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Unearned Revenue


Unearned revenue refers to the money received by an individual or company for a product or service that has not yet been delivered or completed. Essentially, it is a prepayment from customers that is considered a liability because the obligation of delivering the service or product still exists. Until the product or service is fully delivered, the company carries the unearned revenue as a liability on its balance sheet.


The phonetic pronunciation of “Unearned Revenue” would be: “ənˈərnd ˈrɛv(ə)ˌn(j)uː”.

Key Takeaways

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  1. Unearned Revenue is a liability: Unearned revenue refers to the cash received by a company for goods or services that it has not yet provided. It’s categorized as a liability on the balance sheet because the business still owes the customer a good or a service.
  2. Recognizing Unearned Revenue: Unearned revenue is usually recognized when money has been received in advance for many recurring small transactions (like subscription services), or for a few large transactions such as large contracts and projects.
  3. Revenue Recognition: When the product or service has been delivered to the customer, the unearned revenue then becomes earned revenue. This transition is done by debiting (decreasing) the unearned revenue account and crediting (increasing) the revenue account.

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Unearned revenue is a crucial concept in business and finance because it represents payments that a company receives for goods or services that have not been provided yet. This is essential for accurate financial reporting and maintaining transparency in an organization’s books. It impacts the company’s balance sheet as it is considered a liability until the service or product is delivered to the customer. Unearned revenue allows companies to manage and predict their revenue streams, thus helping them address future financial obligations, plan for growth and investments, and aid in budgeting and forecasting. It also ensures businesses adhere to the matching principle in accounting, which requires companies to record revenues and their related expenses in the same accounting period.


Unearned revenue plays a pivotal role in the financial health and transparency of a business. Essentially, it allows companies to manage and report income that has been received but is not yet earned, providing a more accurate depiction of their financial situation. The main purpose of unearned revenue is to account for goods or services that a company is expected to deliver to a customer after payment has been received. Consequently, it is integral to cash flow and revenue detection management, helping an organization project its future earnings and obligations, informing strategic decision-making, operations planning and managing expectations of shareholders and investors.Furthermore, unearned revenue acts as a liability on a company’s balance sheet. Unlike earned revenue that adds to the company’s income, unearned revenue is not counted as such because the goods or services are yet to be delivered. It presents a company’s obligations to its customers, thus greater amounts of unearned revenue signify a larger commitment to deliver in the future. It is essential in maintaining income recognition principles as well, thereby ensuring that revenue is only recorded when it has been truly earned. This enables businesses to prevent revenue inflation, maintaining accuracy in financial reporting and helping in assessing performance and profitability accurately.


1. Magazine Subscriptions: A magazine publishing company would recognize unearned revenue when it sells a one-year subscription. The publishing company receives the money upfront but has to deliver a magazine every month for the next year. Thus, the company initially registers the subscription revenue as unearned and then gradually recognizes it as earned revenue each month as it fulfills its obligation by providing the magazine.2. Prepaid Rent: If a company rents out a property and the tenant pays for several months or a year in advance, this prepaid rent is considered unearned revenue. The company will have received the cash, but they still have a service to provide: the use of the property over the period paid for. As each month passes, the company can convert a portion of the remaining balance from unearned to earned revenue.3. Airline Tickets: When an airline sells a ticket, it gets payment upfront. However, it doesn’t fully earn the revenue until it successfully transports the customers to their destinations. So right after the ticket sales, the money goes into the airline’s coffers as unearned revenue. It becomes earned revenue when the flight has been completed.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is unearned revenue in finance and business?

Unearned revenue, also known as deferred revenue, represents the amount of money a company has received from its customers for goods or services that haven’t been delivered or provided yet.

Is unearned revenue considered a liability?

Yes, unearned revenue is considered a liability in financial accounting since it refers to income earned but not yet delivered or sold. The company ‘owes’ a product or service to the customer.

What kind of businesses commonly have unearned revenues?

Companies in the subscription-based business, airlines, software service providers, and magazine publishers are examples of businesses that usually have unearned revenues because they receive payments before delivering their services.

How is unearned revenue recognized in the financial statements?

Unearned revenue is recognized on a company’s balance sheet as a liability. It’s gradually shifted to revenue on the income statement, as the company fulfills its obligations by delivering goods or services.

What happens when the service or product is delivered?

Once the service or product is delivered, the unearned revenue is recognized as earned revenue and moved from the liability section of the balance sheet to the revenue section of the income statement.

How does unearned revenue impact cash flow?

Unearned revenue can impact both operating and financing cash flow. Immediately after receiving the payment, it will be recorded as a positive cash flow under the financing activities. Once the company starts providing services, it will be moved to operating activities.

Can unearned revenue be bad for a business?

Not necessarily. While unearned revenue is listed as a liability, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s simply a prepayment for goods or services that a company is expected to provide in the future. However, if a company cannot fulfill its promises to customers, it could become a problem and impact the company’s reputation.

How does unearned revenue impact a company’s taxes?

Unearned revenue is not immediately taxable. It only becomes taxable when the service or product is actually delivered and the revenue is recognized. However, tax laws can vary depending on geographical location, so it’s best to consult with a tax advisor for specific situations.

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