Unearned revenue definition
Unearned revenue definition

what is unearned revenue

Small business owners must determine how best to manage and report unearned revenue within their accounting journals. Media companies like magazine publishers often generate unearned revenue as a result of their business models. For example, the publisher needs the cash flow to produce content through its various teams, market the content compelling to reach its audience, and print and distribute issues upon publication. Each activity in a publisher’s business strategy can benefit from the resulting cash flow of unearned revenue. For small businesses, especially those operating on thin margins, understanding the future revenue stream is crucial. Unearned revenue, being a significant indicator of future income, plays a pivotal role in both short-term and long-term planning.

what is unearned revenue

The company classifies the revenue as a short-term liability, meaning it expects the amount to be paid over one year for services to be provided over the same period. The journal entries above show the credit to the revenue account to record sales once the order has been properly fulfilled. Since the amount previously received is no longer unearned, it can be removed altogether from The Industry's #1 Legal Software for Law Firms Try it for free! the liability account. Another unearned revenue example would be using a service, like web hosting services. If you pay for an annual subscription to a web-hosting plan, you’re only using the service a month at a time. Unearned revenue is recorded on the balance sheet as a liability/liabilities, since it corresponds to an obligation that has yet to be fulfilled by the business.

How Does Unearned Revenue Work?

In simple words, it is the advance payment received from a customer against a promise to deliver products or services in the future. Unearned revenue refers to income received from a customer for products https://accounting-services.net/what-is-accounting-for-startups/ or services that are yet to be delivered. For example, imagine that a company has received an early cash payment from a customer of $10,000 payment for future services as part of the product purchase.

The early receipt of cash flow can be used for any number of activities, such as paying interest on debt and purchasing more inventory. Management can use it to grasp funds management, while investors can see if the company is generating enough cash to meet its obligations. The balance sheet, also known as the “Statement of Financial Position,” presents a snapshot of a business's assets, liabilities, and equity. Their representation in these three forms changes as revenue moves into and out of the company and shifts from deferred to recognized status.

How to Record Unearned Revenue

James pays Beeker’s Mystery Boxes $40 per box for a six-month subscription totalling $240. A variation on the revenue recognition approach noted in the preceding example is to recognize unearned revenue when there is evidence of actual usage. For example, Western Plowing might have instead elected to recognize the unearned revenue based on the assumption that it will plow for ABC 20 times over the course of the winter. Thus, if it plows five times during the first month of the winter, it could reasonably justify recognizing 25% of the unearned revenue (calculated as 5/20). This approach can be more precise than straight line recognition, but it relies upon the accuracy of the baseline number of units that are expected to be consumed (which may be incorrect). An easy way to understand deferred revenue is to think of it as a debt owed to a customer.

  • It comes with the added advantage of receiving cash before delivering goods or services.
  • However, because it has yet to receive payment, it records the amount as an asset, specifically as accounts receivable, on its balance sheet.
  • Then, on February 28th, when you receive the cash, you credit accounts receivable to decrease its value while debiting the cash account to show that you have received the cash.
  • This gives you an overview of how much money the company actually made in that period.

As businesses evolve and transactions become more intricate, grasping concepts like unearned revenue becomes even more crucial in painting a true picture of an organization's financial health. If revenue is improperly recognized, it will report higher profits than actual. It’s important to track and monitor this data over time to ensure that the cash flow statement properly reflects financial performance. As such, it's important to track this data in order to ensure that the income statement accurately reflects your business's financial performance. Deferred expenses are assets on a company's balance sheet because they are not yet recognized as an expense on the income statement.

Criteria for Unearned Revenue

They receive payments in advance from their customers, for the internet services that they use in a given month. On 1st December 2019, they launched an offer under which customers were supposed to pay upfront for 3 months, as a result of which the service charges were to be waived by the company. Unearned Revenue is basically a prepayment that has been received from the customer, the order for which has still not been processed. Factually, it can be seen that unearned revenue is a dorm of customer advance, for which order fulfillment has still not been executed. It’s essential to consult with a financial professional to ensure that unearned revenue is being recognized correctly and that there are no mistakes in financial reporting. This method is typically used when there is a high certainty that the goods or services will be delivered without significant cost to the company.

what is unearned revenue

You’ll see an example of the two journal entries your business will need to create below when recording unearned revenue. Taking the previous example from above, Beeker’s Mystery Boxes will record its transactions with James in their accounting journals. Every month, once James receives his mystery boxes, Beeker’s will remove $40 from unearned revenue and convert it to revenue instead, as James is now in possession of the goods he purchased. At the end of the six months, all unearned revenue has converted into revenue, since all money received accounts for the six mystery boxes that have been paid for. In summary, unearned revenue is an asset that is received by the business but that has a contra liability of service to be done or goods to be delivered to have it fully earned. And this is a piece of information that has to be disclosed to complete the image about the financial situation at that moment in time.


The second journal entry is in compliance with the GAAP rules and accrual accounting principles though. It is recorded as soon as the transaction takes place and recognized as a current liability on the balance sheet of the seller. We see that the cash account increases, but the unearned revenue liability account also increases. From the date of initial payment, the payment is recorded as revenue on a monthly basis until the entirety of the promised benefits is confirmed to have been received by the customer. Unearned Revenue refers to customer payments collected by a company before the actual delivery of the product or service. Every business will have to deal with unearned revenue at some point or another.

  • Your finance team should review all cash receipts to ensure they are properly allocated to their respective accounts.
  • Most businesses provide upfront work or goods before invoicing their clients.
  • The liabilities section of the balance sheet will record the amount of unearned revenue that has been paid upfront by customers but not yet delivered or services provided.
  • The journal entry above shows that the bank is debited in order to reflect the incoming funds in the form of customer advances.
  • While less common, the income method is another approach for reporting unearned revenue.

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