Recorded on the right side of the balance sheet, liabilities include loans, accounts payable, mortgages, deferred revenues, bonds, warranties, and accrued expenses. “Estimated liability” refers to a potential financial obligation or debt that a company expects to owe in the future, but the exact amount is not yet known. These are often recorded as accrued expenses on a company’s balance sheet. Employee healthcare and product warranty programs work the same way as pension funds. When a manufacturer offers a warranty on any of its products, it has no way of knowing how many customers will need to return their purchases or how much it will cost to fix the defective products.

GAAP is not very clear on this subject; such disclosures are not required, but are not discouraged. What about contingent assets/gains, like a company’s claim against another for patent infringement? Such amounts are almost never recognized before settlement payments are actually received.

Contingent liabilities are liabilities that depend on the outcome of an uncertain event. Pretty soon, your child will turn 17, and that’s a change that you need to account for through tax withholding. Once she is 17, you may qualify for the other dependent credit instead of the child tax credit. The other dependent credit is only worth $500, and you’ll need to account for the $1,500 difference through increased withholding. The amount of federal and state taxes you withhold from each paycheck determines whether you’ll get a refund, break even, or owe taxes when you file your tax return. There are two types of accrued liabilities that companies must account for, including routine and recurring.

Loans are often repaid in equal blended payments containing both interest and principal. Contingent assets, on the other hand, are not recorded until actually realized. If a contingent asset is probable, it is disclosed in the notes to the financial statements. Considering the name, it’s quite obvious that any liability that is not near-term falls under non-current liabilities, expected to be paid in 12 months or more. Referring again to the AT&T example, there are more items than your garden variety company that may list one or two items. Long-term debt, also known as bonds payable, is usually the largest liability and at the top of the list.

  1. Current liabilities are due within a year and are often paid for using current assets.
  2. AT&T clearly defines its bank debt that is maturing in less than one year under current liabilities.
  3. Contingent liabilities are recorded if the contingency is likely and the amount of the liability can be reasonably estimated.
  4. Rules specify that contingent liabilities should be recorded in the accounts when it is probable that the future event will occur and the amount of the liability can be reasonably estimated.
  5. This line item is in constant flux as bonds are issued, mature, or called back by the issuer.

Adam received his master’s in economics from The New School for Social Research and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in sociology. He is a CFA charterholder as well as holding FINRA Series 7, 55 & 63 licenses. He currently researches and teaches economic sociology and the social studies of finance at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Liability can also refer to one’s potential damages in a civil lawsuit. Harold Averkamp (CPA, MBA) has worked as a university accounting instructor, accountant, and consultant for more than 25 years. After following the steps above, you estimate that you’ll owe about $4,480 in 2019.

Income Tax Liabilities

an estimated liability is a liability that is absolutely owed because the services or goods have been received. However, the vendors’ invoices have not yet been received and the exact amount is not yet known. The company is required to estimate the amount since the estimated amount is far better than implying that no liability is owed and that no expense was incurred. A contingent liability is a potential liability (and a potential loss or potential expense).

The other part of the journal entry is to debit Warranty Expense and report it on the income statement. Accrued liabilities, which are also called accrued expenses, only exist when using an accrual method of accounting. The concept of an accrued liability relates to timing and the matching principle. Under accrual accounting, all expenses are to be recorded in financial statements in the period in which they are incurred, which may differ from the period in which they are paid. Details of the loan would be disclosed in a note to the financial statements.

1 Current versus Long-term Liabilities

Non-routine accrued liabilities are expenses that don’t occur regularly. A non-routine liability may, therefore, be an unexpected expense that a company may be billed for but won’t have to pay until the next accounting period. However, a contingent liability must be disclosed if the potential for an outflow of financial profit to settle the duty is more than remote. A contingent asset ought to be disclosed if an inflow of financial profit is probable.

They can include a future service owed to others (short- or long-term borrowing from banks, individuals, or other entities) or a previous transaction that has created an unsettled obligation. The most common liabilities are usually the largest like accounts payable and bonds payable. Most companies will have these two line items on their balance sheet, as they are part of ongoing current and long-term operations. Two common examples of estimated liabilities are warranties and income taxes.

What is a Liability?

Each business transaction is recorded using the double-entry accounting method, with a credit entry to one account and a debit entry to another. Contingent liabilities, although not yet realized, are recorded as journal entries. Any case with an ambiguous chance of success should be noted in the financial statements but do not need to be listed on the balance sheet as a liability.

A subjective assessment of the probability of an unfavorable outcome is required to properly account for most contingences. Rules specify that contingent liabilities should be recorded in the accounts when it is probable that the future event will occur and the amount of the liability can be reasonably estimated. This means that a loss would be recorded (debit) and a liability established (credit) in advance of the settlement. Assume that a company is facing a lawsuit from a rival firm for patent infringement. The company’s legal department thinks that the rival firm has a strong case, and the business estimates a $2 million loss if the firm loses the case. Another contingent liability is the warranty that automakers provide on new cars.

The $20,000 notes payable, due November 30, 2016 is a current liability because its maturity date is within one year of the balance sheet date, a characteristic of a current liability. The $75,000 notes payable, due March 31, 2018 is a long-term liability since it is to be repaid beyond one year of the balance sheet date. Like accrued liabilities and provisions, contingent liabilities are liabilities that may occur if a future event happens. Companies will segregate their liabilities by their time horizon for when they are due. Current liabilities are due within a year and are often paid for using current assets.

Although contingent liabilities are necessarily estimates, they only exist where it is probable that some amount of payment will be made. This is why they need to be reported via accounting procedures, and why they are regarded as “real” liabilities. Long-term liabilities are a form of debt that is expected to be paid beyond one year of the balance sheet date or the next operating cycle, whichever is longer. Current and long-term liabilities must be shown separately on the balance sheet.


It’s impossible to know whether the company should report a contingent liability of $250,000 based solely on this information. Here, the company should rely on precedent and legal counsel to ascertain the likelihood of damages. Liabilities can help companies organize successful business operations and accelerate value creation. However, poor management of liabilities may result in significant negative consequences, such as a decline in financial performance or, in a worst-case scenario, bankruptcy. Payroll taxes, including Social Security, Medicare, and federal unemployment taxes are liabilities that can be accrued periodically in preparation for payment before the taxes are due.