In accounting, a liability is any financial obligation that a company or individual owes to another party.

This could be a debt, loan, or other payment due, and it represents a future expense that the business will have to pay.

A liability represents the potential outflow of economic benefits resulting from past transactions or events. 

How Are Liabilities Recorded?

Liabilities are recorded on a company’s balance sheet as a negative number.

This is because liabilities represent an amount that the company owes to others, so they are considered a debt that needs to be repaid.

For example, if a company owes $10,000 on a loan, this would be recorded as a liability of -$10,000 on the balance sheet.

Liabilities are recorded using the accrual basis of accounting, which recognizes them when they are incurred regardless of when the related cash flow occurs.

When a liability is incurred, it is initially recognized with an accounting entry, typically involving a credit to the liability account and a corresponding debit to another account, such as cash or accounts payable.

How Do Liabilities Work?

Liabilities can significantly influence a company’s financial situation and its prospects for the future. If a company finds itself burdened with excessive liabilities, it can have difficulties in repaying debts and maintaining a healthy cash flow, potentially leading to bankruptcy or insolvency.

However, it is worth noting that liabilities can also have positive implications for a company.

For example, obtaining a loan can provide the necessary capital to pursue new projects and foster business growth.

Liabilities play a vital role in assessing liquidity, solvency, and overall risk within an organization.

As liabilities are gradually repaid or settled, they may incur interest expenses and necessitate the allocation of future resources. Consequently, monitoring and effectively managing liabilities becomes imperative for preserving financial stability.

Types of Liabilities

There are two main types of liabilities: current (short-term) and non-current (long-term).

Current Liabilities

Current liabilities are short-term debts that are due within one year or less. Examples of current liabilities are:

  • Accounts Payable: Accounts payable (AP) are debts owed to suppliers or vendors for goods and services that have been received but not yet paid for. For example, if a company purchases inventory on credit from a supplier, the amount owed to the supplier would be recorded as accounts payable until it is paid in full.
  • Short-term Loans: These are loans that are due within one year or less. Companies may take out short-term loans to cover temporary cash flow shortages or to finance working capital needs. These loans usually have higher interest rates than longer-term loans.
  • Accrued Expenses: Accrued expenses are expenses that a company has incurred but has not yet paid for or recorded in its accounts. For example, if a company has provided services to a customer but has not yet billed the customer for those services, the amount owed would be recorded as an accrued expense.
  • Unearned Revenue: This is revenue that a company has received but has not yet earned. If a customer pays for a service in advance, the amount paid would be recorded as unearned revenue until the service is provided.
  • Income Taxes Payable: These are taxes that a company owes to the government on its income. The amount owed is usually based on the company’s profits or revenue and is paid periodically throughout the year.
  • Current Portion of Long-Term Debt: This is the portion of a long-term loan that is due within one year or less. For example, if a company has a five-year loan with annual payments, the portion of the loan due in the next 12 months would be classified as the current portion of long-term debt.

Non-Current Liabilities

Non-current liabilities are long-term debts that are due more than one year. These can include:

  • Long-term Loans: The loans that are due in more than one year. Companies may take out long-term loans to finance capital expenditures, like the purchase of equipment or property. Long-term loans usually have lower interest rates than shorter-term loans.
  • Bonds Payable: Bonds are long-term debt securities that a company issues to raise capital. Bonds usually have a fixed interest rate and maturity date and are traded on the bond market.
  • Lease Obligations: These are long-term rental agreements that a company has entered for property or equipment. For example, a retail store may lease space in a shopping mall, or a manufacturer may lease equipment to use in production.
  • Pension Obligations: Pensions are future payments that a company is obligated to make to its employees as part of a pension plan. Companies that offer defined benefit pension plans are required to make regular contributions to the plan to ensure that it has enough assets to pay out benefits to retirees.
  • Deferred Tax Liabilities: These are tax liabilities that arise from temporary differences between the book value of assets and liabilities recorded on a company’s financial statements and their tax basis. 

Liabilities FAQ

  • What is the difference between a liability and an expense?

An expense is a cost associated with running a business, while a liability is a debt that the business owes.

  • What is the impact of having too many liabilities?

Having too many liabilities can impact a company’s financial health and future prospects, potentially leading to bankruptcy or insolvency.

  • Liabilities vs Expenses

Liabilities and expenses are distinct but interconnected concepts. While liabilities represent financial obligations, expenses reflect the costs incurred in the process of generating revenue. Expenses are recorded in the income statement, whereas liabilities appear on the balance sheet. However, some expenses, such as accrued expenses, can create corresponding liabilities.

  • Liabilities vs Assets

Liabilities and assets are two fundamental components of the balance sheet. Assets represent resources owned by an individual or organization, while liabilities represent their financial obligations.