The terms budget deficit and balanced budget refer to an entity's expenditures compared to its revenues during a budget period. A company operating on a balanced budget has expenditures equal to its revenues, while a company operating on a deficit budget has expenditures exceeding its revenues. A budget surplus, in which revenues exceed expenditures, generally falls under the umbrella of a balanced budget.

When a company operates on a deficit budget, it must dip into reserves or obtain credit to pay the remaining expenditures not covered by its revenues. For this reason, a business cannot survive in the long run spending more than it makes; its reserves get depleted and its debt becomes insurmountable. In the short term, however, a company can benefit from operating on a deficit budget in several situations. Running a budget deficit can prevent a company from having to lay off workers during a slow period, it can help a company expand or buy out a competitor, and it can enable a startup to get off the ground.

During a down period in which revenues decline, a company has two choices regarding its budget. It can maintain a balanced budget by reducing expenses and bringing them in line with revenues, or it can keep expenses the same and run a budget deficit. If the business owner foresees the slow period will be ephemeral, he may elect to run a budget deficit instead of reducing expenses by laying off workers or closing plants. That way, when business picks up again, he has all his workers and operations in place, and he does not have to spend money to recruit new employees or open new plants.

Deficit budgets can also be useful when a company has the opportunity to open a new location or buy out a competitor. While these types of expansions can be great long-term opportunities, they come with short-term expenses that often cannot be covered by current revenues. Therefore, the company finances the expansion by running a budget deficit and using reserves or credit to pay for the cost of expanding. Ideally, once the expansion is complete, the increased revenues resulting from an expanded operation enable the company to pay off its debt or replenish its reserves.

When a new business opens, it usually takes several months or even years to build up revenues. Making money requires building a customer base, which is difficult to accomplish overnight. However, a company still has bills to pay, even before consistent revenues start coming in; for this reason, many startup operations rely on budget deficits to sustain themselves through the early months or years until revenues reach a level where expenses can be met under a balanced budget.

  1. Which countries run the largest budget deficits?

    Discover the countries with the largest budget deficits and what it means. Deficits are influenced by the economy and also ... Read Answer >>
  2. Which United States Presidents have run the largest budget deficits?

    Take a look at which presidents were in office for the largest budget deficits in U.S. history and how the responsibility ... Read Answer >>
  3. How does a nation's national debt affect the budget process?

    See how the national debt has traditionally impacted, or purported to impact, the budgeting process for the U.S. federal ... Read Answer >>
  4. Is there a difference between the cash budget and a credit budget?

    Learn more about how cash flow is detailed in cash budgets and how credit budgets work. Find out what these budgets reveal ... Read Answer >>
  5. Can state and local governments in the US run fiscal deficits?

    Discover why most state and local governments do not – or cannot – run fiscal deficits in the same manner as the U.S. federal ... Read Answer >>
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