• Sun. May 26th, 2024

Prepaid Expense: Definition and Example

What Is a Prepaid Expense?

A prepaid expense is an expense that has been paid for in advance but not yet incurred. In business, a prepaid expense is recorded as an asset on the balance sheet that results from a business making advance payments for goods or services to be received in the future.

Prepaid expenses are initially recorded as assets, but their value is expensed over time onto the income statement. Unlike conventional expenses, the business will receive something of value from the prepaid expense over the course of several accounting periods.

Key Takeaways

  • In business accounting, a prepaid expense is any good or service that has been paid for but not yet incurred.
  • Prepaid expenses are recorded on the balance sheet as an asset, most often as a current asset.
  • Over time, prepaid expenses are expensed onto the income statement.
  • GAAP stipulates that expenses should be recorded in the same period that the asset provides its benefit.
  • Common prepaid expenses include insurance, leased office equipment, advertising, legal retainers, and estimated taxes.

Investopedia / Madelyn Goodnight


Understanding Prepaid Expenses

Companies make prepayments for goods or services such as leased office equipment or insurance coverage that provide continual benefits over time. Goods or services of this nature cannot be expensed immediately because the expense would not line up with the benefit incurred over time from using the asset.

Due to the nature of certain goods and services, prepaid expenses will always exist. For example, insurance is a prepaid expense because the purpose of purchasing insurance is to buy proactive protection in case something unfortunate happens in the future. Clearly, no insurance company would sell insurance that covers an unfortunate event after the fact, so insurance expenses must be prepaid by businesses.

Recording Prepaid Expenses

According to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), expenses should be recorded in the same accounting period as the benefit generated from the related asset. For example, if a large copying machine is leased by a company for a period of 12 months, the company benefits from its use over the full-time period.

Recording an advanced payment made for the lease as an expense in the first month would not adequately match expenses with revenues generated from its use. Therefore, it should be recorded as a prepaid expense and allocated to expenses over the full 12 months.

Journal entries that recognize expenses related to previously recorded prepaid expenses are called adjusting entries. They do not record new business transactions but simply adjust previously recorded transactions. Adjusting entries for prepaid expenses is necessary to ensure that expenses are recognized in the period in which they are incurred.

Example of a Prepaid Expense

For example, assume ABC Company purchases insurance for the upcoming 12-month period. It pays $120,000 upfront for the insurance policy. ABC Company will initially book the full $120,000 as a debit to prepaid insurance, an asset on the balance sheet, and a credit to cash.

Each month, an adjusting entry will be made to expense $10,000 (1/12 of the prepaid amount) to the income statement through a credit to prepaid insurance and a debit to insurance expense. In the 12th month, the final $10,000 will be fully expensed and the prepaid account will be zero.

Is Prepaid Expense a Current Asset?

Yes, prepaid expense is recorded as a current asset. Current assets are assets that a company plans to use or sell within a year; they are short-term assets. Most often, this is where the prepaid expense line item is recorded. If any prepaid expense will not be used within a year, then it must be recorded as a long-term asset.

What Is the Difference Between Prepayment and Prepaid Expense?

Prepayments and prepaid expenses are different from one another. A prepayment means that you are just paying your bill earlier. For example, if you have a debt obligation, such as a loan, and you owe $1,000 next month but decide to pay that amount this month, that is a prepayment. A prepaid expense on the other hand is any good or service that you’ve paid for but have not used yet.

What Are Examples of Prepaid Expenses?

Common examples of prepaid expenses include leases, rent, legal retainers, advertising costs, estimated taxes, insurance, salaries, and leased office equipment.

The Bottom Line

Prepaid expense is an accounting line item on a company’s balance sheet that refers to goods and services that have been paid for but not yet incurred. Recording prepaid expenses must be done correctly according to accounting standards. They are first recorded as an asset and then over time expensed onto the income statement.

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