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Onerous Contract


An onerous contract is a type of contract where the costs to fulfill the agreement exceed the financial benefits of the same. It is a contract that results in an unavoidable loss to the party responsible for fulfilling it. Essentially, it’s a contract that creates more losses than gains for the party involved.


The phonetic spelling of “Onerous Contract” is:Onerous: /ˈoʊnərəs/Contract: /kənˈtrækt/

Key Takeaways

<ol> <li>Onerous Contract Definition: An onerous contract is a type of agreement where the costs to fulfill the obligations significantly outweigh the benefits obtained. Such a contract becomes more of a burden rather than a benefit for the involved parties due to steep expenses or heavy obligations associated with it.</li> <li>Economic Implications: Onerous contracts can have a significant negative impact on a company’s finances or a person’s economic situation. If the losses are significant, they can lead to financial distress, and possibly, bankruptcy. This is why it’s critical to thoroughly assess all possible costs and benefits before entering into a contract.</li> <li>Onerous Contract Provisions: Some onerous contracts may contain certain provisions that can mitigate the effects of the disadvantages. Contracting parties should carefully review these provisions, negotiate terms accordingly, and seek legal advice to ensure they fully understand the repercussions of such contracts.</li></ol>


An Onerous Contract is a crucial business/finance term as it refers to a contract where the inevitable costs to meet the obligations are higher than the economic benefits that are expected to be received from it. Understanding this term is important because such contracts can inflict substantial financial strain on a company directly impacting its bottom line, possibly leading to liquidity issues and affecting business continuity. Therefore, correctly identifying and provision for such contracts allows the management to make well-informed decisions, mitigate financial risks and devise better contractual agreements in the future. This concept also holds significance in accounting, as per IAS 37, where a provision needs to be recognized when a contract becomes onerous.


The primary purpose of an Onerous Contract – a term utilized in business and finance – is to embody and highlight a contract in which the costs to fulfill the obligations under the contract exceed the benefits obtained from it. It is essentially a contract that causes financial strain because it is more expensive to execute than it is to breach. This could occur due to a number of reasons such as hiked prices of raw materials, increased labor cost, change in regulations, among others. Companies typically employ onerous contracts for their predictive value, as they offer an insight into potential losses, hence assisting in effective financial planning and management.Onerous contracts are often used as indicators or warning signs by companies to decide whether or not to continue with their contractual obligation. When the costs of fulfilling a contractual obligation overshadows the benefits, the contract could be deemed onerous. In such cases, the company can decide to either renegotiate the terms of the contract, or breach the contract, sometimes paying a penalty if included in the stipulations. These contracts, if maintained, should be accounted for in the financial statements of the company to provide transparent and realistic company performance data, which in turn assists stakeholders with making informed decisions.


1. Construction Projects: A construction company signs a contract to build a new residential building for $8 million based on certain estimates of material and labor costs. However, due to a sudden increase in raw material prices, the cost to complete the project elevates to $10 million. In this scenario, the contract becomes onerous for the construction company as the costs to meet the contract obligations exceed the economic benefits received.2. Manufacturing Agreements: A manufacturer agrees to produce 100,000 units of a product at $5 per unit for a retailer. However, due to unforeseen circumstances such as worker strikes or natural disaster, the production costs rise to $6 per unit. This contract becomes onerous as the costs exceed the agreed upon revenue.3. Service Contracts: An IT company enters into a contract to provide software maintenance services for $50,000 per year. During the contract period, if due to new regulatory mandates the cost of providing the services increases to $70,000 per year, then the contract becomes onerous. The cost of fulfillment is now greater than the economic rewards of the contract.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is an Onerous Contract?

An onerous contract is a contract where the costs to fulfill the obligations are higher than the economic benefits gained. In other words, the total cost of executing and fulfilling the terms of the contract outweighs the revenue that can be generated from it.

How does an Onerous Contract impact business finance?

If a business is involved in an onerous contract, it can negatively affect the business’s financial performance as it results in higher costs and lower profits. Such contracts may also require a provision to be made in the company’s accounts, which can further impact its financial health.

What causes an Onerous Contract?

Onerous contracts are generally caused by unexpected changes in the market or business conditions resulting in increased costs, reduced benefits, or both. This might be due to price changes in raw materials, unexpected technical problems, or increased competition.

How are Onerous Contracts accounted for within financial statements?

According to IAS 37 – Provisions, Contingent Liabilities, and Contingent Assets, an onerous contract leads to recognition of a liability, which should be measured at the lower of the cost of fulfilling the contract and any compensation due from failing to fulfill it.

Can Onerous Contracts be avoided?

While it’s impossible to predict every potential change in market conditions, businesses can try to protect themselves by including flexible terms in their contracts, such as price adjustment clauses or the ability to terminate the contract under certain conditions.

What is the difference between Onerous Contracts and Loss Contracts?

The terms are often used interchangeably, but a key difference is that while an onerous contract refers specifically to an unfavorable cost-benefit ratio, a loss contract is a broader term that refers to any contract expected to result in a loss.

Can there be any benefit from an Onerous Contract?

Typically, an onerous contract is seen as a financial detriment. However, in some situations, a business may choose to enter into or maintain an onerous contract if it ensures continuity of supply or if terminating the contract could harm business relationships or result in reputational harm.

Related Finance Terms

  • Impairment Loss
  • Non-financial Liabilities
  • Present Obligation
  • Unavoidable Costs
  • Contract Revenue

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