Balance Sheet Savvy

Demystifying Deferred Revenue: Understanding its Definition Importance and Accounting Treatment

Understanding Deferred Revenue: Definition, Importance, and Accounting TreatmentWhen it comes to running a business, there are various financial concepts and terms that every entrepreneur and professional should be familiar with. One such concept is deferred revenue.

In this article, we will delve into the definition and importance of deferred revenue, as well as its accounting treatment. By the end, you will have a solid understanding of what deferred revenue is, why it matters, and how it is handled in the world of accounting.

So, let’s get started!

Definition and

Importance of Deferred Revenue

Definition of Deferred Revenue

Deferred revenue refers to money that a company receives from customers but has not yet earned. It is a liability on the company’s balance sheet because it represents an unearned amount that needs to be recognized as revenue over time.

In simple terms, when a customer pays upfront for a product or service that has not been provided yet, the payment is considered deferred revenue. This concept is important because it helps businesses properly account for the timing of their revenue recognition.

Without deferred revenue, companies would have to recognize the full amount of revenue immediately upon receiving payment, which may not accurately reflect the financial performance of the business. By deferring recognition, companies can better match revenue with the corresponding expenses or efforts required to provide the product or service.

Importance of Deferred Revenue

Understanding and properly accounting for deferred revenue is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it ensures accurate financial reporting.

By recognizing revenue when it is earned, businesses can provide transparent and reliable financial information to stakeholders, such as investors, lenders, and regulators. Secondly, deferred revenue affects the company’s balance sheet.

It is recorded as a liability, which reflects the company’s obligation to provide the product or service in the future. This liability can impact financial ratios and key performance indicators used to assess the company’s financial health.

Finally, deferred revenue is closely tied to revenue recognition. Various accounting standards, such as the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), provide guidelines on when and how revenue should be recognized.

Properly managing and recognizing deferred revenue helps companies comply with these standards and ensures consistency in financial reporting.

Accounting Treatment of Deferred Revenue

General Ledger Liability Account for Deferred Revenue

To account for deferred revenue, companies create a general ledger liability account specifically for this purpose. This account is often named “unearned revenues,” “deferred revenues,” or “customer deposits.” It represents the amount of money received from customers that hasn’t been earned yet.

When the payment is received, it is recorded as a debit to the cash account and a credit to the liability account. This ensures that the company’s balance sheet accurately reflects the deferred revenue and the corresponding cash inflow.

Movement of Deferred Revenue

As the company provides the product or service associated with the deferred revenue, the amount is gradually recognized as revenue. This movement is reflected in the company’s income statement revenue account, such as sales revenues, service revenues, or fees earned.

To recognize the revenue, companies debit the liability account (reducing the deferred revenue balance) and credit the income statement revenue account (increasing the revenue). This mechanism ensures that revenue is recognized proportionally to the work or services provided, aligning with the matching principle of accounting.

By carefully managing and tracking the movement of deferred revenue, companies can accurately reflect their financial performance over time and ensure compliance with applicable accounting standards.


Deferred revenue is an important concept in accounting that ensures accurate revenue recognition and financial reporting. By properly understanding and accounting for deferred revenue, businesses can provide transparent and reliable information to stakeholders while complying with accounting standards.

The creation of a general ledger liability account and the careful movement of deferred revenue help companies accurately reflect their financial performance and maintain the integrity of their financial statements. So, the next time you come across deferred revenue, you’ll know exactly what it means and why it matters in the world of business and finance.

Example Illustrating Deferred Revenue

Scenario Description

To further understand how deferred revenue works in practice, let’s consider a scenario involving a website design company. Imagine a client approaches this company and requests a new website for their business.

The website design company provides the client with a detailed price quote, which includes the total cost of the project, payment terms, and an estimated duration for project completion. In this scenario, the website design company requires the client to make an upfront payment of $5,000 before any work is initiated.

This payment is considered deferred revenue since the website design company has not yet provided the website design services.

Recording of Deferred Revenue

Once the client makes the payment, the website design company needs to record the transaction correctly. They will need to debit the cash account and credit the deferred revenues (or unearned revenues) liability account.

This double-entry bookkeeping ensures that the company’s balance sheet accurately reflects the deferred revenue as a liability and the cash inflow from the client. The journal entry for recording the $5,000 payment would be as follows:

Cash $5,000

Deferred Revenues $5,000

The cash account is debited, increasing the asset side of the balance sheet, while the deferred revenues account is credited, increasing the liability side of the balance sheet.

Adjusting Entry for Completed Work

As the website design company progresses with the project and provides the client with the website design services, they need to recognize the revenue associated with the completed work. To do this, an adjusting entry is required.

Suppose the website design project takes three months to complete, and at the end of the first month, the company determines that 1/3rd of the work has been finished. This means that they should recognize 1/3rd of the deferred revenue as revenue in their income statement.

To make the adjusting entry, the website design company must debit the deferred revenues account for the portion of the work completed and credit the design revenues account, which represents the revenue earned from the website design services. The adjusting entry for recognizing 1/3rd of the deferred revenue as revenue would be as follows:

Deferred Revenues $1,667

Design Revenues $1,667

Through this entry, the website design company debits the deferred revenues account, reducing the liability on the balance sheet, and credits the design revenues account, increasing the revenue in the income statement.

It is important to note that at this stage, there is still a remaining obligation to the client for the completion of the project. The deferred revenue balance now stands at $3,333, reflecting the remaining unearned amount tied to the unfinished work.

In the subsequent months, when more work is completed, additional adjusting entries will be made to recognize the revenue proportionate to the work completed. By the end of the third month, when the project is completed, the remaining deferred revenue will be fully recognized as revenue.

This example illustrates how the concept of deferred revenue is used in real-world situations. By accurately recording the initial payment as deferred revenue and progressively recognizing revenue through adjusting entries, companies can effectively match revenue with the corresponding efforts or services provided.


By examining a specific example in the context of a website design company, we can see how deferred revenue is recorded and adjusted over time. It is important for businesses to understand and properly handle deferred revenue to ensure accurate financial reporting and compliance with accounting standards.

By following the appropriate procedures and creating the necessary journal entries, companies can accurately recognize revenue and provide reliable information to stakeholders. This example serves as a practical guide in applying the concept of deferred revenue in various business scenarios, aiding in better financial management and decision-making.

In conclusion, understanding deferred revenue is crucial for accurate financial reporting and compliance with accounting standards. By deferring the recognition of revenue until it is earned, businesses can provide transparent and reliable financial information to stakeholders.

Creating a general ledger liability account and properly adjusting entries allow companies to track and recognize revenue as work or services are provided. The example of a website design company illustrates the practical application of deferred revenue.

Remember, when it comes to managing finances, recognizing and accounting for deferred revenue ensures the integrity of financial statements and promotes sound decision-making.

Popular Posts