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Deferred Revenue


Deferred revenue, also known as unearned revenue, refers to advance payments a company receives for products or services that are to be delivered or performed in the future. It is considered a liability on a company’s balance sheet because it represents a responsibility to the customer. Only when the goods are delivered, or the services are rendered, it is recognized as revenue in the income statement.


The phonetics for “Deferred Revenue” are: Dih-furred Rev-uh-new

Key Takeaways

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  1. Deferred Revenue is a liability on a company’s balance sheet and it represents advance payments a company has received for products or services that are to be delivered in the future.
  2. It is also known as unearned revenue and is recognized as earned revenue only when the company delivers the goods or renders the service.
  3. The existence of deferred revenue denotes that the company has a cash flow but cannot recognize it as income until the revenue recognition criteria are met.



Deferred revenue is important in business/finance because it pertains to income received for goods or services which have yet to be delivered or performed. Essentially, it means that the business is obligated to provide a service or product to a client in the future. It’s a critical concept in accounting as it helps accurately capture a company’s financial health. Recognition of deferred revenue follows the revenue recognition principle, ensuring revenues are matched with related expenses in the same accounting period to ensure accurate profit reporting. Without it, financial statements may present a misleading picture of the company’s profitability and financial stability- businesses may seem profitable when they are not.


Deferred revenue, also known as unearned revenue, is a critical financial concept that enables companies to maintain accuracy and fairness in their financial reporting. It is pertinent particularly in businesses that receive payment prior to delivering goods or services. This upfront payment is not immediately recognized as revenue earned but rather listed as a liability on the company’s balance sheet until the service or product has been fully provided. The purpose of highlighting deferred revenue is to accurately depict a company’s financial health, ensuring there isn’t an inflation of revenue which could misrepresent their true economic standing.In terms of its usage, deferred revenue can help in gaining insight into the company’s future earnings. As the company gradually delivers on its obligations, the deferred revenue is recognized on the income statement and converted into earned revenue. Financial analysts often view this line item to estimate future revenue recognition, thus assisting in forecasting financial performance. Furthermore, companies also use deferred revenue to manage their tax liabilities as revenue recognition structure can have significant implications on when taxes are owed.


1. Magazine Subscriptions: When a customer pays for a one-year magazine subscription, the magazine company cannot recognize the entire payment as revenue immediately. This is because they have an obligation to deliver a magazine every month to the customer for the next year. Therefore, the company would record the payment as deferred revenue and then gradually recognize it as revenue over the subscription period.2. Advance Payment for Services: For instance, a law firm may request an upfront retainer fee before providing services to the client. This fee represents deferred revenue that will be recognized progressively as the law firm actually performs legal services over time.3. Prepaid Rent: If a tenant pays rent in advance, the landlord initially records this payment as ‘deferred revenue’. Each month, as the tenant utilizes the rented space, the landlord reduces the deferred revenue account and recognizes that portion as revenue.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is deferred revenue?

Deferred revenue, also known as unearned revenue, is the advance payment a company receives for goods or services that are to be delivered or performed in the future.

Is deferred revenue considered an asset or liability?

Deferred revenue is considered a liability, not an asset, because it represents an obligation to deliver goods or services in the future.

How is deferred revenue recognized?

Deferred revenue is recognized as earned revenue in the income statement when the goods are delivered or the services are rendered, fulfilling the obligation.

What are examples of deferred revenue?

Some examples of deferred revenue include advance rent payments, prepaid insurance, annual or multi-year subscriptions, airline tickets, season ticket holder revenue before the season has started, and prepayment for annual software licenses.

How is deferred revenue treated in the balance sheet?

On a company’s balance sheet, deferred revenue is listed under current liabilities, unless the obligation is expected to be fulfilled beyond a year, in which case it could appear as a long-term liability.

How does deferred revenue impact cash flow?

When a company receives an advance payment it increases the cash flow, although it cannot yet be counted as revenue because the service or product has not yet been delivered.

What is the connection between deferred revenue and accrual accounting?

Deferred revenue is a core aspect of the accrual accounting method, which records revenues and expenses when they are incurred, regardless of when cash changes hands.

Can deferred revenue be bad for a company?

Having too much deferred revenue can be a financial risk if a company fails to deliver goods or services and owes a significant amount of money to customers in terms of refunds. However, it is generally viewed positively as it signifies a future dent in the revenue.

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