Accrued Expenses

Accrued Expenses: Definition, Limitations & Examples

accrued cost definition

What are Accrued Expenses?

Accrued expenses, also known as accruals, are a fundamental concept in the world of accounting and finance. They represent costs that a business has incurred in a specific period but has not yet paid for. These expenses are part of the broader “accrual accounting” framework, a standard method of record keeping that matches revenues earned with expenses incurred in the same accounting period.

The accrual method provides a more accurate picture of a company’s financial health than the cash basis method, as it ensures that all financial activities are recorded in the period they occur, regardless of when the cash transaction takes place. This article will delve into the intricacies of accrued expenses, discussing their role in financial statements, their importance in financial analysis, and their implications for cash flow and taxation.

Key Points
  1. Accrued expenses represent expenses that have been incurred but not yet paid for.
  2. These expenses are recorded as liabilities on the balance sheet until they are paid.
  3. Accrued expenses are typically associated with services received or goods consumed during the accounting period, but payment is not made until a later date.

Understanding Accrued Expenses

Accrued expenses are the costs that a company incurs over a period but for which it has not yet received an invoice or made a payment. These expenses are recorded in the period in which they are incurred, not when they are paid. The recognition of these costs is in line with the accrual basis of accounting, which matches revenues with the associated costs in the period they are incurred.

A common example of an accrued expense is the interest on a loan that is payable quarterly. Even though the payment is not due until the end of the quarter, the interest expense accrues on a daily basis.

Another instance would be an employee’s wages. If a pay period ends on a day other than the last day of the month, the company would have to accrue the wages earned by employees for the remaining days.

Accrued expenses differ from accounts payable. While both are liabilities, accounts payable is an obligation to pay off a short-term debt to its creditors or suppliers, typically for purchases made on credit, whereas accrued expenses are for goods or services received without an invoice.

Such expenses are a testament to the fact that the flow of cash and the recognition of expenses are not always simultaneous in business operations. By understanding and accurately recording these expenses, companies ensure they are providing a fair and accurate picture of their financial health.

Recording Accrued Expenses

Accrued expenses are recorded through adjusting journal entries at the end of an accounting period. This is an essential process to ensure that the financial statements of a business accurately reflect its operational situation.

  1. Accrual of Expense

    When an expense accrues, it impacts an expense account and a liability account. The journal entry involves debiting (increasing) the appropriate expense account and crediting (increasing) an accrued expenses payable account, which falls under the category of current liabilities on the balance sheet. For instance, for accrued salaries, the journal entry would debit the salaries expense account and credit the accrued salaries payable account.

  2. Payment of Accrued Expense

    When the payment for an accrued expense is made, the accrued expenses payable account is debited (decreased), and the cash account is credited (decreased). This removes the liability from the company’s books and decreases its cash balance.

Precise documentation of incurred liabilities holds significance not just for financial reporting, but also for the computation of crucial financial ratios. This data assists in assessing a company’s liquidity, operational efficacy, and overall financial well-being. Additionally, accurately recording incurred liabilities ensures adherence to tax regulations since these expenses are typically tax-deductible in the period they are accrued, irrespective of the actual payment date.

Accrued Expenses in Financial Statements

Income Statement

On the income statement, expenses that have been incurred are recognized in the period they occur. This approach adheres to the accrual basis of accounting, which emphasizes the matching principle. The matching principle aims to align the recognition of revenues earned in a period with the corresponding expenses incurred to generate those revenues. By properly recording incurred expenses, the income statement accurately represents the actual cost of generating revenues within a specific period.

Balance Sheet

On the balance sheet, unpaid expenses are reported as current liabilities, providing a more precise representation of a company’s existing financial commitments. Despite not having been settled, these expenses still constitute obligations that the company is obliged to fulfill in the future. Incorporating unpaid expenses in the balance sheet helps prevent an understatement of liabilities and ensures accuracy in financial reporting for businesses.

Cash Flow Statement

Although the immediate influence of incurred liabilities on the cash flow statement may not be substantial (as these liabilities do not directly impact cash), the indirect approach to preparing the cash flow statement involves making adjustments to net income based on alterations in current liabilities, which encompasses incurred expenses.

In summary, the recognition of accrued expenses in financial statements is crucial for reflecting a company’s financial health and operational efficiency, allowing for better decision-making by management, investors, and other stakeholders.

Pros and Cons of Accrued Expenses


  1. Accuracy Recognizing incurred liabilities contributes to a more precise alignment of revenues with the corresponding expenses generated within a specific period. This ensures a fair portrayal of a company’s financial performance.
  2. Compliance Acknowledging incurred liabilities aids companies in complying with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). These accounting standards mandate the recording of expenses in the period they are accrued, ensuring adherence to proper financial reporting practices.
  3. Planning and Decision Making By acknowledging obligations before cash is exchanged, managers can make more informed decisions concerning cash flow management, future expenses, and operational efficiency.


  1. Complexity Tracking accrued expenses adds a layer of complexity to accounting practices, particularly for businesses with many types of recurring costs. It may also require more time and resources for record keeping and financial analysis.
  2. Estimation Errors In certain instances, the acknowledgment of specific incurred liabilities, such as interest or taxes, may necessitate estimations. If these estimations deviate significantly from the actual values, they can result in inaccuracies in financial reporting.
  3. Cash Flow While recognizing unpaid liabilities contributes to a more precise assessment of a company’s profitability, it can occasionally present a misleading perspective on its cash flow position. In certain instances, an entity might appear profitable despite facing a cash deficit. This situation can arise, for example, when there are significant unpaid liabilities, such as expenses that have been accrued but not yet settled.

In summary, while recognizing accrued expenses is essential for accurate financial reporting, businesses need to manage the process carefully to minimize complexity and potential errors.

Limitations of Accrued Expenses

  1. Estimation Errors As mentioned earlier, liabilities that are incurred but not yet settled often require estimation. Depending on the level of uncertainty surrounding these estimates, they have the potential to introduce notable inaccuracies in a company’s financial statements.
  2. Timing Differences While the objective of aligning revenues with associated costs through accrued expenses is to ensure accuracy, discrepancies in timing can occasionally obscure the true economic performance of a business within a given period.
  3. Potential for Manipulation In some instances, unscrupulous managers might manipulate accrued expenses to present a more favorable financial picture, which can mislead investors and other stakeholders.
  4. Complexity and Resource Intensive Monitoring and documenting incurred liabilities can be a intricate undertaking, especially for sizable organizations with multifaceted operations. This process can also demand significant accounting and administrative resources.
  5. Cash Flow MisrepresentationAlthough accrued expenses enhance the accuracy of assessing profitability, they can occasionally create a misleading representation of the actual cash flow situation. A company might appear profitable based on financial records while encountering challenges with cash flow due to unpaid accrued expenses.

These limitations highlight the importance of careful estimation, diligent tracking, and ethical management when it comes to dealing with accrued expenses. They also underscore the need for users of financial statements to understand the potential pitfalls and to interpret reported figures with caution.

Examples of Accrued Expenses

To further illustrate the concept of accrued expenses, let’s consider some practical examples:

  1. Accrued Wages A business may pay its employees every two weeks. However, at the end of the financial period, a week might have passed since the last payday. Thus, the business has an accrued expense for the wages earned by employees that have not yet been paid.
  2. Accrued Utilities Utilities like electricity and water are typically used first and billed later. If a company’s accounting period ends before the utility bill arrives, the company needs to record an accrued expense for the utilities used but not yet billed.
  3. Accrued Taxes Taxes are another common example of accrued expenses. For example, a company might owe property taxes that are not due until the next calendar year. The company needs to record an accrued expense for the taxes owed but not yet paid.
  4. Accrued Interest If a company has taken out a loan, interest usually accrues over time. Even if the interest is not due until the end of the loan term, the company would record an accrued expense for the interest that accumulates over each accounting period.
  5. Accrued Services Let’s say a company hires a consultant in December, who will invoice them in January. The company would record an accrued expense in December for the consulting services received, even though it has not yet received a bill.

Remember, these are only a few examples. Accrued expenses can come in many forms, depending on the nature of a business’s operations.


What are accrued expenses?

Accrued expenses are expenses that have been incurred but not yet paid for.

What is the purpose of recording accrued expenses?

Recording accrued expenses allows for accurate financial reporting by reflecting the financial obligations of a business that have not yet been settled.

What are some common examples of accrued expenses?

Common examples of accrued expenses include wages or salaries owed to employees, interest on outstanding loans, and utilities expenses.

How are accrued expenses recorded in financial statements?

Accrued expenses are recorded as liabilities on the balance sheet and as expenses on the income statement.

About Paul

Paul Boyce is an economics editor with over 10 years experience in the industry. Currently working as a consultant within the financial services sector, Paul is the CEO and chief editor of BoyceWire. He has written publications for FEE, the Mises Institute, and many others.

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