What Is Restricted Cash?

Restricted cash, in contrast to unrestricted cash, is freely available for a company to spend or invest. Restricted cash refers to money that is held for a specific purpose and thus not available to the company for immediate or general business use.

Restricted cash appears as a separate item from the cash and cash equivalents listing on a company's balance sheet. The reason for the cash being restricted is usually disclosed in the accompanying notes to the financial statements. Cash can be restricted for a number of reasons, including debt reduction and capital investments.

Key Takeaways

  • Restricted cash, in contrast to unrestricted cash, is freely available for a company to spend or invest.
  • Restricted cash refers to money that is held for a specific purpose, meaning it's not available for immediate or general business use.
  • Restricted cash appears separately from cash on the balance sheet, while its purpose is disclosed in the financial statement footnotes.
  • Restricted cash can be used as collateral for a loan or for capital expenditures such as a factory upgrade or equipment purchase.
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Restricted Cash

Understanding Restricted Cash

Restricted cash is held aside by companies and is earmarked for a specific purpose. Restricted cash could be set aside for a particular purchase or to repay a loan or debt. Cash that has been deemed restricted cannot be used for other purposes.

Restricted cash is classified as either a current asset, which is used up within one year or a non-current asset, which are long-term assets. As a result, if the restricted cash is expected to be used in the short-term, it is classified as a current asset. If it is not expected to be used within a one-year time frame, it is classified as a non-current asset. Restricted cash typically appears on a company's balance sheet as either "other restricted cash" or as "other assets."

Special Considerations

There are a number of variables to the handling of restricted cash. For example, it may or may not be held in a separate bank account designated for the purpose for which the cash is restricted. Regardless of whether the cash is held in a special bank account or not, restricted cash is still included in a company's financial statements as a cash asset.

In the event that the restricted cash is not spent as intended, it may then become unrestricted cash that a company can transfer to a general cash account or spend for general business purposes. For example, a company may hold restricted cash for the purpose of making a large capital expenditure, such as a factory upgrade, but later decide against making the expenditure. The cash designated as restricted for that purpose is then freed up for the company to spend or invest elsewhere.

Examples of Restricted Cash

Although there are various reasons companies can restrict a portion of their cash, below are two of the most frequent uses for restricted cash.

Capital Expenditures

Companies often hold restricted cash for capital expenditures or as part of an agreement with a third party. Companies also frequently set aside cash designated as restricted in planning for a major investment expenditure, such as a new building.

Loan or Debt Payments

Lenders sometimes require a company to hold restricted cash as partial collateral against a loan or line of credit. A bank or other lender may require the company to set up a designated restricted cash account in which the company must maintain a minimum balance, sometimes referred to as a compensating balance, equal to a specified percentage of the credit extended by the bank. This is a fairly common practice in situations in which a bank grants a business loan to the owner of a new small business.