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HomeUncategorizedAccounting for Contingency Assets and Contingent Liabilities

Accounting for Contingency Assets and Contingent Liabilities

A contingent liability is recorded in the accounting records if the contingency is probable and the related amount can be estimated with a reasonable level of accuracy. Other examples include guarantees on debts, liquidated damages, outstanding lawsuits, and government probes. With contingent liabilities, how to keep your business organized you basically have to guess whether or not something is going to happen. To record contingent liabilities, you should debit the relevant expense account and note a credit in your accounts payable. This creates the liability on your books and recognizes the expense in the current period.

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  • To record this, it will debit an expense account, let’s call it Legal Expense, and credit a liability account – Accrued Liability.
  • Analysts are divided on whether or not to include contingent liabilities in financial statements.
  • Based on the historical data, 5% of the product will be broken within 12 months and claim the warranty.
  • Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., has expanded from a search engine to a global brand with a variety of product and service offerings.

Prudence is a key accounting concept that makes sure that assets and income are not overstated, and liabilities and expenses are not understated. The recording of contingent liabilities prevents the understating of liabilities and expenses. No journal entry or financial adjustment in the financial statements will occur. Instead, Sierra Sports will include a note describing any details available about the lawsuit. When damages have been determined, or have been reasonably estimated, then journalizing would be appropriate.


Contingent liabilities should be analyzed with a serious and skeptical eye, since, depending on the specific situation, they can sometimes cost a company several millions of dollars. Sometimes contingent liabilities can arise suddenly and be completely unforeseen. The $4.3 billion liability for Volkswagen related to its 2015 emissions scandal is one such contingent liability example. 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. Suppose a lawsuit is filed against a company, and the plaintiff claims damages up to $250,000.

  • If the lawsuit results in a loss, a debit is applied to the accrued account (deduction) and cash is credited (reduced) by $2 million.
  • This journal entry is to show that when there is a probability of future cost which can be reasonably estimated, the company needs to recognize and record it as an expense immediately.
  • Such contingency is neither recorded on the financial statements nor disclosed to the investors by the management.
  • Business leaders should also be aware of contingent liabilities, because they should be considered when making strategic decisions about a company’s future.
  • Assume, for example, that a bike manufacturer offers a three-year warranty on bicycle seats, which cost $50 each.

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. Regardless of contingent liabilities, investors may choose to invest in a company if they believe the company’s financial situation is strong enough to absorb any losses that may result from such liabilities. IFRS Accounting Standards are, in effect, a global accounting language—companies in more than 140 jurisdictions are required to use them when reporting on their financial health.

Accounting for Contingent Assets and Contingent Liabilities

The flowchart below provides an overview of the recognition criteria, taking into account information about subsequent events. 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. Because the liability is both probable and easy to estimate, the firm posts an accounting entry on the balance sheet to debit (increase) legal expenses for $2 million and to credit (increase) accrued expense for $2 million. A loss contingency which is possible but not probable will not be recorded in the accounts as a liability and a loss.

What Are Contingent Liabilities in Accounting?

Another common situation for contingent liabilities involves lawsuits or legal proceedings. The final result of a proceeding is not known during the case, but you still need to estimate the financial impact on your business. Some events may eventually give rise to a liability, but the timing and amount is not presently sure.

History of IAS 37

Legal disputes give rise to contingent liabilities, environmental contamination events give rise to contingent liabilities, product warranties give rise to contingent liabilities, and so forth. If a loss is reasonably possible, you would add a note about it to the company’s financial statements. The same approach applies when the loss is probable, but it remains impossible to estimate the magnitude with any degree of certainty. Contingent liabilities reflect amounts that your business might owe if a specific ‘triggering’ event happens in the future.

A loss contingency that is probable or possible but the amount cannot be estimated means the amount cannot be recorded in the company’s accounts or reported as liability on the balance sheet. Instead, the contingent liability will be disclosed in the notes to the financial statements. Contingent liabilities are those that are likely to be realized if specific events occur. These liabilities are categorized as being likely to occur and estimable, likely to occur but not estimable, or not likely to occur. Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) require contingent liabilities that can be estimated and are more likely to occur to be recorded in a company’s financial statements. GAAP accounting rules require probable contingent liabilities—ones that can be estimated and are likely to occur—to be recorded in financial statements.

Applicability of Contingent liabilities in investing

Modeling contingent liabilities can be a tricky concept due to the level of subjectivity involved. The opinions of analysts are divided in relation to modeling contingent liabilities. A contingent liability is a potential expense or a loss that may become an actual liability depending on future events. Contingency liability accounting is a highly subjective matter that requires expert judgement. For both the company’s management and investors, contingent liabilities can be a challenging concept.


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