Revenue recognition

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The revenue recognition principle is a cornerstone of accrual accounting together with the matching principle. They both determine the accounting period in which revenues and expenses are recognized. According to the principle, revenues are recognized when they are realized or realizable, and are earned (usually when goods are transferred or services rendered), no matter when cash is received. In cash accounting – in contrast – revenues are recognized when cash is received no matter when goods or services are sold.


Cash can be received in an earlier or later period than obligations are met (when goods or services are delivered) and related revenues are recognized that results in the following two types of accounts:

Revenue realized during an accounting period is included in the income.

International Financial Reporting Standards criteria

The IFRS provides five criteria for identifying the critical event for recognizing revenue on the sale of goods: [1]

  1. Risks and rewards have been transferred from the seller to the buyer.
  2. The seller has no control over the goods sold.
  3. Collection of payment is reasonably assured.
  4. The amount of revenue can be reasonably measured.
  5. Costs of earning the revenue can be reasonably measured.

The first two criteria mentioned above are referred to as Performance. Performance occurs when the seller has done most or all of what it is supposed to do to be entitled for the payment. E.g.: A company has sold the good and the customer walks out of the store with no warranty on the product. The seller has completed its performance since the buyer now owns good and also all the risks and rewards associated with it. The third criterion is referred to as Collectability. The seller must have a reasonable expectation of being paid. An allowance account must be created if the seller is not fully assured to receive the payment. The fourth and fifth criteria are referred to as Measurability. Due to Matching Principle, the seller must be able to match expenses to the revenues they helped in earning. Therefore, the amount of Revenues and Expenses should both be reasonably measurable

General rule

Received advances are not recognized as revenues, but as liabilities (deferred income), until the conditions (1.) and (2.) are met.

  1. Revenues are realized when cash or claims to cash (receivable) are received. Revenues are realizable when they are readily convertible to cash or claim to cash.
  2. Revenues are earned when such goods/services are transferred/rendered.

Recognition of revenue from four types of transactions:

  1. Revenues from selling inventory are recognized at the date of sale often interpreted as the date of delivery.
  2. Revenues from rendering services are recognized when services are completed and billed.
  3. Revenue from permission to use company's assets (e.g. interest for using money, rent for using fixed assets, and royalties for using intangible assets) is recognized as time passes or as assets are used.
  4. Revenue from selling an asset other than inventory is recognized at the point of sale, when it takes place.

Revenue versus cash timing

Accrued revenue (or accrued assets) is an asset such as proceeds from delivery of goods or services. Income is earned at time of delivery, with the related revenue item recognized as accrued revenue. Cash for them is to be received in a later accounting period, when the amount is deducted from accrued revenues.

Deferred revenue (or deferred income) is a liability, such as cash received from a counterpart for goods or services which are to be delivered in a later accounting period. When the delivery takes place, income is earned, the related revenue item is recognized, and the deferred revenue is reduced.

For example, a company receives an annual software license fee paid out by a customer upfront on January 1. However the company's fiscal year ends on May 31. So, the company using accrual accounting adds only five months worth (5/12) of the fee to its revenues in profit and loss for the fiscal year the fee was received. The rest is added to deferred income (liability) on the balance sheet for that year.


Advances are not considered to be a sufficient evidence of sale; thus, no revenue is recorded until the sale is completed. Advances are considered a deferred income and are recorded as liabilities until the whole price is paid and the delivery made (i.e. matching obligations are incurred).


Revenues not recognized at sale

The rule says that revenue from selling inventory is recognized at the point of sale, but there are several exceptions.

Revenues recognized before sale

Long-term contracts

This exception primarily deals with long-term contracts such as constructions (buildings, stadiums, bridges, highways, etc.), development of aircraft, weapons, and spaceflight systems. Such contracts must allow the builder (seller) to bill the purchaser at various parts of the project (e.g. every 10 miles of road built).

  • The percentage-of-completion method says that if the contract clearly specifies the price and payment options with transfer of ownership, the buyer is expected to pay the whole amount and the seller is expected to complete the project, then revenues, costs, and gross profit can be recognized each period based upon the progress of construction (that is, percentage of completion). For example, if during the year, 25% of the building was completed, the builder can recognize 25% of the expected total profit on the contract. This method is preferred. However, expected loss should be recognized fully and immediately due to conservatism constraint.[ clarification needed ] Apart from accounting requirement, there is a need for calculating the percentage of completion for comparing budgets and actuals to control the cost of long-term projects and optimize Material, Man, Machine, Money and time (OPTM4) . The method used for determining revenue of a long-term contract can be complex. Usually two methods are employed to calculate the percentage of completion: (i) by calculating the percentage of accumulated cost incurred to the total budgeted cost. (ii) by determining the percentage of deliverable completed as a percentage of total deliverable. The second method is accurate but cumbersome. To achieve this, one needs the help of a software ERP package which integrates Financial, inventory, Human resources and WBS (Work breakdown structure) based planning and scheduling while booking of all cost components should be done with reference to one of the WBS elements. There are very few contracting ERP software packages which have the complete integrated module to do this.
  • The completed-contract method should be used only if percentage-of-completion is not applicable or the contract involves extremely high risks. Under this method, revenues, costs, and gross profit are recognized only after the project is fully completed. Thus, if a company is working only on one project, its income statement will show $0 revenues and $0 construction-related costs until the final year. However, expected loss should be recognized fully and immediately due to conservatism constraint.

Completion of production basis

This method allows recognizing revenues even if no sale was made. This applies to agricultural products and minerals. There is a ready market for these products with reasonably assured prices, the units are interchangeable, and selling and distributing does not involve significant costs.

Revenues recognized after Sale

Sometimes, the collection of receivables involves a high level of risk. If there is a high degree of uncertainty regarding collectibility then a company must defer the recognition of revenue. There are three methods which deal with this situation:

New Revenue Recognition Standard

On May 28, 2014, the FASB and IASB issued converged guidance on recognizing revenue in contracts with customers. The new guidance is heralded by the Boards as a major achievement in efforts to improve financial reporting. [4] The update was issued as Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2014-09. It will be part of the Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) as Topic 606: Revenue from Contracts with Customers (ASC 606), and supersedes the existing revenue recognition literature in Topic 605 issued by FASB. [5] ASC 606 is effective for public entities for the first interim period within annual reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2017; non-public companies were allowed an additional year. [6]

The new standard aims to:

The new revenue guidance was issued by the IASB as IFRS 15. The IASB’s standard, as amended, is effective for the first interim period within annual reporting periods beginning on or after January 1, 2018, with early adoption permitted. [7]

Related Research Articles

International Financial Reporting Standards Technical standard

International Financial Reporting Standards, commonly called IFRS, are accounting standards issued by the IFRS Foundation and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). They constitute a standardised way of describing the company’s financial performance and position so that company financial statements are understandable and comparable across international boundaries. They are particularly relevant for companies with shares or securities listed on a public stock exchange.

Cost of goods sold

Cost of goods sold (COGS) is the carrying value of goods sold during a particular period.

Depreciation Decrease in asset values, or the allocation of cost thereof

In accountancy, depreciation refers to two aspects of the same concept: first, the actual decrease of fair value of an asset, such as the decrease in value of factory equipment each year as it is used and wears, and second, the allocation in accounting statements of the original cost of the assets to periods in which the assets are used.

Tax deduction is a reduction of income that is able to be taxed and is commonly a result of expenses, particularly those incurred to produce additional income. Tax deductions are a form of tax incentives, along with exemptions and credits. The difference between deductions, exemptions and credits is that deductions and exemptions both reduce taxable income, while credits reduce tax.

Income statement

An income statement or profit and loss account is one of the financial statements of a company and shows the company's revenues and expenses during a particular period.

Factoring (finance)

Factoring is a financial transaction and a type of debtor finance in which a business sells its accounts receivable to a third party at a discount. A business will sometimes factor its receivable assets to meet its present and immediate cash needs. Forfaiting is a factoring arrangement used in international trade finance by exporters who wish to sell their receivables to a forfaiter. Factoring is commonly referred to as accounts receivable factoring, invoice factoring, and sometimes accounts receivable financing. Accounts receivable financing is a term more accurately used to describe a form of asset based lending against accounts receivable. The Commercial Finance Association is the leading trade association of the asset-based lending and factoring industries.

Mark-to-market accounting Accounting practice

Mark-to-market or fair value accounting refers to accounting for the "fair value" of an asset or liability based on the current market price, or the price for similar assets and liabilities, or based on another objectively assessed "fair" value. Fair value accounting has been a part of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) in the United States since the early 1990s, and is now regarded as the "gold standard" in some circles. Failure to use it is viewed as the cause of the Orange County Bankruptcy, even though its use is considered to be one of the reasons for the Enron scandal and the eventual bankruptcy of the company, as well as the closure of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen.

Cash flow statement

In financial accounting, a cash flow statement, also known as statement of cash flows, is a financial statement that shows how changes in balance sheet accounts and income affect cash and cash equivalents, and breaks the analysis down to operating, investing, and financing activities. Essentially, the cash flow statement is concerned with the flow of cash in and out of the business. As an analytical tool, the statement of cash flows is useful in determining the short-term viability of a company, particularly its ability to pay bills. International Accounting Standard 7 is the International Accounting Standard that deals with cash flow statements.

Accrual (accumulation) of something is, in finance, the adding together of interest or different investments over a period of time. It holds specific meanings in accounting, where it can refer to accounts on a balance sheet that represent liabilities and non-cash-based assets used in accrual-based accounting. These types of accounts include, among others, accounts payable, accounts receivable, goodwill, deferred tax liability and future interest expense.

Project accounting

Project accounting is a specialized form of accounting, designed around serving the needs of project delivery. It helps track, report, and analyze financial results and implications. This includes creating financial reports designed to track the financial progress of projects, which can be used by managers to aid project management.

Deferred income is, in accrual accounting, money received for goods or services which has not yet been earned. According to the revenue recognition principle, it is recorded as a liability until delivery is made, at which time it is converted into revenue.

Deferral Term in accounting

A deferral, in accrual accounting, is any account where the income or expense is not recognised until a future date, e.g. annuities, charges, taxes, income, etc. The deferred item may be carried, dependent on type of deferral, as either an asset or liability. See also accrual.

Adjusting entries

In accounting/accountancy, adjusting entries are journal entries usually made at the end of an accounting period to allocate income and expenditure to the period in which they actually occurred. The revenue recognition principle is the basis of making adjusting entries that pertain to unearned and accrued revenues under accrual-basis accounting. They are sometimes called Balance Day adjustments because they are made on balance day.

Matching principle

In accrual accounting, the revenue recognition principle states that revenues should be recorded during the period in which they are earned, regardless of when the transfer of cash occurs. And the matching principle instructs that an expense should be reported in the same period in which the corresponding revenue is earned, and is associated with accrual accounting. By recognizing costs in the period they are incurred, a business can see how much money was spent to generate revenue, reducing "noise" from timing mismatch between when costs are incurred and when revenue is realized. Conversely, cash basis accounting calls for the recognition of an expense when the cash is paid, regardless of when the expense was actually incurred.

Accounting for leases in the United States

Accounting for leases in the United States is regulated by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) by the Financial Accounting Standards Number 13, now known as Accounting Standards Codification Topic 840. These standards were effective as of January 1, 1977. The FASB completed in February 2016 a revision of the lease accounting standard, referred to as ASC 842.

In United States income tax law, an installment sale is generally a "disposition of property where at least 1 loan payment is to be received after the close of the taxable year in which the disposition occurs." The term "installment sale" does not include, however, a "dealer disposition" or, generally, a sale of inventory. The installment method of accounting provides an exception to the general principles of income recognition by allowing a taxpayer to defer the inclusion of income of amounts that are to be received from the disposition of certain types of property until payment in cash or cash equivalents is received. The installment method defers the recognition of income when compared with both the cash and accrual methods of accounting. Under the cash method, the taxpayer would recognize the income when it is received, including the entire sum paid in the form of a negotiable note. The deferral advantages of the installment method are the most pronounced when comparing to the accrual method, under which a taxpayer must recognize income as soon as he or she has a right to the income.

Installment sales method

The installment sales method is one of several approaches used to recognize revenue under the US GAAP, specifically when revenue and expense are recognized at the time of cash collection rather than at the time of sale. Under the US GAAP, it is the principal method of revenue recognition when the recognition occurs subsequently to the sale.

Percentage of completion (PoC) is an accounting method of work-in-progress evaluation, for recording long-term contracts. GAAP allows another method of revenue recognition for long-term construction contracts, the completed-contract method.


IFRS 9 is an International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) published by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). It addresses the accounting for financial instruments. It contains three main topics: classification and measurement of financial instruments, impairment of financial assets and hedge accounting. The standard came into force on 1 January 2018, replacing the earlier IFRS for financial instruments, IAS 39.


IFRS 15 is an International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) promulgated by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) providing guidance on accounting for revenue from contracts with customers. It was adopted in 2014 and became effective in January 2018. It was the subject of a joint project with the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), which issues accounting guidance in the United States, and the guidance is substantially similar between the two boards.


  2. Revsine 2002 , p. 110
  3. Financial Accounting Standards Board (2008). "Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 66, Paragraph 65" (PDF). Retrieved March 23, 2009.
  4. "Revenue Recognition". Retrieved 2015-12-13.
  5. 1 2 "Overview of ASC 606 – RevenueHub". RevenueHub. Retrieved 2015-12-13.
  6. PricewaterhouseCoopers. "In brief: FASB finalizes one-year deferral of the new revenue standard". PwC. Retrieved 2016-05-18.
  7. PricewaterhouseCoopers. "In brief: IASB proposes changes to revenue standard – more FASB proposals coming soon". PwC. Retrieved 2016-05-18.