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What is the difference between cost and expense?

Author:
Harold Averkamp, CPA, MBA

Definition of Cost

A cost might be an expense or it might be an asset.

Definition of Expense

An expense is a cost that has expired or was necessary in order to earn revenues. The matching principle guides accountants as to when a cost will be reported as an expense.

Example of a Cost

A company’s property insurance bill for the next six months of insurance shows a cost of $6,000. Initially the cost of $6,000 is reported as the current asset Prepaid Insurance (or Prepaid Expense) since the cost has not been used up (has not expired).

Example of an Expense

As a prepaid cost such as the $6,000 in the asset account Prepaid Insurance expires, the part that expires will be reported on the income statement as Insurance Expense. If the insurance cost is expiring at a rate of $1,000 per month, then each month the amount in the asset account Prepaid Insurance will decrease by $1,000 and Insurance Expense of $1,000 will be reported on the income statement.

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About the Author

Harold Averkamp

For the past 52 years, Harold Averkamp (CPA, MBA) has
worked as an accounting supervisor, manager, consultant, university instructor, and innovator in teaching accounting online. He is the sole author of all the materials on AccountingCoach.com.

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