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Contingent Liability How to Use and Record Contingent Liabilities

Some of the common contingent liabilities examples are product warranties, pending investigations, and potential lawsuits. 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. A contingent liability threatens to reduce the company’s assets and net profitability and, thus, comes with the potential to negatively impact the financial performance and health of a company.

Here, “Reasonably possible” means that the chance for occurrence of an event is more than remote but less than likely. One of their customers has filed the legal claim against the company for delivering the product which was defective. Provisions are a sum of money that is set aside in order to cover a probable expense that will happen in future. In this case, the obligation is already present, but the amount for such an obligation cannot be determined exactly.

  • It’s impossible to know whether the company should report a contingent liability of $250,000 based solely on this information.
  • Both generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) require companies to record contingent liabilities.
  • A contingent liability is a potential obligation that may arise from an event that has not yet occurred.
  • Examples of contingent liabilities are the outcome of a lawsuit, a government investigation, and the threat of expropriation.

Qualifying contingent liabilities are recorded as an expense on the income statement and a liability on the balance sheet. 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. Contingent liabilities are never recorded in the financial statements of a company.

Contingent liabilities

This potential obligation is considered a contingent liability because it depends on the outcome of the lawsuit. When the probability of such an event is extremely low, it is allowed to omit the entry in the books of accounts, and disclosure is also not required. It can be recorded only if estimation is possible; otherwise, disclosure is necessary.

Supposing a business is selling a certain kind of product, any damage that it can be caused to the buyer before and after it leaves the manufacturing unit is the full responsibility of the owner. If the owner is reluctant to take responsibility for their product, the customer can sue the company. Lets us understand the concept of liquidated damages with the help of an example.

If the firm manufactures 1,000 bicycle seats in a year and offers a warranty per seat, the firm needs to estimate the number of seats that may be returned under warranty each year. In this scenario, the contingent liability is not recorded or disclosed if the probability of its occurrence is remote. Here, ‘remote’ means the contingencies aren’t likely to occur and aren’t reasonably possible. By nature, contingent liabilities are uncertain and for a business, these are the future expenses or outflows that might occur.

Liabilities are related to the financial obligations or debts that a person or a company has to another entity. There are numerous different categories of liabilities, each with special characteristics and implications for the creditor and debtor. Contingent liabilities greatly impact one’s decision-making purposes. Since it has the potential to affect the company’s Cash flow and net income negatively, one has to take important steps to decide the impact of these contingencies. The accrual account enables the company to record expenses without requiring an immediate cash payment.

IFRS Accounting

Even if the outcome is based on the probability of occurrence of the event, it is considered an actual liability. But it will be recorded in the books only if the probability is more than 50%. The impact of contingent liability can also hamper a company’s ability to take debt from the market as creditors become more stringent before lending capital due to the uncertainty of the liability. If the liability arises, it would negatively impact the company’s ability to repay debt. Possible contingency is not recorded in the books of accounts because it is very difficult to articulate the liability in monetary terms due to its limited occurrence.

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. If a court is likely to rule in favor of the plaintiff, whether because there is strong evidence of wrongdoing or some other factor, the company should report a contingent liability equal to probable damages. Similarly, the knowledge of a contingent liability can influence the decision of creditors considering lending capital to a company. The contingent liability may arise and negatively impact the ability of the company to repay its debt. In the example of ACE Ltd, the present obligation is the legal claim brought against it by a customer.

Continue your contingencies, loss recoveries, and guarantees learning

If, for example, the company forecasts that 200 seats must be replaced under warranty for $50, the firm posts a debit (increase) to warranty expense for $10,000 and a credit (increase) to accrued warranty liability for $10,000. At the end of the year, the accounts are adjusted for the actual warranty expense incurred. Contingent liabilities are also important for potential lenders to a company, who will take these liabilities into account when deciding on their lending terms. Business leaders should also be aware of contingent liabilities, because they should be considered when making strategic decisions about a company’s future.

If the firm determines that the likelihood of the liability occurring is remote, the company does not need to disclose the potential liability. GAAP accounting rules require probable inventory ins and outs—ones that can be estimated and are likely to occur—to be recorded in financial statements. Contingent liabilities that are likely to occur but cannot be estimated should be included in a financial statement’s footnotes. Remote (not likely) contingent liabilities are not to be included in any financial statement.


Examples of Contingent Liability
A company’s supplier is unable to obtain a bank loan. The company agrees to guarantee that the supplier’s bank loan will be repaid. As a result of the company’s guarantee, the bank makes the loan to the supplier.

4 Contingencies

Record a contingent liability when it is probable that a loss will occur, and you can reasonably estimate the amount of the loss. If you can only estimate a range of possible amounts, then record that amount in the range that appears to be a better estimate than any other amount; if no amount is better, then record the lowest amount in the range. You should also describe the liability in the footnotes that accompany the financial statements. Contingent liability refers to those liabilities that can incur as an entity and depends on the outcomes of the pending lawsuit. Such liabilities are not recorded in the company’s account and are shown in the company’s balance sheet when they are reasonably and probably estimated as a “worst-case” or “contingency” in the outcome.

A provision is measured at the amount that the entity would rationally pay to settle the obligation at the end of the reporting period or to transfer it to a third party at that time. Risks and uncertainties are taken into account in measuring a provision. 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.

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