What Are Prepaid Expenses?
Prepaid expenses are future expenses that are paid in advance, such as rent or insurance. On the balance sheet, prepaid expenses are first recorded as an asset. As the benefits of the assets are realized over time, the amount is then recorded as an expense.
Why Are Prepaid Expenses Assets?
Prepaid expenses are considered current assets because they are amounts paid in advance by a business in exchange for goods or services to be delivered in the future. Prepaid expenses usually relate to the purchase of something, such as rent or insurance, that provides value to the business over several accounting periods (often six months or a year). The business records a prepaid expense as an asset on the balance sheet because it represents a future benefit due to the business. As the benefits of the good or service are realized over time, the asset's value is decreased, and the amount is expensed to the income statement.
What Are the Benefits of Prepaid Expenses?
Sometimes, businesses prepay expenses because they can receive a discount for prepayment. Prepaid expenses may also provide a benefit to a business by relieving the obligation of payment for future accounting periods. There may also be tax benefits concerning prepaid expenses, however, all organizations must follow the proper rules related to tax deductions.
What Is Prepaid Expense Amortization?
Prepaid expense amortization is the method of accounting for the consumption of a prepaid expense over time. This allocation is represented as a prepayment in a current account on the balance sheet of the company.
With amortization, the amount of a common accrual, such as prepaid rent, is gradually reduced to zero, following what is known as an amortization schedule. The expense is then transferred to the profit and loss statement for the period during which the company uses up the accrual.
How Are Prepaid Expenses Recorded?
Prepaid expenses are recorded first on the balance sheet—in the prepaid asset account—because it represents a future benefit due to the business. Prepaid expenses are considered a current asset because they are expected to be consumed, used, or exhausted through standard business operations with one year.
As the benefits of the prepaid expense are realized, it is recognized on the income statement. Prepaid expenses are not initially recorded on the income statement because according to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) matching principle, expenses cannot be recorded on the income statement before they incur.
Where Do Prepaid Expenses Appear on the Balance Sheet?
Prepaid expenses are first recorded in the prepaid asset account on the balance sheet as a current asset (unless the prepaid expense will not be incurred within 12 months). Once expenses incur, the prepaid asset account is reduced, and an entry is made to the expense account on the income statement.
Examples of Prepaid Expenses
Because of how certain goods and services are sold, most companies will have one or more prepaid expenses. For example, the purpose of insurance is to buy proactive protection for the future. No insurance company would sell insurance that covers a past event, so insurance expenses must be prepaid by businesses.
Here are three common examples of prepaid expenses.
Insurance is an excellent example of a prepaid expense, as it is always paid for in advance. If a company pays $12,000 for an insurance policy that covers the next 12 months, then it would record a current asset of $12,000 at the time of payment to represent this prepaid amount. In each month of the 12-month policy, the company would recognize an expense of $1,000 and draw down the prepaid asset by this same amount.
Prepaid rent—a lease payment made for a future period—is another common example of a prepaid expense. An organization makes a cash payment to the leasing company, but the rent expense has not yet been incurred, so the company must record the prepaid rent. Prepaid rent is an asset because the prepaid amount can be used in the future to reduce rent expense when incurred.
Retainer for Legal Services
A legalretainer is often required before a lawyer or firm will begin representation. When a company pays a retainer, it is recorded as a prepaid expense on the balance sheet. It’s not expensed immediately because the company has not yet benefited from the services. As future invoices come in, the company would recognize an expense and draw down the prepaid asset by the same amount.
Are Prepaid Expenses Debits or Credits?
When there is a payment that represents a prepayment of an expense, a prepaid account, such as Prepaid Insurance, is debited and the cash account is credited. This records the prepayment as an asset on the company’s balance sheet. An amortization schedule that corresponds to the actual incurring of the prepaid expenses or the consumption schedule for the prepaid asset is also established.
At the end of each accounting period, a journal entry is posted for the expense incurred over that period, according to the schedule. This journal entry credits the prepaid asset account on the balance sheet, such as Prepaid Insurance, and debits an expense account on the income statement, such as Insurance Expense.
Doing so records the incurring of the expense for the period and reduces the prepaid asset by the corresponding amount.
BlackLine Solutions for Prepaid Expenses
BlackLine builds solutions that modernize the finance and accounting function to empower greater productivity and detect accounting errors before they become problems. BlackLine products work in unison to eliminate manual spreadsheet-dependent processes prone to human error.
BlackLine Account Reconciliations, a full account reconciliation solution, has a prepaid amortization template to automate the process of accounting for prepaid expenses. It stores a schedule of payments for amortizable items and establishes a monthly schedule of the expenses that should be entered over the life of the prepaid items.
The product then automatically amortizes the expense over future periods, eliminating the need to manage spreadsheets or other manual tracking systems. The template also contains an auto-populated roll forward schedule.
BlackLine Journal Entry is a full journal entry management system that integrates with BlackLine Account Reconciliations. It provides an automated solution for the creation, review, approval, and posting of journal entries. This streamlines the remaining steps in the process of accounting for prepaid items.
Together, these tools provide a complete prepaid expense management system.
Read our ebook for a roadmap that will help your organization begin the finance automation journey.