Prepaid expenses are not recorded on an income statement initially. Instead, prepaid expenses are initially recorded on the balance sheet, and then, as the benefit of the prepaid expense is realized, or as the expense is incurred, it is recognized on the income statement.

When a company prepays for an expense, it is recognized as a prepaid asset on the balance sheet, with a simultaneous entry being recorded that reduces the company's cash (or payment account) by the same amount. Most prepaid expenses appear on the balance sheet as a current asset, unless the expense is not to be incurred until after 12 months, which is a rarity.

Then, when the expense is incurred, the prepaid expense account is reduced by the amount of the expense and the expense is recognized on the company's income statement in the period when it was incurred.

Is Insurance Considered a Prepaid Expense?

One of the more common forms of prepaid expenses is insurance, which is usually paid in advance. For example, Company ABC pays a $12,000 premium for directors and officers liability insurance for the upcoming year. The company pays for the policy upfront and then each month makes an adjusting entry to account for the insurance expense incurred. The initial entry, where we debit the prepaid expense account and credit the account used to pay for the expense, would like this:

Prepaid Insurance Example

Then, after a month, the company makes an adjusting entry for the insurance used. The company makes a debit to the appropriate expense account and credits the prepaid expense account to reduce the asset value. The monthly adjustment for Company ABC would be $12,000 divided by 12 months, or $1,000 a month. The adjusting entry at the end of each month would appear as follows:

Prepaid Insurance Example

Rent as a Prepaid Expense?

Businesses may prepay rent for months in advance to get a discount, or perhaps the landlord requires a prepayment given the renter’s credit. Either way, let’s say Company XYZ is prepaying for office space for six months in advance, totaling $24,000. The initial entry is as follows:

Prepaid Rent Expense

Then, as each month ends the prepaid rent account, which is on the balance sheet, is reduced by the monthly rent amount, which is $24,000 divided by six months, or $4,000 per month. At the same time, the company recognizes a rental expense of $4,000 on the income statement. Thus, the monthly adjusting entry would appear as follows:

Prepaid Rent Example

Other Prepaid Expenses

Additional expenses that a company might prepay for include interest and taxes. Interest paid in advance may arise as a company makes a payment ahead of the due date. Meanwhile, some companies pay taxes before they are due, such as an estimated tax payment based on what might come due in the future. Other less common prepaid expenses might include equipment rental or utilities.

As an example, consider Company Build Inc. which has rented a piece of equipment for a construction job. The company paid $1,000 on April 1, 2019, to rent a piece of equipment for a job that will be done in a month. The company would recognize the initial transaction as follows:

Prepaid Equipment Example

Then, when the equipment is used and the actual expense is incurred, the company would make the following entry to reduce the prepaid asset account and have the rental expense appear on the income statement: 

Prepaid Equipment Example

Regardless of whether it’s insurance, rent, utilities, or any other expense that’s paid in advance, it should be recorded in the appropriate prepaid asset account. Then, at the end of each period, or when the expense is actually incurred, an adjusting entry should be made to reduce the prepaid asset account and recognize (credit) the appropriate income expense, which will then appear on the income statement.

Why Prepaid Expenses Aren’t Initially on the Income Statement?

Prepaid expenses aren’t included on the income statement per Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). In particular, the GAAP matching principle, which requires accrual accounting. Accrual accounting requires that revenue and expenses be reported in the same period as incurred no matter when cash or money exchanges hands. That is, expenses should be recorded when incurred. Thus, prepaid expenses aren’t recognized on the income statement when paid, because they have yet to be incurred.