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What is Deferred Revenue: Deferred Income Accounting for Liability with Deferred Revenue Journal Entries

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Breaking Down Deferred Revenue: A Comprehensive Guide to Deferred Income, Liability, Journal Entries, and Revenue Recognition



Deferred revenue, often perceived as a complex topic in financial accounting, plays a critical role in accurate revenue recognition and balance sheet management. This guide will delve into the nuances of deferred revenue, its significance as a liability, and the intricacies of associated journal entries. Whether you're a seasoned accountant or new to the world of finance, this article offers valuable insights into managing and recognizing deferred revenue effectively.

Understanding Deferred Revenue

What is Deferred Revenue?

Deferred or unearned revenue represents payments received in advance for products or services yet to be delivered. Common in subscription-based models and prepaid services, it's essential in financial accounting, ensuring that revenue is accurately reported.

Recognizing Deferred Revenue as a Liability

As a liability, deferred revenue reflects an obligation to deliver a product or service. Until this delivery, the company is effectively in debt to the customer, justifying its classification as a liability on the balance sheet.

The Relationship Between Deferred Revenue and Accrual Accounting

Accrual accounting, a cornerstone of financial accounting, dictates that revenue should be recognized when earned, not when payment is received. Deferred revenue is a prime example of this principle, emphasizing the need to match revenue with the period in which it is earned.

Journal Entries for Recording Deferred Revenue

How to Record Deferred Revenue

The accounting for deferred revenue involves a debit to the cash or accounts receivable account and a credit to the deferred revenue liability account. This reflects the increase in cash or receivables and the corresponding obligation to deliver goods or services.

Deferred Revenue Journal Entry Examples

 One example of a deferred revenue journal entry is when a company receives payment for services or goods that have not yet been provided. In this case, the company would debit the cash account to record the money received, and credit the deferred revenue account, also called unearned revenue, to reflect the liability of providing the services or goods in the future. Another example is when a company provides subscription services and receives customer advance payments. The company would debit the cash account and credit the deferred revenue account in this scenario. As the services are provided over time, the company would then recognize the revenue by debiting the deferred revenue account and crediting the revenue account to reflect the revenue when it is earned.

The Impact of Deferred Revenue on Financial Statements

Deferred Revenue on the Balance Sheet

Deferred revenue is a current liability on the balance sheet, indicating obligations typically due within a year. Its recognition is crucial for portraying an accurate financial position of the company.

Revenue Recognition on the Income Statement

Once the product or service has been delivered, the deferred revenue is recognized as earned, transitioning from a liability on the balance sheet to revenue on the income statement.

Accrual Accounting and Revenue Recognition

The Role of Accrual Accounting in Deferred Revenue

In accrual accounting, deferred revenue is essential for aligning revenue recognition with the period it is earned, rather than when the payment is received.

Revenue Recognition Principle and Deferred Revenue

The revenue recognition principle mandates that revenue should be recognized in the accounting period it is earned. Deferred revenue is key in upholding this principle, ensuring revenue is recognized on time.

The Dynamics of Deferred Revenue and Cash Flow

Deferred Revenue and Company Cash Flow

Deferred revenue has a significant impact on a company's cash flow. It provides upfront cash, which can be used for operations, even though this cash is only gradually recognized as revenue.

The Effect of Deferred Revenue on Financial Health

The management and recognition of deferred revenue are vital for accurately depicting a company's financial health, especially in sectors where advance payments are common.

Unearned Revenue in Different Industries

Subscription-Based Models and Deferred Revenue

Deferred revenue is common in industries like software as a service (SaaS), media subscriptions, and membership services. Here, payments are received upfront for services rendered over time, necessitating careful accounting.

Goods and Services: Deferred Revenue Scenarios

 In goods and services, deferred revenue scenarios occur when revenue is recognized before it is earned. This can happen when a customer pays for a service that has yet to be provided, such as a subscription or membership. In this case, the money received is deferred revenue, meaning it can only be recorded as income once the service is rendered. Likewise, when a company receives payment for goods that have yet to be delivered, the money received is considered deferred revenue. It is important to properly record any revenue and expenses to reflect the business's financial health accurately. Since deferred revenue represents a liability for the company, it is crucial to keep track of these obligations to ensure proper financial reporting.

Deferred and Recognized Revenue

Understanding the Difference Between Deferred and Recognized Revenue

Distinguishing between deferred (unearned) and recognized (earned) revenue is crucial for transparent financial reporting and compliance with accounting standards.

Transition from Deferred to Recognized Revenue

This part details the process and conditions under which deferred revenue transforms into recognized revenue, focusing on fulfilling the underlying service or product delivery.

Advanced Considerations in Deferred Revenue Accounting

Long-Term Deferred Revenue and Its Implications

Long-term deferred revenue, such as multi-year contracts or subscriptions, introduces complexities in financial reporting and requires careful management to ensure compliance with accounting principles.

Deferred Revenue and Tax Implications

Because deferred revenue, also known as deferred income, refers to the money received by a company in advance for goods or services that have not yet been provided, this unearned income is recorded as a liability on the balance sheet, as the company is obligated to deliver the goods or services in the future. From a tax perspective, deferred revenue allows businesses to defer revenue recognition on their income statement until the goods or services are delivered. This can have significant tax implications, as it may result in lower taxable income in the current period. However, once the deferred revenue turns into actual revenue, it will be subject to taxation. Therefore, businesses must carefully manage their deferred revenue to ensure compliance with tax regulations. 

Key Takeaways: Mastering Deferred Revenue in Financial Accounting

Topic Description


It is important to understand that deferred revenue is a liability for a company. This means that it represents money the company has received but has yet to be earned. Some examples of deferred revenue include prepaid subscriptions, advance payments for services, and gift cards that have been purchased but have yet to be used. On the other hand, revenue is money that the company has earned through its products or services. The opposite of deferred revenue is revenue that has been earned but has yet to be received. Companies must know their deferred revenue balance and properly account for it in their financial statements. This is crucial for accurately representing the company's financial health and performance. Understanding the distinction between deferred revenue and revenue is essential for businesses to manage their cash flow and make informed business decisions effectively. 

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November 21, 2023


Kristal Sepulveda, CPA

Kristal Sepulveda, CPA


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