What Are Prepaid Expenses? by Alicia Tuovila

What Are Prepaid Expenses?

Why are prepaid expenses considered assets? Prepaid expenses are recorded as an asset on a business's balance sheet because they signify a future benefit that is due to the company.

by Alicia Tuovila
updated July 23, 2021 ·  3min read

Prepaid expenses are amounts paid in advance by a business in exchange for goods or services to be delivered in the future. They usually relate to the purchase of something that provides value to the business over the course of multiple accounting periods. The business records a prepaid expense as an asset on the balance sheet because it signifies a future benefit due to the business. As the good or service is delivered, the asset's value is decreased, and the amount is expensed to the income statement.

woman with tattoos in front of the counter in a coffee shop

Examples of Prepaid Expenses

Prepaid expenses usually provide value to a company over an extended period of time, such as insurance or prepaid rent. Many types of business insurance are paid as a lump sum in advance of a specific coverage period. Similarly, when a business signs a rental agreement with a landlord, it may include a stipulation to prepay a certain number of months' rent upfront.

Insurance

A business pays $18,000 in December for liability insurance covering January through December of the following year. When the business purchases the insurance policy in December, it records an $18,000 debit to prepaid expense, which is an asset account. It simultaneously records an $18,000 credit to cash, which is also an asset account. This is fully a balance sheet transaction, as it does not involve any revenue or expense accounts that appear on the income statement.

In January, the company records a journal entry to recognize 1/12 of the value of the insurance policy. The journal entry debits an insurance expense account and credits prepaid expenses for $1,500. At the end of January, the prepaid expense account balance is $16,500 on the balance sheet. The January month-end income statement reports $1,500 as the current period insurance expense. Every month, the journal entry further decreases the prepaid expense account balance as the value of the coverage period is recognized by the business.

Prepaid Rent

 

A business signs a rental agreement to open a new plant. The monthly rent is $10,000. As part of the rental agreement, the landlord requests the business prepay six months' rent before occupying the property. Upon the initial payment, the journal entry recorded by the business debits $60,000 to prepaid expenses and credits $60,000 to cash. Both of these accounts are asset accounts, and the entire transaction affects the balance sheet only.

During the first month of occupancy, the business records an adjusting journal entry to debit rent expense for $10,000 and credit prepaid expenses $10,000. The balance in the prepaid expense account at the end of the first month is, therefore, $50,000 and rent expense is $10,000. The $50,000 balance in prepaid expense appears on the balance sheet for the month, while the $10,000 rent expense appears on the income statement.

Why are Prepaid Expenses an Asset?

Under the accrual method of accounting, income is recognized when it is earned and expenses are recognized when incurred, regardless of when cash exchanges hands for the transaction. Prepaid expenses are an asset because the business has not realized the value of the good or service when cash initially exchanges hands.

Instead, the value of the good or service must be recognized over time as the business realizes the benefit. In the insurance example, the service provided to the business is liability policy coverage. Each month, the value of this benefit is recognized when the business decreases its prepaid expense account. In the rent example, the good provided is the physical building. As the business enjoys the use of its rental location, it recognizes the benefit by decreasing the prepaid expense account.

Get help managing your business. LEARN MORE
Alicia Tuovila

About the Author

Alicia Tuovila

Alicia Tuovila is an accounting and finance writer based in Tennessee. She holds an active Certified Public Accountant (… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.