What Is Accrue?

To accrue means to accumulate over time—most commonly used when referring to the interest, income, or expenses of an individual or business. Interest in a savings account, for example, accrues over time, such that the total amount in that account grows. The term accrue is often related to accrual accounting, which has become the standard accounting practice for most companies.

Key Takeaways

  • Accrue is the accumulation of interest, income, or expenses over time—interest in a savings account is a popular example.
  • When something financial accrues, it essentially builds up to be paid or received in a future period.
  • Accrue most often refers to the concepts of accrual accounting, where there are accrued revenue sand accrued expenses.
  • Accrued revenue is when a company has sold a product or service but has yet to be paid for it.
  • Accrued expenses are expenses that are recognized before being paid, such as certain interest expenses or salaries.

How Accrue Works

When something financial accrues, it essentially builds up to be paid or received in a future period. Both assets and liabilities can accrue over time. The term "accrue," when related to finance, is synonymous with an "accrual" under the accounting method outlined by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).

An accrual is an accounting adjustment used to track and record revenues that have been earned but not received, or expenses that have been incurred but not paid. Think of accrued entries as the opposite of unearned entries—with accrued entries, the corresponding financial event has already taken place but payment has not been made or received.

Accepted and mandatory accruals are decided by the Fair Accounting Standards Board (FASB), which controls interpretations of GAAP. Accruals can include accounts payable, accounts receivable, goodwill, future tax liability, and future interest expense. 

Special Considerations

The accrual accounting procedure measures the performance and position of a company by recognizing economic events regardless of when cash transactions occur, giving a better picture of the company's financial health and causing asset or liability adjustments to "build up" over time.

This is in contrast to the cash method of accounting where revenues and expenses are recorded when the funds are actually paid or received, leaving out revenue based on credit and future liabilities. Cash-based accounting does not require adjustments.

While some very small or new businesses use cash accounting, companies normally prefer the accrual accounting method. Accrual accounting gives a far better picture of a company’s financial situation than cost accounting because it records not only the company’s current finances but also future transactions.

If a company sold $100 worth of product on credit in January, for example, it would want to record that $100 in January under the accrual accounting method rather than wait until the cash is actually received, which may take months or may even become a bad debt.

Types of Accrues

 All accruals fall into one of two categories—either revenue or expense accrual.

Accrued Revenue

Revenue accruals represent income or assets (including non-cash-based ones) yet to be received. These accruals occur when a good or service has been sold by a company, but the payment for it has not been made by the customer. Companies with large amounts of credit card transactions usually have high levels of accounts receivable and high levels of accrued revenue.

Assume that Company ABC hires Consulting Firm XYZ to help on a project that is estimated to take three months to complete. The fee for this job is $150,000, to be paid upon completion. While ABC owes XYZ $50,000 after each monthly milestone, the total fee accrues over the duration of the project instead of being paid in installments.

Accrued Expense

Whenever a business recognizes an expense before it is actually paid, it can make an accrual entry in its general ledger. The expense may also be listed as accrued in the balance sheet and charged against income in the income statement. Common types of accrued expense include:

  • Interest expense accruals—these occur when a owes monthly interest on debt prior to receiving the monthly invoice.
  • Supplier accruals—these happen if a company receives a good or service from a supplier on credit and plans to pay the supplier at a later date.
  • Wage or salary accruals—these expenses happen when a company pays employees prior to the end of the month for a full month of work.

Interest, taxes and other payments sometimes need to be put into accrued entries whenever unpaid obligations should be recognized in the financial statements. Otherwise, the operating expenses for a certain period might be understated, which would result in net income being overstated.

Salaries are accrued whenever a workweek does not neatly correspond with monthly financial reports and payroll. For example, a payroll date may fall on Jan. 28. If employees have to work on January 29, 30, or 31, those workdays still count toward the January operating expenses. Current payroll has not yet accounted for those salary expenses, so an accrued salary account is used.

There are different rationales for accruing specific expenses. The general purpose of an accrual account is to match expenses with the accounting period during which they were incurred. Accrued expenses are also effective in predicting the amount of expenses the company can expect to see in the future.