What Are Current Liabilities?

Current liabilities of a company consist of short-term financial obligations that are due typically within one year. Current liabilities could also be based on a company's operating cycle, which is the time it takes to buy inventory and convert it to cash from sales. Current liabilities are listed on the balance sheet under the liabilities section and are paid from the revenue generated from the operating activities of a company.

Below, we'll provide a listing and examples of some of the most common current liabilities found on company balance sheets.

Key Takeaways

  • Current liabilities of a company consist of short-term financial obligations that are due typically within one year.
  • Current liabilities are listed on the balance sheet and are paid from the revenue generated from the operating activities of a company.
  • Examples of current liabilities include accounts payables, short-term debt, accrued expenses, and dividends payable.

How Current Liabilities Work

The current liabilities for each company can vary somewhat based on the sector or industry. Current liabilities are used by analysts, accountants, and investors to gauge how well a company can meet its short-term financial obligations.

In short, a company needs to generate enough revenue and cash in the short-term to cover its current liabilities. As a result, many financial ratios use current liabilities in their calculations to determine how well or how long a company is paying them down. Below is a listing of frequently seen current liabilities.

Accounts Payable

Accounts payable (AP) is a company's short-term debt obligations to its creditors and suppliers. It appears on the balance sheet under the current liabilities. Accounts payables represent the total amount due to suppliers or vendors for invoices that have yet to be paid.

Typically, vendors provide terms of 15, 30, or 45 days for a customer to pay, meaning the buyer receives the supplies but can pay them at a later date. These invoices are recorded in accounts payable and act as a short-term loan from a vendor. By allowing a company time to pay off an invoice, the company can generate revenue from the sale of the supplies and manage its cash needs more effectively.

Ideally, suppliers would like shorter terms so that they're paid sooner rather than later—helping their cash needs. Suppliers will go so far as to offer companies discounts for paying on time or early. For example, a supplier might offer terms of 3%, 30, net 31, which means a company gets a 3% discount for paying 30 days or before and owes the full amount 31 days or later.

Conversely, companies might use accounts payables as a way to boost their cash. Companies might try to lengthen the terms or the time required to pay off the payables to their suppliers as a way to boost their cash flow in the short-term.

Accrued Expenses

Accrued expenses are costs of expenses that are recorded in accounting but have yet to be paid. Accrued expenses use the accrual method of accounting, meaning expenses are recognized when they're incurred, not when they're paid. 

Accrued expenses are listed in the current liabilities section of the balance sheet because they represent short-term financial obligations. Companies typically will use their short-term assets or current assets such as cash to pay them.

Examples of accrued expenses include:

  • A supply purchase from a vendor but have yet to receive an invoice to pay it
  • Interest payments on loans that are due in the near term
  • Warranty on a service or product but has yet to be fully paid
  • Real estate and property taxes that have accrued for the period
  • Accrued federal, state, and local taxes
  • Accumulated employee wages, bonuses, and commissions for a period that might be paid at a later date such as the following period

Taxes Payable

There are different types of taxes that companies owe and are recorded as short-term liabilities. Some of the most common taxes owed are:

  • Income taxes owed to the government that have yet to be paid
  • Payroll taxes that have been held from an employee but haven't been paid
  • Taxes collected from their customers and paid to the government, which is record as sales taxes payable

Short-Term Debt

Short-term debt is typically the amount of debt payments owed within the next year. The amount of short-term debt as compared to long-term debt is important when analyzing a company's financial health. For example, let's say that two companies in the same industry might have the same amount of total debt.

However, if one company's debt is mostly short-term debt, they might run into cash flow issues if not enough revenue is generated to meet its obligations. Also, if cash is expected to be tight within the next year, the company might miss its dividend payment or at least not increase their dividend. Dividends are cash payments from companies to their shareholders as a reward for investing in their stock.

Commercial paper is also a short-term debt instrument issued by a company. The debt is unsecured and is typically used to finance short-term or current liabilities such as accounts payables or to buy inventory.

Short-term debts can include short-term bank loans used to boost the company's capital. Overdraft credit lines for bank accounts and other short-term advances from a financial institution might be recorded as separate line items, but are short-term debts. The current portion of long-term debt due within the next year is also listed as a current liability.

Payroll Liabilities

Companies may be responsible for payroll liabilities that are due within the year. These liabilities can include Medicare payments withheld for staff. Employer benefits such as retirement plan contributions or health insurance premiums may also constitute current liabilities.

Dividends Payable or Dividends Declared

The dividends declared by a company's board of directors that have yet to be paid out to shareholders get recorded as current liabilities.

Unearned Revenue

Unearned revenue is money received or paid to a company for a product or service that has yet to be delivered or provided. Unearned revenue is listed as a current liability because it's a type of debt owed to the customer. Once the service or product has been provided, the unearned revenue gets recorded as revenue on the income statement.

Example of Current Liabilities

Below is the income statement for Apple Inc. (AAPL) for the quarter ending June 29, 2019. Highlighted are the current liabilities for the company (highlighted in red).

  • Current liabilities totaled $89 billion for the period.
  • Accounts payable was $29 billion and is short-term debt owed by Apple to its suppliers.
  • Commercial paper was $9.9 billion for the period.
  • Term debt, which is the portion of long-term debt that's owed in the next year was $13.5 billion.
  • Total current assets came in at $134 billion for the quarter (highlighted in green). The $134 billion versus the $89 billion in current liabilities shows that Apple has ample short-term assets to pay off its current liabilities.
Apple Balance Sheet June 2019
Apple Balance Sheet June 2019.  Investopedia