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What is Deferred Revenue? Examples and Importance

  • Vrinda Mathur
  • Mar 03, 2022
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Revenue is one of the most crucial pillars of your company's finances. While not the only sign of your company's financial health, it is the raw material from which profits are made. If money isn't flowing in at a consistent rate, you won't be able to pay your vendors, manage your overhead expenditures, or make capital investments that will help you grow your firm. 


Maintaining a healthy cash flow requires consistent revenue. However, the exchange of goods and services for money is not always as seamless as we would want. Sometimes our income is intangible, which creates a misleading image of our company's financial health. Moving further, let us now understand the concept of Deferred Revenue.

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What is Deferred Revenue?


Deferred revenue, often known as unearned revenue , refers to payments received in advance for goods or services that will be supplied or performed in the future. The corporation that receives the prepayment reflects the amount on its balance sheet as deferred revenue, a liability.


Deferred revenue is classified as a liability since it represents unearned money and covers products or services due to a customer. Because the commodity or service is distributed over time, revenue is recognised proportionally on the income statement.


Companies that sell subscription-based products and services that demand prepayments typically list such things. Rent in advance or prepayment for a service, such as taxes, subscription to a streaming service, and so on, are examples of deferred income. 


Advance rent, deposits for future services, service contracts, legal fees, advance insurance, ticket sales, and other forms of deferred revenue are other examples.


Deferred revenue is often recorded as a current obligation on a company's balance sheet since the deferred periods are typically 12 months or less. Nonetheless, a client may make an advance prepayment for services that are expected to be given for a long period of time. 


In this situation, the portion of the expenditure pertaining to services or products to be rendered beyond 12 months from the date of expenditure would be recorded as deferred revenue in the long-term liability section of the balance sheet.


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Examples of Deferred Revenue


Deferred revenue and deferral accounting are naturally suited to a variety of company structures. Some frequent instances of delayed revenue that we encounter on a daily basis are:


  • When an e-commerce platform gets an online payment for products that will be mailed to the client.


  • When an insurance company gets a premium for the following 12 months of coverage


  • When a contractor receives a portion of the job's cost upfront and defers the remainder until the project is done.


  • A subscription box firm gets paid in advance for a year's subscription, but no boxes have yet been delivered to the subscriber.



How does Deferred Revenue Function?


Deferred revenue is recorded as a liability on a company's balance sheet when it receives an advance payment. This is due to the fact that it has a commitment to the consumer in the form of the goods or services owed. 


The payment is seen as a liability by the firm since there is still the risk that the product or service will not be provided or that the customer will cancel the order. Unless alternate payment conditions were clearly indicated in a written contract, the firm would be required to compensate the consumer in either situation.


As there is a danger that the goods or service will not be supplied or that the client will cancel the transaction, the payment is considered an obligation to the seller. In this instance, the company would have to repay the consumer unless alternate payment conditions were clearly mentioned in a written contract.


Contracts might include particular restrictions such as requiring no income to be declared until all services or items have been provided. In other words, the customer's cumulative payments will be kept in accrued revenue until the consumer has earned the entire amount owing under the contract.


Deferred revenue is often recorded on the income statement gradually when a firm delivers services or products, to the degree the money is "earned." 


Too fast categorizing deferred revenue as earned revenue, or simply skipping the deferred revenue account entirely and adding it directly to revenue on the income statement, is called aggressive accounting and effectively overstates sales revenue.


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Importance of Deferred Revenue


Deferred income aids in the application of the universal principle of accrual accounting — the matching notion. It assumes that firms report (or literary match) revenues and spending in the same accounting period. Companies will face inflated earnings if they merely report revenues without accounting for the costs that led to them.


Deferred revenue is important as :


  1. It is critical to appropriately record assets and liabilities on a balance sheet. By putting deferred revenue on the liability side of the balance sheet, the corporation avoids declaring unearned income in the asset. As a result, it prevents overvaluing the company's net worth


  1. Deferred Revenue is important to the firm because it allows it to finance operations without relying on other assets or taking out a loan.


  1. Customer payment might vary and have an influence on financial success. As a result, investors may dislike such volatility. As a result, reporting revenues as they come in helps to keep profitability steady.


  1. It also displays how much the corporation owes and how much it is still obligated to its consumers. Although cash is the most secure asset, cash from delayed revenue may be dangerous. Cash that a corporation receives but has yet to earn is a risk unless the product or service is delivered.


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Deferred Revenue Vs Accrued Expense 


Before moving towards the distinguishing features it is important to have a clear picture of what these actually mean. 


Deferred revenue is sometimes combined with accumulated costs since they share similar features. Both, for example, are included as current liabilities on a company's balance sheet. 


The distinction between the two concepts is that delayed revenue relates to products or services that a corporation owes its consumers. Meanwhile, accumulated costs are the funds that a corporation is obligated to pay.


Accrued income refers to products or services you gave to a client but have yet to be paid for. At the time of the transaction, accountants will usually record this revenue as "accounts receivable" on their balance sheet. This can (and frequently is) done before monetary payment is received, and generally before an invoice is raised.


While the revenue has now been recorded on your books, it is not yet liquid, and you do not have access to it. The two can be broadly distinguished on two basis:- 

Difference between deferred revenue and accruedexpense on the basis of :- 1. Occurrence 2. Expenses

Difference between Deferred Revenue & Accrued Expense

  1. Occurrence


Deferred payments occur after a payment or receipt is made whereas on the other hand, Accrued expenses occur before a payment or a receipt has been made. 


  1. Expenses


Expenses are paid under the deferred payments, whereas expenses are incurred but not yet paid under accrued expenses. 


Assuming that all income comes in the form of cash may be a risky habit to develop, especially when dissatisfied customers begin to want refunds. By correctly accounting for both accrued and deferred income, you can maintain a healthy cash flow and save your company from spending money that it does not currently have.


Revenue is recognised as earned in accrual accounting only when payment has been received from the client and the products or services have been provided to them. As a result, deferred revenue is accumulated if the client has paid for products or services in advance but the firm has yet to provide them.


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Deferred revenue accounting is critical for accurately reporting assets and liabilities on a company's balance sheet in accordance with the matching principle. As a result, it discourages brands from exaggerating their earnings.


Companies that provide subscription-based services should record deferred revenue by updating their balance sheet and income statement until the end of the client's subscription, i.e. when their responsibility to the customer is eliminated.

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