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5.2 Preparing Various Adjusting Entries

Learning Objectives

At the end of this section, students should be able to meet the following objectives:

  1. Explain the need for an adjusting entry in the reporting of prepaid expenses and be able to prepare that adjustment.
  2. Explain the need for an adjusting entry in the reporting of accrued revenue and be able to prepare that adjustment.
  3. Describe the challenge of determining when the earning process for revenue is substantially complete and discuss possible resolutions.
  4. Explain the need for an adjusting entry in the reporting of unearned revenue and be able to prepare that adjustment.

Recording and Adjusting Prepaid Expenses

Question: The second adjustment to be considered here involves the handling of prepaid expensesA future economic benefit created when an expense is paid in advance; reported as an asset initially and then gradually reassigned to expense over time through adjusting entries.. For example, as of May 29, 2011, General Mills Inc. reported “prepaid expenses and other current assets” of $483.5 million. A decision maker studying this business needs to understand what information is conveyed by such balances.

In the transactions that were recorded in the previous chapter, Journal Entry 10 reported a $4,000 payment made by the Lawndale Company for four months of rent to use a building. An asset—prepaid rent—was recorded at that time through the normal accounting process. The resulting account is listed on the trial balance in Figure 5.1 "Updated Trial Balance for the Lawndale Company". Such costs are common and often include payments for insurance and supplies.

Assume, at the end of Year Four, the company’s accountant examines the invoice that was paid and determines that this $4,000 in rent covered the period from December 1, Year Four, until March 31, Year Five. As a result, an adjusting entry is now necessary so that all balances are presented fairly. Why is a year-end adjusting entry often needed in connection with a prepaid expense?


Answer: During these four months, the Lawndale Company will use the rented facility to help generate revenue. Over that time, the future economic benefit established by the payment gradually becomes a past benefit. The asset literally changes into an expense day by day. In this example, one month of the rent from this payment has now been consumed. The benefit provided by using this building during December to gain revenue no longer exists. That portion of the rent ($1,000 or $4,000/four months) reflects a past benefit and should be reported as an expense in Year Four in accordance with the matching principle. Expenses are recognized in the same period as the revenue they help to generate.

As a preliminary step in preparing financial statements, an adjusting entry is needed to reclassify $1,000 from the asset (prepaid rent) into an expense (rent expense). This adjustment leaves $3,000 in the asset (for the remaining three months of rent on the building) while $1,000 is now reported as an expense (for the previous one month of rent).

Figure 5.3 Adjusting Entry 2 (Version 1): Use Is Made of a Rented Facility (Original Entry to Prepaid Rent)

Adjusting entries are created to take whatever amounts reside in the ledger and align them with the requirements of U.S. GAAP (or IFRS, if those standards are being applied). For this illustration, the original $4,000 payment was classified as a prepaid rent and the adjustment was created in response to that initial entry. After $1,000 is moved from asset to expense, the balances are presented fairly: an asset of $3,000 for the future benefit and an expense of $1,000 for the past.

In recording transactions, some accounting systems mechanically handle events in a different manner than others. Thus, construction of each adjusting entry depends on the recording that previously took place. To illustrate, assume that when this $4,000 payment was made, the company entered the debit to rent expense rather than prepaid rent. Perhaps an error was made or, more likely, a computerized accounting system was programmed to record all money spent for rent as an expense. For convenience, many companies prefer to automate the recording process wherever possible knowing that adjusting entries can then be made to arrive at proper balances. The initial accounting has no impact on the figures to be reported but does alter the adjustment process.

If a $4,000 expense was recorded here initially rather than a prepayment, an adjusting entry is still needed. The expense appearing on the income statement should be $1,000 (for the past one month) while the appropriate asset on the balance sheet should be $3,000 (for the subsequent three months). If the entire cost of $4,000 is located in rent expense, the following alternative is necessary to arrive at proper balances. This adjustment shifts $3,000 out of the expense and into the asset.

Figure 5.4 Adjusting Entry 2A (Version 2): Use Is Made of a Rented Facility (Original Entry to Rent Expense)

This adjusting entry leaves the appropriate $1,000 in expense and puts $3,000 into the asset account. Those are the proper balances as of the end of the year. Regardless of the account, the accountant first determines the balance that is present in the ledger and then creates the specific adjustment needed to arrive at fairly presented figures.

Test Yourself


A company pays $4,000 to rent a building on October 1, Year One, for four months. The amount was recorded as prepaid rent, and no further change was made in the balance. When preparing to produce Year One financial statements, the accountant erroneously believed that the entire $4,000 was originally recorded as a rent expense and made an adjustment based on that assumption. Which of the following is a result of the accountant’s action?

  1. The prepaid rent is overstated on the balance sheet by $4,000.
  2. The rent expense is overstated on the income statement by $4,000.
  3. The prepaid rent is overstated on the balance sheet by $1,000.
  4. The rent expense is overstated on the income statement by $1,000.


The correct answer is choice a: The prepaid rent is overstated on the balance sheet by $4,000.


Rent was $1,000 per month. Three months have passed. The rent expense should be reported as $3,000 with the prepaid rent as $1,000. All $4,000 was recorded as prepaid rent. The accountant thought the rent expense was recorded as $4,000, so $1,000 was moved from expense to prepaid rent. That entry raised the prepaid rent to $5,000 ($4,000 plus $1,000) and dropped the expense to a negative $1,000. The prepaid rent is overstated by $4,000 ($5,000 rather than $1,000); the rent expense is understated by $4,000.

Recognizing Accrued Revenue

Question: The third general type of adjustment to be covered here is accrued revenue. As the title implies, this revenue is one that grows gradually over time. If not recorded by a company’s accounting system as earned, an adjusting entry to update the balances is necessary before financial statements are prepared. This process mirrors that of accrued expenses. What adjustment is used by a reporting organization to recognize any accrued revenue that has not previously been recorded?


Answer: Various types of revenue are earned as time passes rather than through a physical event such as the sale of inventory. To illustrate, assume that a customer visited the Lawndale Company five days before the end of Year Four to ask for assistance. The customer must be away from his ranch for thirty days and wanted company employees to feed, water, and care for his horses during the period of absence. Everything needed for the job is available in the customer’s barn. The Lawndale Company just provides the service. The parties agreed that the company will receive $100 per day for this work with payment to be made upon the person’s return.

No asset changes hands at the start of this task. Thus, the company’s accounting system is not likely to make any entry until payment is eventually received. However, after the first five days of this work, the Lawndale Company is ready to prepare Year Four financial statements. For that reason, the company needs to recognize all revenue earned to date. Service to this customer has been carried out for five days at a rate of $100 per day. The company has performed the work to earn $500 although the money will not be received until later. Consequently, a receivable and revenue for this amount should be recognized through an adjusting entry. The earning process for the $500 occurred in Year Four and should be recorded in this year.

Figure 5.5 Adjusting Entry 3: Revenue Earned for Work Done

The $500 receivable will be removed in the subsequent period when the customer eventually pays Lawndale for the services rendered. No recognition is needed in this adjusting entry for cost of goods sold because a service, rather than inventory, is being sold.

The Earning Process

Question: As discussed in a previous chapter, the revenue realization principle (within accrual accounting) provides formal guidance for the timing of revenue reporting. It states in part that the earning process must be substantially complete before revenue is recognized. That seems reasonable. In the previous example, the work has been performed for only five days out of a total of thirty. That does not appear to qualify as substantially complete. Is accrued revenue recognized if the earning process is not substantially complete?


Answer: This example draws attention to one of the most challenging questions that accountants face in creating a fair portrait of a business. When should revenue be recognized? The revenue realization principle is established by U.S. GAAP, but practical issues remain. For example, when does an earning process become substantially complete? Here, the simplest way to resolve this accounting issue is to consider the nature of the task to be performed by the Lawndale Company.

Is the job of caring for the horses a single task to be carried out by the company over thirty days or is it thirty distinct tasks to be performed each day over this period of time?

If the work is viewed as one large task like painting a house, then the earning process here is only one-sixth of the way finished and not substantially complete. No revenue should be recognized until the remainder of the work has been performed. In that case, the adjusting entry is not warranted.

Conversely, if this assignment is actually thirty separate tasks, then five of them are substantially complete at the end of the year, and revenue of $500 is properly recorded by the previous adjustment. Unfortunately, the distinction is not always clear. Because accounting is conservative, revenue should never be recognized unless evidence predominates that the individual tasks are clearly separate events.

Test Yourself


The Acme Company paints houses in and around San Antonio, Texas. In December of Year One, the company was hired to paint the outside of a five-story apartment building for $100,000. All money was to be paid when the work was finished. By December 31, Year One, the company had painted the first three floors of the building and recognized accrued revenue of $60,000 ($100,000 × 3/5). Which of the following is not true?

  1. The reported net income is overstated in Year One.
  2. The reported assets are overstated at the end of Year One.
  3. The reported liabilities are overstated at the end of Year One.
  4. The reported revenue is overstated in Year One.


The correct answer is choice c: The reported liabilities are overstated at the end of Year One.


Through the entry that was made, Acme recognized a receivable and revenue. The revenue increases net income. However, painting this building is a single job that is only 3/5 complete. That is not the same as “substantially complete.” Individual floors do not represent separate jobs. Based on accrual accounting, no justification exists for recognizing revenue. The receivable, revenue, and net income are all too high. This job does not impact liabilities, which continue to be reported properly.

The Revenue Recognition Principle

Question: In practice, how does an accountant determine whether a specific job is substantially complete? Because of the direct impact on net income, this judgment must be critical in financial reporting.


Answer: Accountants spend a lot of time searching for credible evidence as to the true nature of the events they encounter and report. Their goal is to ensure that all information included in financial statements is presented fairly according to U.S. GAAP (or IFRS). The timing of revenue recognition can be a special challenge that requires analysis and expertise.

Is a job substantially complete so that revenue should be recognized or not?

That question can often be difficult to answer. Here is one technique that might be applied in analyzing this particular example. Assume that after five days, Lawndale had to quit feeding the customer’s horses for some legitimate reason. Should the company be able to demand and collect $500 for the work done to that point? If so, then those five days are distinct tasks that have been completed. However, if no money would be due based on working just five days, substantial completion has not been achieved by the services performed to date. Thus, revenue recognition would be inappropriate.

In Adjusting Entry 3 (Figure 5.5 "Adjusting Entry 3: Revenue Earned for Work Done"), the assumption is made that the daily tasks are separate and that the company could collect for the work accomplished to date. However, this type of judgment can be extremely difficult in the real world. It is often the product of much thought and discussion. The impact on the financial statements can be material, which increases pressure on the accountant. Even with standard rules, painting a fairly presented portrait is not always easy.

Students frequently enroll in a financial accounting course believing that little is required other than learning set rules and then following them mechanically. As will be demonstrated many times in this textbook, nothing ever replaces the need for experienced judgment on the part of the accountant.

Unearned Revenue

Question: The last adjusting entry to be covered at this time is unearned (or deferred) revenue. Some companies operate in industries where money is received first and then earned gradually over time. Newspaper and magazine businesses, for example, are paid in advance by their subscribers and advertisers. The earning process becomes substantially complete by the subsequent issuance of their products.

For example, the January 2, 2011, balance sheet of The Washington Post Company reported deferred revenues as a liability of over $379 million. The notes to the company’s financial statement provided clear information about the accounting process: “Amounts received from customers in advance are deferred as liabilities” or “Revenues from newspaper subscriptions and retail sales are recognized upon the later delivery or publication date.”

In Journal Entry 13 in Chapter 4 "How Does an Organization Accumulate and Organize the Information Necessary to Create Financial Statements?", the Lawndale Company reported receiving $3,000 in cash for services to be rendered at a later date. An unearned revenue account was recorded as a liability for that amount and appears in the trial balance in Figure 5.1 "Updated Trial Balance for the Lawndale Company". When is an adjusting entry needed in connection with the recognition of previously unearned revenue?


Answer: As indicated by The Washington Post Company, unearned revenue represents a liability recognized when money is received before work is done. After the required service is carried out so that the earning process is substantially complete, an appropriate amount is reclassified from unearned revenue on the balance sheet to revenue on the income statement. For example, in connection with the $3,000 payment collected by Lawndale, assume that all the work necessary to recognize the first $600 was performed by the end of Year Four. Prior to preparing financial statements, an adjusting entry reduces the liability and recognizes the earned revenue.

Figure 5.6 Adjusting Entry 4: Money Previously Received Has Now Been Earned

Test Yourself


The Midlothian Trash Company of Richmond, Virginia, charges customers $100 per month to pick up trash for one month. Money is due on the first day of each month. By the beginning of the current month, the company has received $49,000. If financial statements are made immediately, what reporting is appropriate for the company?

  1. Assets increase and liabilities increase
  2. Assets increase and revenues increase
  3. Expenses increase and revenues increase
  4. Expenses increase and liabilities increase


The correct answer is choice a: Assets increase and liabilities increase.


The company receives cash, so reported assets are higher. However, the earning process at the first day of the month is not substantially complete, so no revenue can be recognized yet. Instead, an unearned revenue is recorded that increases the company’s liabilities. The company owes the service to its customers, or it owes them their money back.

Key Takeaway

To align reported balances with the rules of accrual accounting, adjusting entries are created as a step just prior to the preparation of financial statements. Prepaid expenses are normally recorded first as assets when paid and then reclassified to expense as time passes to satisfy the matching principle. The mechanics of this process can vary somewhat based on the initial recording of the payment, but the reported figures should be the same regardless of the company’s accounting system. Accrued revenue and the corresponding receivable are recognized when the earning process is deemed to be substantially complete even though cash is not yet received. The time at which this benchmark is achieved can depend on whether a single job or a collection of independent tasks is under way. As with many areas of financial reporting, this decision by the accountant often relies heavily on professional judgment rather than absolute rules. Companies occasionally receive money for services or goods before they are provided. In such cases, unearned revenue is recorded as a liability to indicate the obligation to the customer. Over time, as the earning process becomes substantially complete, the unearned revenue is reclassified as revenue.