Unearned Revenue

Updated on January 3, 2024
Article byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What is Unearned Revenue?

Unearned revenue is the number of advance payments which the company has received for the goods or services which are still pending for the delivery and includes transactions like Amount received for the goods delivery of which is to be made on the future date etc.

It is a category of accrual under which the company receives cash before it provides goods or renders services. Under this, the exchange happens before actual goods or service delivery, and as such, no revenue is recorded by the company. The company, however, is under an obligation to provide the goods or render the service, as the case may be, on due dates for which advance payment has been received by it. As such, the Unearned Revenue is a LiabilityUnearned Revenue Is A LiabilityUnearned revenue refers to the advance payment amount received by the company against goods or services pending for delivery or provision respectively. It is the company's liability since the amount has been acquired for the goods or service which the company had not yet provided.read more till the time it doesn’t completely fulfill the same, and the amount gets reduced proportionally as the business is providing the service. It is also known by the name of Unearned Income, Deferred RevenueDeferred RevenueDeferred Revenue, also known as Unearned Income, is the advance payment that a Company receives for goods or services that are to be provided in the future. The examples include subscription services & advance premium received by the Insurance Companies for prepaid Insurance policies etc. read more, and Deferred Income as well.

Unearned Revenues

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For eg:
Source: Unearned Revenue (wallstreetmojo.com)

The most basic example of unearned revenue is that of a magazine subscription. When we register for an annual subscription of our favorite magazine, the sales received by the company is unearned. As they deliver magazines each month, the company keeps on recognizing the corresponding income in the income statementIncome StatementThe income statement is one of the company's financial reports that summarizes all of the company's revenues and expenses over time in order to determine the company's profit or loss and measure its business activity over time based on user requirements.read more.

Unearned Revenue is a Liability on the Balance Sheet

Usually, this unearned revenue on the balance sheetBalance SheetA balance sheet is one of the financial statements of a company that presents the shareholders' equity, liabilities, and assets of the company at a specific point in time. It is based on the accounting equation that states that the sum of the total liabilities and the owner's capital equals the total assets of the company.read more is reported under current liabilitiesCurrent LiabilitiesCurrent Liabilities are the payables which are likely to settled within twelve months of reporting. They're usually salaries payable, expense payable, short term loans etc.read more. However, if the unearned is not expected to be realized as actual sales, then it can be reported as a long-term liability.

As an example, we note that Salesforce.com reports unearned revenue as a liability (current liabilities).

Deferred Revenue Liability

source: Salesforce SEC Filings

Unearned Revenue (Sales) in Video

Salesforce Example

Revenue in Salesforce consists of billing to customers for their subscription services. Most of the subscription and support services are issued with annual terms resulting in unearned sales.

Deferred Revenue Seasonality

source: Salesforce SEC Filings

Unearned sales are most significant in the January quarter, where most of the large enterprise accounts buy their subscription services.

Deferred Revenue Salesforce

source: Salesforce SEC Filings

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Unearned Revenue Accounting

When a company receives cash for the goods or services that it will provide in future; it leads to an increase in Cash Balance of the company, since the goods or service is to be provided in future, the Unearned Income is shown as a Liability in the Balance Sheet of the company which resulted in a proportional increase on both sides of the Balance Sheet (Asset and Liabilities). Let us now look at how accounting works.

Suppose company XYZ pays $12,000  for a maintenance and cleaning contract to company MNC for 12 months. How will MNC record this unearned sales revenue on the Balance Sheet

Deferred Revenue$12,000

It will look like

Deferred Revenue Accounting

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For eg:
Source: Unearned Revenue (wallstreetmojo.com)

Now, after working for a month, MNC has earned $ 1000, i.e., it has provided its services to XYZ; thus it will accrue its earning

Deferred Revenue$1,000
Service Revenue$1,000

Hence, $ 1000 of unearned income will be recognized as service revenue. Service revenue will, in turn, affect the Profit and Loss Account in the Shareholders Equity sectionShareholders Equity SectionShareholder’s equity is the residual interest of the shareholders in the company and is calculated as the difference between Assets and Liabilities. The Shareholders' Equity Statement on the balance sheet details the change in the value of shareholder's equity from the beginning to the end of an accounting period.read more.

Deferred Revenue Accounting 1

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For eg:
Source: Unearned Revenue (wallstreetmojo.com)

It is essential to understand that while analyzing a company, Unearned Sales Revenue should be taken into consideration as it is an indication of the growth visibility of the business. Higher Unearned income highlights the strong order inflow for the company and also results in good liquidity for the business as a whole. Furthermore, unearned income doesn’t result in cash outflow in the future as only Unearned Sales Revenue, a liability, on the Unearned Sales Revenue Balance Sheet, is reduced as revenue is recognized on providing the goods or services proportionately.

Popular Industries where Deferred Revenue is common includes Airline Industry (tickets booked by the customer in advance), Insurance Industry (Insurance premium is always paid in advance), Legal Firms (Legal retainer paid in advance), and Publishing Firms (subscription paid in advances) such as Magazine, etc. An airline Industry usually receives the advance payment of tickets booked by customers. Still, the actual service (the travel date) typically happens at a later date, and such industries are required to report the same in the Financial StatementsFinancial StatementsFinancial statements are written reports prepared by a company's management to present the company's financial affairs over a given period (quarter, six monthly or yearly). These statements, which include the Balance Sheet, Income Statement, Cash Flows, and Shareholders Equity Statement, must be prepared in accordance with prescribed and standardized accounting standards to ensure uniformity in reporting at all levels.read more as per the methods discussed henceforth.

Two Types of Unearned Sales Revenue Reporting

#1 – Liability Method

Under this method, when the business receives deferred Revenue, a liability account is created. The basic premise behind using the liability method for reporting unearned sales is that the amount is yet to be earned. Till that time, the business should report the unearned revenue as a liability. The common liability account used in the Deferred Revenue etc.

#2 – Income Method

Under this method when the business receives unearned sales, the whole amount received is recorded under an Income account and proportionately adjusted as the goods or service is delivered by the business over the period of time as goods or service is provided.

Journal Entries

Let’s understand the two types of unearned sales reporting through examples of Unearned Revenue Journal EntriesExamples Of Unearned Revenue Journal EntriesUnearned Revenue refers to money that has been received but has yet to be delivered in the form of goods or services. It cannot be considered as revenue until the goods or services are delivered, according to the revenue recognition concept. Therefore it is treated as a current liability.read more:

ABC is in the business of publishing Business Magazine. The company receives an annual subscription of Rs 12000 from one of its clients on 31.03.2018 for the next year. Revenue will be earned when the magazine will be delivered to the client monthly. Balance Sheet as on 31.03.2018 will show an increase in Cash Balance by the amount of annual subscription of Rs 12000 and Unearned Income, a liability, will be created. The said liability will decrease by the proportional amount of Rs 1000 on 30.04.2018 when ABC delivers the first installment of Business Magazine to its client. Accordingly, ABC limited will deliver the remaining Business Magazine to its client month on month, and the same will result in Revenue Recognition. At the end of the year, on 31.03.2019, Deferred Revenue, a liability will cease to exist, and all revenue will be recognized in the Income Statement of ABC Limited.

Journal Entry under Liability Method

Journal Entry of Unearned Revenue
Journal Entry of Unearned Revenue -1

Journal Entry under Income Method

Journal Entry of Unearned Revenue -2
Journal Entry of Unearned Revenue -3

Unearned Sales results in cash exchange before revenue recognition for the business. However, if a business does not follow the correct accrual method of recognition of Deferred Revenue, it can overstate the revenue and resultant profitability without recognizing the corresponding expenses to generate such revenue. Furthermore, that will also lead to a violation of the Matching Principle of accounting for unearned income, which requires that both expense and related income should be reported in the same period to which it belongs.

This article has been a guide to what is unearned revenue and its definition. Here we discuss how to account for unearned revenue on the balance sheet along with examples and journal entries. You may also have a look at these related articles on Basic Accounting –

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