Unearned revenue is the same thing as deferred revenue. In accounting, unearned revenue is a liability. It is a liability because even though a company has received payment from the customer, the money is potentially refundable and thus not yet recognized as revenue.
Unearned Revenue Basics Unearned revenue occurs when a company sells a good or service in advance of the customer receiving it. Customers often receive discounts for paying in advance for goods or services. Unearned revenue is an important concept in accounting because the company cannot recognize the revenue until it provides the good or service to the customer who paid for it.
The line item “Unearned Revenue” or “Deferred Income” gives the company a place to recognize that the cash payment has come in but the company has deferred the revenue recognition until a later date.
Examples of Unearned Revenue might be a publishing company that sells a two-year subscription to a magazine. The liability arises from the fact that the company has collected money for the subscription but has not yet delivered the magazines. Another example of unearned revenue is rent that a landlord collects in advance.
Accounting for Unearned Revenue When the transaction occurs, such as a publishing company selling a magazine subscription, the journal entry includes a debit to cash and a credit to unearned revenue. The income statement, or statement of earnings, does not reflect that the company has made a sale until it has earned the income by delivering the magazines to the customer.
Yet, the balance sheet, or statement of financial position, would show that the company increased its cash asset at the same time it incurred a liability for the transaction, as it still has to deliver the magazines to the customer.
Unearned Revenue vs. Earned Revenue
Once the company performs the service the customer has paid for, the company enters another journal entry to recognize the revenue. For example, as a publishing company delivers the magazines a customer with a two-year subscription has paid for, the journal entry shows a credit to revenue and a debit to unearned revenue. In this way, the company converts the unearned revenue to “real” or “earned” revenue.
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