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Adjusting entry for unearned revenue

Checked for updates, April 2022.

Unearned revenue, also known as unearned income, deferred revenue, or deferred income, represents proceeds already collected but not yet earned. Hence, they are also called "advances from customers". Following the accrual concept of accounting, unearned revenues are considered as liabilities.

Accrual Concept of Accounting

Let's start by noting that under the accrual concept, income is recognized when earned regardless of when it is collected.

And so, unearned revenue should not be included as income yet; rather, it is recorded as a liability. This liability represents an obligation of the company to render services or deliver goods in the future. It will be recognized as income only when the goods or services have been delivered or rendered.

At the end every accounting period, unearned revenues must be checked and adjusted if necessary. The adjusting entry for unearned revenue depends upon the journal entry made when it was initially recorded.

There are two ways of recording unearned revenue: (1) the liability method, and (2) the income method.

Liability Method

Under the liability method, a liability account is recorded when the amount is collected. The common accounts used are: Unearned Revenue, Deferred Income, Advances from Customers, etc. For this illustration, let us use Unearned Revenue.

Suppose on January 10, 2021, ABC Company made $30,000 advanced collections from its customers. If the liability method is used, the entry would be:

Jan 10 Cash 30,000.00  
    Unearned Revenue   30,000.00

Take note that the amount has not yet been earned, thus it is proper to record it as a liability. Now, what if at the end of the month, 20% of the unearned revenue has been rendered? This will require an adjusting entry.

The adjusting entry will include: (1) recognition of $6,000 income, i.e. 20% of $30,000, and (2) decrease in liability (unearned revenue) since some of it has already been rendered. The adjusting entry would be:

Jan 31 Unearned Revenue 6,000.00  
    Service Income   6,000.00
Illustration: Separating earned revenue and unearned revenue

We are simply separating the earned part from the unearned portion. Of the $30,000 unearned revenue, $6,000 is recognized as income. In the entry above, we removed $6,000 from the $30,000 liability. The balance of unearned revenue is now at $24,000.

Income Method

Under the income method, the accountant records the entire collection under an income account. Using the same transaction above, the initial entry for the collection would be:

Jan 10 Cash 30,000.00  
    Service Income   30,000.00

If at the end of the year the company earned 20% of the entire $30,000, then the adjusting entry would be:

Jan 31 Service Income 24,000.00  
    Unearned Income   24,000.00

By debiting Service Income for $24,000, we are decreasing the income initially recorded. The balance of Service Income is now $6,000 ($30,000 - 24,000), which is actually the 20% portion already earned. By crediting Unearned Income, we are recording a liability for $24,000.

Notice that the resulting balances of the accounts under the two methods are the same (Cash: $30,000; Service Income: $6,000; and Unearned Income: $24,000).

Another Example

On December 1, 2021, DRG Company collected from a tenant $60,000 as rental fee for three months starting December 1.

Under the liability method, the initial entry would be:

Dec 1 Cash 60,000.00  
    Unearned Rent Income   60,000.00

On December 31, 2021, the end of the accounting period, 1/3 of the rent received has already been earned (prorated over 3 months).

Illustration: Separating rent income and unearned rent income

We should then record the income through this adjusting entry:

Dec 31 Unearned Rent Income 20,000.00  
    Rent Income   20,000.00

In effect, we are transferring $20,000, one-third of $60,000, from the Unearned Rent Income (a liability) to Rent Income (an income account) since that portion has already been earned.

If the company made use of the income method, the initial entry would be:

Dec 1 Cash 60,000.00  
    Rent Income   60,000.00

In this case, we must decrease Rent Income by $40,000 because that part has not yet been earned. The income account shall have a balance of $20,000. The amount removed from income shall be transferred to liability (Unearned Rent Income). The adjusting entry would be:

Dec 31 Rent Income 40,000.00  
    Unearned Rent Income   40,000.00


If you have noticed, what we are actually doing here is making sure that the earned part is included in income and the unearned part into liability. The adjusting entry will always depend upon the method used when the initial entry was made.

If you are having a hard time understanding this topic, I suggest you go over and study the lesson again. Sometimes, it really takes a while to get the concept. Preparing adjusting entries is one of the most challenging (but important) topics for beginners.

Key Takeaways

Unearned revenues normally are current liabilities.

The adjusting entry for unearned revenue will depend upon the original journal entry, whether it was recorded using the liability method or income method.

The adjusting entry if the liability method was used is:
    Dr Unearned revenue account
    Cr Income account
for the amount earned.

The adjusting entry under the income method is:
    Dr Income account
    Cr Unearned revenue account
for the amount not yet earned.

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