Accruals & Deferrals

Adjusting entries are often sorted into two groups: accruals and deferrals.

Accruals

Accruals (or accrual-type adjusting entries) involve both expenses and revenues and are associated with the first scenario mentioned in the introduction to this topic:

  • Nothing has been entered in the accounting records for certain expenses and/or revenues, but those expenses and/or revenues did occur and must be included in the current period's income statement and balance sheet.

Accrual of Expenses

An accountant might say, "We need to accrue the interest expense on the bank loan." That statement is made because nothing had been recorded in the accounts for interest expense, but the company did indeed incur interest expense during the accounting period. Further, the company has a liability or obligation for the unpaid interest up to the end of the accounting period. What the accountant is saying is that an accrual-type adjusting journal entry needs to be recorded.

The accountant might also say, "We need to accrue for the wages earned by the employees on Sunday, December 30, and Monday, December 31." This means that an accrual-type adjusting entry is needed because the company incurred wages expenses on December 30-31 but nothing will be entered routinely into the accounting records by the end of the accounting period on December 31.

A third example is the accrual of utilities expense. Utilities provide the service (gas, electric, telephone) and then bill for the service they provided based on some type of metering. As a result the company will incur the utility expense before it receives a bill and before the accounting period ends. Hence, an accrual-type adjusting journal entry must be made in order to properly report the correct amount of utilities expenses on the current period's income statement and the correct amount of liabilities on the balance sheet.

Accrual of Revenues

Accountants also use the term "accrual" or state that they must "accrue" when discussing revenues that fit the first scenario. For example, an accountant might say, "We need to accrue for the interest the company has earned on its certificate of deposit." In that situation the company probably did not receive any interest nor did the company record any amounts in its accounts, but the company did indeed earn interest revenue during the accounting period. Further the company has the right to the interest earned and will need to list that as an asset on its balance sheet.

Similarly, the accountant might say, "We need to prepare an accrual-type adjusting entry for the revenues we earned by providing services on December 31, even though they will not be billed until January."

Deferrals

Deferrals or deferral-type adjusting entries can pertain to both expenses and revenues and refer to the second scenario mentioned in the introduction to this topic:

  • Something has already been entered in the accounting records, but the amount needs to be divided up between two or more accounting periods.

Deferral of Expenses

An accountant might say, "We need to defer some of the insurance expense." That statement is made because the company may have paid on December 1 the entire bill for the insurance coverage for the six-month period of December 1 through May 31. However, as of December 31 only one month of the insurance is used up. Hence the cost of the remaining five months is deferred to the balance sheet account Prepaid Insurance until it is moved to Insurance Expense during the months of January through May. If the company prepares monthly financial statements, a deferral-type adjusting entry may be needed each month in order to move one-sixth of the six-month cost from the asset account Prepaid Insurance to the income statement account Insurance Expense.

The accountant might also say, "We need to defer some of the cost of supplies." This deferral is necessary because some of the supplies purchased were not used or consumed during the accounting period. An adjusting entry will be necessary to defer to the balance sheet the cost of the supplies not used, and to have only the cost of supplies actually used being reported on the income statement. The costs of the supplies not yet used are reported in the balance sheet account Supplies and the cost of the supplies used during the accounting period are reported in the income statement account Supplies Expense.

Deferral of Revenues

Deferrals also involve revenues. For example if a company receives $600 on December 1 in exchange for providing a monthly service from December 1 through May 31, the accountant should "defer" $500 of the amount to a liability account Unearned Revenues and allow $100 to be recorded as December service revenues. The $500 in Unearned Revenues will be deferred until January through May when it will be moved with a deferral-type adjusting entry from Unearned Revenues to Service Revenues at a rate of $100 per month.

Avoiding Adjusting Entries

If you want to minimize the number of adjusting journal entries, you could arrange for each period's expenses to be paid in the period in which they occur. For example, you could ask your bank to charge your company's checking account at the end of each month with the current month's interest on your company's loan from the bank. Under this arrangement December's interest expense will be paid in December, January's interest expense will be paid in January, etc. You simply record the interest payment and avoid the need for an adjusting entry. Similarly, your insurance company might automatically charge your company's checking account each month for the insurance expense that applies to just that one month.

Additional Information and Resources

Because the material covered here is considered an introduction to this topic, many complexities have been omitted. You should always consult with an accounting professional for assistance with your own specific circumstances.