What is the difference between an accrual and a deferral?

Definition of an Accrual

An accrual pertains to:

  • expenses that should be reported now, but have not yet been recorded or paid, and
  • revenues that should be reported now, but have not yet been recorded nor has the money been received

Example of an Expense Accrual

The accrual of an expense or an expense accrual refers to the reporting of an expense and the related liability in an accounting period that is prior to the period when the amount will be paid or the vendor's invoice will be processed. An example of an expense accrual is the electricity that is used in December where neither the bill nor the payment will be processed until January. The December electricity should be recorded as of December 31 with an accrual adjusting entry that debits Electricity Expense and credits a liability account such as Accrued Expenses Payable.

Example of a Revenue Accrual

The accrual of revenues or a revenue accrual refers to the reporting of revenue and the related asset in the period in which they are earned, and which is prior to processing a sales invoice or receiving the money. An example of the accrual of revenues is a bond investment's interest that is earned in December but the money will not be received until a later accounting period. This interest should be recorded as of December 31 with an accrual adjusting entry that debits Interest Receivable and credits Interest Income.

Definition of a Deferral

A deferral occurs when a company has:

  • paid out money that should be reported as an expense in a later accounting period, and/or
  • received money that should be reported as revenue in a later accounting period

Example of an Expense Deferral

A deferral of an expense or an expense deferral involves a payment that was paid in advance of the accounting period(s) in which it will become an expense. An example is a payment made in December for property insurance covering the next six months of January through June. The amount that is not yet expired should be reported as a current asset such as Prepaid Insurance or Prepaid Expenses. The amount that expires in an accounting period should be reported as Insurance Expense.

Example of a Revenue Deferral

A deferral of revenues or a revenue deferral involves money that was received in advance of earning it. An example is the insurance company receiving money in December for providing insurance protection for the next six months. Until the money is earned, the insurance company should report the unearned amount as a current liability such as Unearned Insurance Premiums. As the insurance premiums are earned, they should be reported on the income statement as Insurance Premium Revenues.

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