Difference Between Accruals and Deferrals (With Table)

Accruals and deferrals are fundamental concepts in accounting that ensure accurate financial reporting by matching revenues and expenses to the periods in which they are incurred. These accounting methods help businesses adhere to the accrual basis of accounting, which is considered a more accurate reflection of a company’s financial health than the cash basis.

This comprehensive guide will explore the key differences between accruals and deferrals, including their definitions, accounting treatment, examples, and significance in financial reporting.


Definition and Purpose

Accruals, in accounting, refer to the recognition of revenue or expenses in financial statements before the actual cash transaction occurs. Accrual accounting aims to match income and expenses to the relevant accounting periods, ensuring a more accurate representation of a company’s financial position.

Accounting Treatment

Accruals involve the following accounting treatments:

Recognizing Revenue:

  • When a company earns revenue but has not yet received payment, it recognizes the revenue as accrued revenue or accounts receivable on the balance sheet.
  • This means the company records the revenue on the income statement even though the customer has not paid yet.
  • Once the payment is received, the accounts receivable decrease, and the cash account increases.

Recognizing Expenses:

  • When a company incurs expenses but has not paid for them, it recognizes them as accrued or accounts payable on the balance sheet.
  • This means the company records the expenses on the income statement even though it has not made the actual payment.
  • When the company pays the outstanding bills, accounts payable and cash accounts decrease.


Here are some common examples of accruals:

Accrued Revenue:

  • A consulting firm provides services to a client in December but sends an invoice in January. The revenue is recognized as accrued revenue in December when the services were provided, even though the payment will be received in January.

Accrued Expenses:

  • A company incurs utility expenses in December but does not receive the bill until January. The expenses are recognized as accrued expenses in December when they were incurred, although the actual payment was made in January.


Definition and Purpose

Deferrals, in accounting, involve recognizing revenue or expenses in financial statements after the actual cash transaction has occurred. The purpose of deferral accounting is to match income and expenses to the accounting periods in which they are earned or incurred rather than when cash changes hands.

Accounting Treatment

Deferrals involve the following accounting treatments:

Deferred Revenue (Unearned Revenue):

  • When a company receives payment for goods or services before delivering them, it recognizes the payment as deferred or unearned revenue on the balance sheet.
  • This means the revenue is not recognized on the income statement at the time of receipt.
  • Revenue is recognized gradually as the goods or services are provided, shifting the deferred revenue to earned revenue.

Prepaid Expenses (Deferred Expenses):

  • When a company pays for expenses in advance, it recognizes them as prepaid expenses on the balance sheet.
  • This means the expenses are not immediately recognized on the income statement.
  • Expenses are gradually recognized as incurred, shifting the prepaid expenses to actual expenses.


Here are some common examples of deferrals:

Deferred Revenue (Unearned Revenue):

  • A magazine publisher sells annual subscriptions to its readers. When customers pay for their subscriptions in advance, the publisher recognizes the payment as deferred revenue. Revenue is recognized each month as the magazines are delivered.

Prepaid Expenses (Deferred Expenses):

  • A business pays its annual insurance premium of $12,000 upfront in January. Instead of recognizing the entire expense in January, the company records $1,000 as an insurance expense each month for the year.

Key Differences Between Accruals and Deferrals

Timing of Recognition

Timing of RecognitionRecognized before cash changes handsRecognized after cash changes hands
Nature of EntriesRecognizes revenue or expenses before paymentRecognizes revenue or expenses after payment
GoalMatch income and expenses to the periodMatch income and expenses to the period
PurposeReflects economic reality and financial healthReflects economic reality and financial health

Accounting Treatment

Recognizing RevenueRevenue is recognized before paymentRevenue is recognized after payment
Recognizing ExpensesExpenses are recognized before paymentExpenses are recognized after payment
Balance Sheet EntriesAccrued revenue or accrued expensesDeferred revenue or prepaid expenses


Accrued RevenueConsulting firm invoices for services provided in December, even if payment is in January.Magazine publisher records payments for annual subscriptions as deferred revenue and recognizes it monthly as magazines are delivered.
Accrued ExpensesUtility expenses incurred in December are recorded as accrued expenses, even if the bill arrives in January.A business pays $12,000 insurance premium in January, recognizing $1,000 as an insurance expense each month for the year.

Significance in Financial Reporting

Accruals and deferrals play a crucial role in financial reporting by ensuring that financial statements accurately represent a company’s financial performance and position. Here’s how they impact financial reporting:

  • Accruals allow for the recognition of revenue and expenses when they are earned or incurred, aligning with the matching principle. This ensures that financial statements reflect the economic reality of the business, even if cash transactions have not yet occurred.
  • Deferrals also follow the matching principle, ensuring revenue and expenses are recognized in the appropriate accounting periods. This method prevents distortions in financial statements that can occur when cash transactions precede or follow actual economic events.


Accruals and deferrals are essential concepts in accrual accounting, providing a systematic approach to recognizing revenue and expenses in the correct accounting periods. Accruals allow for recognising revenue and expenses before cash transactions, accurately reflecting economic reality. On the other hand, deferrals ensure that revenue and expenses are recognized after cash transactions, aligning with the matching principle.

Both methods are vital for producing accurate financial statements that help stakeholders make informed decisions about a company’s financial health and performance. Understanding when to use accruals and deferrals is crucial for businesses to adhere to accounting standards and maintain transparency in their financial reporting.

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