or service hasn’t been delivered. It has to be recorded as a liability on a company’s balance sheet. When a company receives upfront payment from a customer before the product/service has been delivered; it is considered as deferred revenue. Gradually, as the product or service is delivered to the customers over time, the deferred revenue is recognized proportionally on the income statement. It is a liability because even though a company has received payment from the customer, the money is potentially refundable and thus not yet recognized as revenue. An example of unearned revenue is when someone signs a yearlong contract with a meal delivery service. The customer prepaid for a full year of meals, although they have not received all the meals.

Unearned Sales results in cash exchange before revenue recognition for the business. On a balance sheet, unearned revenue is recorded as a ​​debit to the cash account and a credit to the unearned revenue account. Generally, unearned revenues are classified as short-term liabilities because the obligation is typically fulfilled within a period of less than a year. However, in some cases, when the delivery of the goods or services may take more than a https://accountingcoaching.online/ year, the respective unearned revenue may be recognized as a long-term liability. Unearned revenue can be applied in almost all industries however it becomes very important in the case of some industries where advance payments are the norm like subscriptions for magazines. Companies providing extended warranties need to treat their sales as unearned revenues at the time of sale. Learn the concept of unearned revenue, also known as deferred revenue.

Here are a few key examples of the practical application of deferred revenue. The disadvantage of this scheme is when the company fails to complete the transaction or the client feels that the company failed to provide the wanted good or service. There might be problems if there is no compromise between the client and the company to complete the transaction for both sides. Large and ‘unearned’ bonus payments must be avoided if possible, even though such ‘wasted’ expenditures may still leave bonus systems economical on balance; otherwise political ridicule could prove disastrous. At Bench, we work with you to ensure your financial reporting needs are met while keeping you IRS compliant.

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