Deferred revenue is money received by a company in advance of having earned it. In other words, deferred revenues are not yet revenues and therefore cannot yet be reported on the income statement. As a result, the unearned amount must be deferred to the company's balance sheet where it will be reported as a liability.
The title of the general ledger liability account may have the title of Unearned Revenues, Deferred Revenues, or Customer Deposits. As the deferred amount is earned, it should be moved from Unearned Revenues to an income statement revenue account (such as Sales Revenues, Service Revenues, Fees Earned, etc).
Example of Deferred Revenue
To illustrate deferred revenue, let's assume that a company designs websites and has been asked to provide a price quote for a new website. The design company states that it can complete the new website for $70,000. The terms require a payment of $30,000 at the time the contract is signed and $40,000 at the end of the project, which is estimated to take 60 days. The company agrees to begin working on the project 10 days after the $30,000 is received.
Now let's assume that on December 27, the design company receives the $30,000 and it will begin the project on January 4. Therefore, on December 27, the design company will record a debit of $30,000 to Cash and a credit of $30,000 to Deferred Revenues. On December 31, its balance sheet will report a current liability of $30,000 with the description Deferred revenues.
As of January 31 the company has completed 2/7 of the work. Therefore, it will record an adjusting entry dated January 31 that will debit Deferred Revenues for $20,000 and will credit the income statement account Design Revenues for $20,000. Thus, the January 31 balance sheet will report Deferred revenues of $10,000 (the company's remaining obligation/liability from the $30,000 it received on December 27).