What is deferral in accounting? Sage Advice US

Imagine a company that sells annual subscriptions to its online platform for $1,200. When a customer purchases a subscription and pays the full amount upfront, the company cannot recognize the entire $1,200 as revenue in the current period. Instead, it defers a portion of the payment as deferred revenue and recognizes it as revenue over the course of the subscription period.

Discover the concept of deferral in accounting and how it relates to finance. Gain insights into the importance of deferral for accurate financial reporting. When the services have been completed,  you would debit expenses by $10,000 and credit prepaid expenses by $10,000. Deferred revenue is the exact opposite of deferred expense as it relates to money you receive from a customer that you owe services too in the future. If you pay your rent 3 months in advance, that rent amount will be treated as a prepaid asset until you complete the 3 months rental. The entries would look exactly the same as for the insurance except you might have an account for “prepaid rent” and “rent expense”.

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When a customer pays in advance for a product or service, the company is obligated to deliver or provide it in the future. Until that obligation is fulfilled, the payment is classified as deferred revenue. Deferred expenses refer to costs that have been paid in advance but have not yet been consumed or utilized. One such concept is deferral, which is utilized to recognize revenues and expenses in a timely and appropriate manner. Deferral in accounting refers to the practice of postponing the recognition of revenue or expense until a later point in time. This concept is essential in order to align revenues and expenses with the period in which they are earned or incurred.

You would recognize the revenue as earned in March and then record the payment in March to offset the entry. Accounting principles have the potential to throw anybody for a loop, and deferrals are no exception. Deferrals are among the most common concepts that accounting beginners struggle with, but a concrete understanding of deferrals is central to drafting accurate financial records.

  • This difference often occurs when expenses are recognized for tax purposes before they are recognized for accounting purposes.
  • The publisher will instead record the payment as deferred revenue, a liability, on the balance sheet.
  • Now, the accounting department of Film Reel can’t allocate the $602 to sales revenue on its income statement.
  • The payment is not immediately recognized as sales or revenue on the income statement.
  • In cash accounting, you would recognize the revenue when it comes in (during Q4) but not the expense for the products you purchased until you paid for them, which might not be until Q1 of the following year.

However, it’s crucial to distinguish deferred payment from deferred revenue. Deferred payment is from the buyer’s viewpoint—it’s about delaying the payment for goods or services. On the other hand, deferred revenue is from the seller’s perspective—it involves receiving payment for goods or services that will be delivered or performed in the future.

A deferral is used to account for prepaid expenses or early receipt of income. This means paying for a service or product which hasn’t been received yet or getting paid for an item which has not been delivered as yet. Deferral permits reflecting of expenses or revenues later on in the financial statements when the product or service has been delivered. Deferred revenue is typically reported as a current liability on a company’s balance sheet, as prepayment terms are typically for 12 months or less. Proper deferral accounting provides transparency in evaluating a company’s financial performance over time. It allows stakeholders to understand the timing and impact of deferred revenue and expenses, providing a clearer picture of the company’s ongoing operations and profitability.

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This liability is gradually recognized as revenue over time as the goods are delivered or the services are provided. Deferral is based on the accrual accounting method, which recognizes revenue and expense when they are earned or incurred, regardless of when the cash is received or paid. By deferring the recognition of certain revenues abc company balance sheet and expenses, businesses can avoid over or underestimating their financial performance in a given period. We have seen that deferred revenue is when the company has received the amount for the service or product that has not yet been delivered. This revenue is, therefore, not counted as revenue by the company at this stage.

Are accruals and deferrals the same thing in accounting?

The amount that expires in an accounting period should be reported as Insurance Expense. In accounting this means to defer or to delay recognizing certain revenues or expenses on the income statement until a later, more appropriate time. Revenues are deferred to a balance sheet liability account until they are earned in a later period. When the revenues are earned they will be moved from the balance sheet account to revenues on the income statement. Deferral, in the context of accounting, refers to the postponement of the recognition of certain revenues or expenses until a future accounting period.

Getting to grips with the deferral adjusting entry

The paid-out money should be reported at a later date, but that the money was received before it could be reported. A deferral can also be defined as an account where the expenses or revenue is not recognized until the order ends on the balance sheet. Proper deferral accounting allows for accurate financial statement preparation, compliance with accounting standards, transparency in evaluating financial performance, and effective cash flow management. It helps businesses make informed decisions, attract investors, and maintain trust and credibility in the financial reporting process. Deferred revenue is a common occurrence in industries such as software, subscription-based services, and pre-sales of goods.


The recognition occurs in the accounting period when the income or expense occurs. In accounting, a deferral refers to postponing the recording of certain revenues or expenses in the financial statements. It is a mechanism used to match the recognition of revenues and expenses with the period in which they are incurred or earned, following the accrual basis of accounting.


By properly deferring revenue and expenses, businesses can effectively manage their cash flow. Deferring revenue allows for the recognition of cash inflows over time, while deferring expenses helps in aligning cash outflows with the periods in which the related benefits are received. Tax authorities require businesses to adhere to specific timing rules for recognizing revenue and expenses.


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