Home » Bookkeeping articles » Unearned Revenue Definition

Unearned Revenue Definition

December 30, 2021
Bill Kimball

is unearned revenue a liability

There are several instances where a company could generate revenue before providing the goods or services that go with it. Unearned revenue is classified as a current liability on the balance sheet. It is a liability because it reflects money that has been received while services to earn that money have yet to be provided. If for some reason the company was not able to provide those services, the money may be forfeit.

In addition, it denotes an obligation to provide products or services within a specified period. Unearned revenue is reported on a business’s balance sheet, an important financial statement usually generated with accounting software. A client purchases a package of 20 person training sessions for $2000, or $100 per session. The personal trainers enters $2000 as a debit to cash and $2000 as a credit to unearned revenue.

Businesses, large and small alike, must ensure their bookkeeping practices comply with accounting standards like GAAP. This is why unearned revenue is recorded as an equal decrease in unearned revenue and increase in revenue . At the end of the month, the owner debits unearned revenue $400 and credits revenue $400.

is unearned revenue a liability

Recognizing deferred revenue is common for software as a service and insurance companies. The owner then decides to record the accrued revenue earned on a monthly basis. The earned revenue is recognized with an adjusting journal entry called an accrual. On January 1, 2019, an entity enters into a contract to transfer Product 1 and perform Service 1 to a customer for a total consideration of $750. The contract requires Product 1 to be delivered first, and that payment will not be made until Service 1 is performed.

Hence, the company expects to have total gift card redemptions of $2,160 ($2,400 × 90%) and estimated breakage of $240 ($2,400 × 10%). In this post we will look at the impact of deferred revenue on a company’s financial statements. As you work through this post keep in mind that deferred revenue, which is also referred to as unearned revenue, represents a liability to the company. And so, unearned revenue should not be included as income yet; rather, it is recorded as a liability.

Examples Of Unearned Revenue

This is also referred to as deferred revenues or customer deposits. The unearned amount is initially recorded in a liability account such as Deferred Income, Deferred Revenues, or Customer Deposits. As the amount is earned, the liability account is reduced and the amount earned will be reported on the income statement as revenues.

Does unearned revenue affect equity?

Since unearned revenue represents a company’s current liability, it has a direct impact on a company’s working capital. It actually decreases this financial figure.

And, they choose this approach because it enables them to track manage revenues and expenses, as well as liabilities, owners equities, and assets. By contrast, Single entry accounting serves only for managing cash outflows and inflows. Company XYZ sells $2,400 in gift cards to customers during February. Based on historical redemption patterns, XYZ believes that 90% of the value of the gift cards sold will be redeemed over the next 12 months, with 10% probably remaining unclaimed.

Why Is Unearned Rent A Liability?

In this case, the company will have received the payment in advance. You can only recognize unearned revenue in financial accounting after delivering a service or product and receiving payment. But since you accept payment in advance, you must defer its recognition until you meet the above criteria. Read on to learn about unearned revenue, handling these transactions in business accounting, and how ProfitWell Recognized from ProfitWell help simplify the process.

is unearned revenue a liability

Unearned revenue is the amount that the company owes to the customer until he receives the goods that he ordered. Therefore, if the customer paid for the product, but have not received it yet, the company owes paid amount to the customer. Unearned revenue is usually disclosed as a current liability on a company’s balance sheet. This changes if advance payments are made for services or goods due to be provided 12 months or more after the payment date. Unearned revenue is originally entered in the books as a debit to the cash account and a credit to the unearned revenue account. The credit and debit are the same amount, as is standard in double-entry bookkeeping.

Example 2 Recognizing Revenues When Earning Occurs In A Later Period

Mr. X uses amazon.com and recently he got to know about the prime services provided by amazon.com like unlimited access to music and movies, free shipping of the products within two days period of time, etc. He wants to take benefit of the same so he purchased the annual subscription of Amazon for $ 119. For this amount of $ 119, Amazon has to provide the service for a period of one year. Now for Amazon, the amount received from Mr. X of $ 119 becomes unearned revenue because the company receives the payment as an advance in full while no services have yet been provided to Mr. X. Unearned revenue triggers two entries in double-entry bookkeeping. The first is as a debit to the cash account to represent that work has yet to be performed by the company to “earn” the advance payment.

Deferred revenue is an advance payment for products or services that are to be delivered or performed in the future. Similarly, capitalized costs to obtain a contract should not be combined with contract assets. Capitalized incremental costs to obtain a contract should be presented as a single asset and classified as long-term unless the original amortization period is one year or less. Generally, the amortization of costs of obtaining a contract that are capitalized should be amortized and reported as expense within the selling, general and administrative section of the income statement. Contract assets and contract liabilities should be presented as current and noncurrent in a classified balance sheet, and determined at the contract level.

It is most commonly associated with situations where the seller has power over the buyer, or where the seller is providing customized goods to the buyer. This is advantageous from a cash flow perspective for the seller, who now has the cash to perform the required services. Once the product or service is delivered, unearned revenue becomes revenue on the income statement. On January 1, 2019, an entity enters into a contract with a customer to transfer equipment and perform maintenance service for three years to a Customer.

It is not the consumer who needs to fulfill a promise, but rather the producer. Once the producer delivers their half of the deal, so to speak, unearned revenue becomes revenue. Current liabilities are debts payable within one year, while long-term liabilities are debts payable over a longer period. Items like rent, deferred taxes, payroll, and pension obligations can also be listed under long-term liabilities. BC Guide InfoFinancial Metrics ProKnow for certain you are using the right metrics in the right way. Learn the best ways to calculate, report, and explain NPV, ROI, IRR, Working Capital, Gross Margin, EPS, and 150+ more cash flow metrics and business ratios.

Subscription Market Insights You Won’t Find Anywhere Else

To minimize confusion, many SaaS companies use the accrual method for their revenue account. Accrual accounting recognizes revenue only when a transaction is completed, not when payment is received. Revenue recognition only comes about when your company has earned that revenue. Deferred revenue is payment received for products or services delivered after, not at, the point of purchase. Due to the lag between the purchase and its delivery, deferred revenue is also called unearned revenue.

  • Revenue that is received but not earned in the current fiscal period.
  • Read on to learn about unearned revenue, handling these transactions in business accounting, and how ProfitWell Recognized from ProfitWell help simplify the process.
  • If you have noticed, what we are actually doing here is making sure that the earned part is included in income and the unearned part into liability.
  • Therefore, it commonly falls under the current liability category on a business’s balance sheet.
  • It illustrates that though the company has received cash for its services, the earnings are on credit—a prepayment for future delivery of products or services.

4Note that taxpayers can now use the cash method of accounting for federal income tax purposes if their average annual gross receipts for the prior three years do not exceed $25 million. Also, such taxpayers can treat inventory as nonincidental materials and supplies and avoid the rules of Secs. If an organization does not expect to be entitled to breakage income, then it cannot recognize revenue—until it judges the likelihood to be “remote” that the card’s balance will be redeemed. From an information systems perspective, accountants may wish to set up systems to collect and report information that is sufficiently reliable to estimate breakage rates. Developing reliable information can spell the difference between “probable” nonredemption, which will lead to earlier recognition of breakage income, and “remote” redemption, which will delay recognition of breakage income.


The following journal entries are made to account for the contract. A contract liability is an entity’s obligation to transfer goods or services to a customer for which the entity has received consideration from the customer but the transfer has not yet been completed. DebitCreditRent Expense$250Prepaid Rent$250Under the cash basis of accounting, deferred revenue and expenses are not recorded because income and expenses are recorded as the cash comes in or goes out. This makes the accounting easier, but isn’t so great for matching income and expenses.

In this transaction, the Prepaid Rent is increasing, and Cash is decreasing. For instance, in the United States, under the Securities and Exchange Commission, a public company must meet specific criteria for the revenue to be recognized as such. This criterion includes shifting delivery ownership, collection probability — a reasonable estimate of an amount for doubtful accounts — and evidence is unearned revenue a liability of an arrangement plus the determined price. If these criteria are not met, then revenue recognition is deferred. Later, when part 2 of the sale occurs, the buyer and the seller each make another pair of journal entries, such as those shown in Exhibit 3. The seller cannot claim “revenue earnings,” and the buyer cannot claim “expense payment,” until both parts of the sale transaction complete.

The contract requires the equipment to be delivered first for consideration of $6,000. Consideration for maintenance services amounts to $2,000 per year. Total contract price amounts to $12,000 and is invoiced annually on January 31, in the amount of $4,000 per year. On January 1, 2019, the customer receives the equipment and pays the entity $4,000. The equipment and the maintenance services are distinct performance obligations, and the maintenance part of the contract was deemed to be a stand-ready obligation. The payments that were made before the product is delivered cannot be recognized as revenue as the service has not been used by the customer even though he paid money for it.

How is the account deferred revenue or unearned revenue typically be classified on the balance sheet?

In the company’s books, deferred/unearned revenue (henceforth referred to solely as deferred revenue) is classified as revenue/profit, but is listed as a liability on the balance sheet until the goods have been delivered, or services have been performed.

Journal entries for cash received and product sales revenue earnings.Example 2. In the “unearned revenue” situation, thesecond condition is satisfied because the customer has already paid. In this situation, the seller claims revenue earnings when delivery occurs. If the sale has is “closed,” but the customer has not yet paid, the seller can claim revenues earned if and only if the seller considers them to be realizable. In other words, the seller expects in fact to receive the cash payment. In accrual accounting, sellers must, in fact, meet two conditions to recognize funds as revenue earnings.

Consider a $500 purchase that begins with a customer cash payment. 17See AICPA letter to Andrew Keyso Jr., IRS associate chief counsel, dated April 23, 2015, regarding the tax treatment of deferred revenue in taxable asset acquisitions, available at

The second entry is as a credit to unearned revenue; the value of which is available funds for the work to be performed. Unearned revenue refers to revenue your company or business received for products or services you are yet to deliver or provide to the buyer .

It is treated as a liability because the revenue has still not been earned and represents products or services owed to a customer. As the prepaid service or product is gradually delivered over time, it is recognized as revenue on theincome statement. FASB’s Emerging Issues Task Force will consider whether the new revenue standard applies to prepaid cards that may be redeemed only for goods and services at a third-party merchant. For example, a company receives an annual software license fee paid out by a customer upfront on January 1. So, the company using accrual accounting adds only five months’ worth (5/12) of the fee to its revenues in profit and loss for the fiscal year the fee was received. The rest is added to deferred income on the balance sheet for that year.