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Deferred, in accrual accounting, is any account where the asset or liability is not realized until a future date (accounting period), e.g. annuities, charges, taxes, income, etc. The deferred item may be carried, dependent on type of deferral, as either an asset or liability. See also accrual.
Unfortunately, the term deferral is also often used as an abbreviation for the terms deferred expense and deferred revenue that share the common name word, but they have the opposite economic / accounting characteristics.
- Deferred expense: Expense is recognized after cash is paid out.
- Deferred revenue: Revenue is recognized after cash is received.
Deferral (deferred charge)
Deferred charge(or deferral) is cost that is accounted-for in latter accounting period for its anticipated future benefit, or to comply with the requirement of matching costs with revenues. Deferred charges include costs of starting up, obtaining long-term debt, advertising campaigns, etc., and are carried as a non-current asset on the balance sheet pending amortization. Deferred charges often extend over five years or more and occur infrequently unlike prepaid expenses, e.g. insurance, interest, rent. Financial ratios are based on the total assets excluding deferred charges since they have no physical substance (cash realization) and cannot be used in reducing total liabilities.
Deferred expense (or prepaid expense, prepayment) is an asset used to enable cash paid out to a counterpart for goods or services to be received in a later accounting period when fulfilling the promise to pay is actually acknowledged, the related expense item is recognized, and the same amount is deducted from prepayments. It shares characteristics with accrued revenue (or accrued assets) with the difference that an asset to be covered latter are proceeds from a delivery of goods or services, at which such income item is earned and the related revenue item is recognized, while cash for them is to be received in a later period, when its amount is deducted from accrued revenues.
For example, when the accounting periods are monthly, an 11/12 portion of an annually paid insurance cost is added to prepaid expenses, which are decreased by 1/12 of the cost in each subsequent period when the same fraction is recognized as an expense, rather than all in the month in which such cost is billed. The not-yet-recognized portion of such costs remains as prepayments (assets) to prevent such cost from turning into a fictitious loss in the monthly period it is billed, and into a fictitious profit in any other monthly period.
Similarly, cash paid out for (the cost of) goods and services not received by the end of the accounting period is added to the prepayments to prevent it from turning into a fictitious loss in the period cash was paid out, and into a fictitious profit in the period of their reception. Such cost is not recognized in the income statement (profit and loss or P&L) as the expense incurred in the period of payment, but in the period of their reception when such costs are recognized as expenses in P&L and deducted from prepayments (assets) on balance sheets.
Deferred revenue (or deferred income) is a liability, such as cash received from a counterpart for goods or services that are to be delivered in a later accounting period. When such income item is earned, the related revenue item is recognized, and the deferred revenue is reduced. It shares characteristics with accrued expense with the difference that a liability to be covered later is an obligation to pay for goods or services received from a counterpart, while cash for them is to be paid out in a later period when its amount is deducted from accrued expenses.
For example, a company receives an annual software license fee paid out by a customer upfront on the January 1. However the company's fiscal year ends on May 31. 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 (liability) on the balance sheet for that year.
- ^ "deferred charge". BusinessDictionary.com. 2010. http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/deferred-charge.html. Retrieved May 15, 2010.
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