Unearned Revenue

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DEFINITION of 'Unearned Revenue'

When an individual or company receives money for a service or product that has yet to be fulfilled. Unearned revenue can be thought of as a "pre-payment" for goods or services which a person or company is expected to produce to the purchaser. As a result of this prepayment, the seller now has a liability equal to the revenue earned until deliver of the good or service.

BREAKING DOWN 'Unearned Revenue'

From an accounting perspective, unearned revenue is a double-edged sword. The early cash flow to the firm is advantageous for any number of activities, such as paying interest on debt to purchasing more inventory. However, by accepting unearned revenue, the firm has then entered a legal obligation to deliver on the terms of the payment. For example, with a prepayment on a lease contract, the revenue is a liability until it has been earned.

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