Deferred Expenses vs. Prepaid Expenses: An Overview
Companies have the opportunity to pay expenses ahead of certain costs associated with doing business. This can create an accounting entry on the balance sheet known as a prepaid expense or deferred expense. For accounting purposes, both prepaid expense and deferred expense amounts are recorded on a company's balance sheet and will also affect the company’s income statement when adjusted.
Since a business does not immediately reap the benefits of its purchase, both prepaid expenses and deferred expenses are recorded as assets on the balance sheet for the company until the expense is realized. Both prepaid and deferred expenses are advance payments, but there are some clear differences between the two common accounting terms. As discussed below, one of the key differentiators is time. Assets and liabilities on a balance sheet both customarily differentiate and divide their line items between current and long-term.
- Both prepaid and deferred expenses are advance payments, but there are differences between the two common accounting terms.
- Understanding the difference is necessary to report and account for costs accurately.
- Prepaid expenses are listed on the balance sheet as a current asset until the benefit of the purchase is realized.
- Deferred expenses, also called deferred charges, fall in the long-term asset category.
Deferred expenses, also known as deferred charges, fall in the long-term asset category. When a business pays out cash for a payment in which consumption does not immediately take place or is not planned within the next 12 months, a deferred expense account is created to be held as a noncurrent asset on the balance sheet. Full consumption of a deferred expense will be years after the initial purchase is made.
For example, a business that issues bonds to raise capital incurs hefty costs during the issuance process. These may include legal fees to prepare documentation, investment banking fees for the bond underwriter, or fees associated with accounting services, all of which can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for the company. The debt issuance fees can be categorized as a deferred expense, and the company can deplete a portion of the costs equally over the 20- or 30-year lifetime of the bond.
Common deferred expenses may include startup costs, the purchase of a new plant or facility, relocation costs, and advertising expenses.
Many purchases a company makes in advance will be categorized under the label of prepaid expense. These prepaid expenses are those a business uses or depletes within a year of purchase, such as insurance, rent, or taxes. Until the benefit of the purchase is realized, prepaid expenses are listed on the balance sheet as a current asset.
For example, if a company pays its landlord $30,000 in December for rent from January through June, the business is able to include the total amount paid in its current assets in December. As each month passes, the prepaid expense account for rent on the balance sheet is decreased by the monthly rent amount, and the rent expense account on the income statement is increased until the total $30,000 is depleted.
Both prepaid expenses and deferred expenses are important aspects of the accounting process for a business. As such, understanding the difference between the two terms is necessary to report and account for costs in the most accurate way.
As a company realizes its costs, they then transfer them from assets on the balance sheet to expenses on the income statement, decreasing the bottom line (or net income). The advantage here is that expenses are recognized, and net income is decreased, in the time period in which the benefit was realized instead of whenever they happened to be paid.