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Principles of Accounting, Volume 1: Financial Accounting

12.3 Define and Apply Accounting Treatment for Contingent Liabilities

Principles of Accounting, Volume 1: Financial Accounting12.3 Define and Apply Accounting Treatment for Contingent Liabilities
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 Role of Accounting in Society
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 1.1 Explain the Importance of Accounting and Distinguish between Financial and Managerial Accounting
    3. 1.2 Identify Users of Accounting Information and How They Apply Information
    4. 1.3 Describe Typical Accounting Activities and the Role Accountants Play in Identifying, Recording, and Reporting Financial Activities
    5. 1.4 Explain Why Accounting Is Important to Business Stakeholders
    6. 1.5 Describe the Varied Career Paths Open to Individuals with an Accounting Education
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Multiple Choice
    10. Questions
  3. 2 Introduction to Financial Statements
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 2.1 Describe the Income Statement, Statement of Owner’s Equity, Balance Sheet, and Statement of Cash Flows, and How They Interrelate
    3. 2.2 Define, Explain, and Provide Examples of Current and Noncurrent Assets, Current and Noncurrent Liabilities, Equity, Revenues, and Expenses
    4. 2.3 Prepare an Income Statement, Statement of Owner’s Equity, and Balance Sheet
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. Multiple Choice
    8. Questions
    9. Exercise Set A
    10. Exercise Set B
    11. Problem Set A
    12. Problem Set B
    13. Thought Provokers
  4. 3 Analyzing and Recording Transactions
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 3.1 Describe Principles, Assumptions, and Concepts of Accounting and Their Relationship to Financial Statements
    3. 3.2 Define and Describe the Expanded Accounting Equation and Its Relationship to Analyzing Transactions
    4. 3.3 Define and Describe the Initial Steps in the Accounting Cycle
    5. 3.4 Analyze Business Transactions Using the Accounting Equation and Show the Impact of Business Transactions on Financial Statements
    6. 3.5 Use Journal Entries to Record Transactions and Post to T-Accounts
    7. 3.6 Prepare a Trial Balance
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. Multiple Choice
    11. Questions
    12. Exercise Set A
    13. Exercise Set B
    14. Problem Set A
    15. Problem Set B
    16. Thought Provokers
  5. 4 The Adjustment Process
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 4.1 Explain the Concepts and Guidelines Affecting Adjusting Entries
    3. 4.2 Discuss the Adjustment Process and Illustrate Common Types of Adjusting Entries
    4. 4.3 Record and Post the Common Types of Adjusting Entries
    5. 4.4 Use the Ledger Balances to Prepare an Adjusted Trial Balance
    6. 4.5 Prepare Financial Statements Using the Adjusted Trial Balance
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Multiple Choice
    10. Questions
    11. Exercise Set A
    12. Exercise Set B
    13. Problem Set A
    14. Problem Set B
    15. Thought Provokers
  6. 5 Completing the Accounting Cycle
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 5.1 Describe and Prepare Closing Entries for a Business
    3. 5.2 Prepare a Post-Closing Trial Balance
    4. 5.3 Apply the Results from the Adjusted Trial Balance to Compute Current Ratio and Working Capital Balance, and Explain How These Measures Represent Liquidity
    5. 5.4 Appendix: Complete a Comprehensive Accounting Cycle for a Business
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Multiple Choice
    9. Questions
    10. Exercise Set A
    11. Exercise Set B
    12. Problem Set A
    13. Problem Set B
    14. Thought Provokers
  7. 6 Merchandising Transactions
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 6.1 Compare and Contrast Merchandising versus Service Activities and Transactions
    3. 6.2 Compare and Contrast Perpetual versus Periodic Inventory Systems
    4. 6.3 Analyze and Record Transactions for Merchandise Purchases Using the Perpetual Inventory System
    5. 6.4 Analyze and Record Transactions for the Sale of Merchandise Using the Perpetual Inventory System
    6. 6.5 Discuss and Record Transactions Applying the Two Commonly Used Freight-In Methods
    7. 6.6 Describe and Prepare Multi-Step and Simple Income Statements for Merchandising Companies
    8. 6.7 Appendix: Analyze and Record Transactions for Merchandise Purchases and Sales Using the Periodic Inventory System
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. Multiple Choice
    12. Questions
    13. Exercise Set A
    14. Exercise Set B
    15. Problem Set A
    16. Problem Set B
    17. Thought Provokers
  8. 7 Accounting Information Systems
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 7.1 Define and Describe the Components of an Accounting Information System
    3. 7.2 Describe and Explain the Purpose of Special Journals and Their Importance to Stakeholders
    4. 7.3 Analyze and Journalize Transactions Using Special Journals
    5. 7.4 Prepare a Subsidiary Ledger
    6. 7.5 Describe Career Paths Open to Individuals with a Joint Education in Accounting and Information Systems
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Multiple Choice
    10. Questions
    11. Exercise Set A
    12. Exercise Set B
    13. Problem Set A
    14. Problem Set B
    15. Thought Provokers
  9. 8 Fraud, Internal Controls, and Cash
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 8.1 Analyze Fraud in the Accounting Workplace
    3. 8.2 Define and Explain Internal Controls and Their Purpose within an Organization
    4. 8.3 Describe Internal Controls within an Organization
    5. 8.4 Define the Purpose and Use of a Petty Cash Fund, and Prepare Petty Cash Journal Entries
    6. 8.5 Discuss Management Responsibilities for Maintaining Internal Controls within an Organization
    7. 8.6 Define the Purpose of a Bank Reconciliation, and Prepare a Bank Reconciliation and Its Associated Journal Entries
    8. 8.7 Describe Fraud in Financial Statements and Sarbanes-Oxley Act Requirements
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. Multiple Choice
    12. Questions
    13. Exercise Set A
    14. Exercise Set B
    15. Problem Set A
    16. Problem Set B
    17. Thought Provokers
  10. 9 Accounting for Receivables
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 9.1 Explain the Revenue Recognition Principle and How It Relates to Current and Future Sales and Purchase Transactions
    3. 9.2 Account for Uncollectible Accounts Using the Balance Sheet and Income Statement Approaches
    4. 9.3 Determine the Efficiency of Receivables Management Using Financial Ratios
    5. 9.4 Discuss the Role of Accounting for Receivables in Earnings Management
    6. 9.5 Apply Revenue Recognition Principles to Long-Term Projects
    7. 9.6 Explain How Notes Receivable and Accounts Receivable Differ
    8. 9.7 Appendix: Comprehensive Example of Bad Debt Estimation
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. Multiple Choice
    12. Questions
    13. Exercise Set A
    14. Exercise Set B
    15. Problem Set A
    16. Problem Set B
    17. Thought Provokers
  11. 10 Inventory
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 10.1 Describe and Demonstrate the Basic Inventory Valuation Methods and Their Cost Flow Assumptions
    3. 10.2 Calculate the Cost of Goods Sold and Ending Inventory Using the Periodic Method
    4. 10.3 Calculate the Cost of Goods Sold and Ending Inventory Using the Perpetual Method
    5. 10.4 Explain and Demonstrate the Impact of Inventory Valuation Errors on the Income Statement and Balance Sheet
    6. 10.5 Examine the Efficiency of Inventory Management Using Financial Ratios
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Multiple Choice
    10. Questions
    11. Exercise Set A
    12. Exercise Set B
    13. Problem Set A
    14. Problem Set B
    15. Thought Provokers
  12. 11 Long-Term Assets
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 11.1 Distinguish between Tangible and Intangible Assets
    3. 11.2 Analyze and Classify Capitalized Costs versus Expenses
    4. 11.3 Explain and Apply Depreciation Methods to Allocate Capitalized Costs
    5. 11.4 Describe Accounting for Intangible Assets and Record Related Transactions
    6. 11.5 Describe Some Special Issues in Accounting for Long-Term Assets
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Multiple Choice
    10. Questions
    11. Exercise Set A
    12. Exercise Set B
    13. Problem Set A
    14. Problem Set B
    15. Thought Provokers
  13. 12 Current Liabilities
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 12.1 Identify and Describe Current Liabilities
    3. 12.2 Analyze, Journalize, and Report Current Liabilities
    4. 12.3 Define and Apply Accounting Treatment for Contingent Liabilities
    5. 12.4 Prepare Journal Entries to Record Short-Term Notes Payable
    6. 12.5 Record Transactions Incurred in Preparing Payroll
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Multiple Choice
    10. Questions
    11. Exercise Set A
    12. Exercise Set B
    13. Problem Set A
    14. Problem Set B
    15. Thought Provokers
  14. 13 Long-Term Liabilities
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 13.1 Explain the Pricing of Long-Term Liabilities
    3. 13.2 Compute Amortization of Long-Term Liabilities Using the Effective-Interest Method
    4. 13.3 Prepare Journal Entries to Reflect the Life Cycle of Bonds
    5. 13.4 Appendix: Special Topics Related to Long-Term Liabilities
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Multiple Choice
    9. Questions
    10. Exercise Set A
    11. Exercise Set B
    12. Problem Set A
    13. Problem Set B
    14. Thought Provokers
  15. 14 Corporation Accounting
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 14.1 Explain the Process of Securing Equity Financing through the Issuance of Stock
    3. 14.2 Analyze and Record Transactions for the Issuance and Repurchase of Stock
    4. 14.3 Record Transactions and the Effects on Financial Statements for Cash Dividends, Property Dividends, Stock Dividends, and Stock Splits
    5. 14.4 Compare and Contrast Owners’ Equity versus Retained Earnings
    6. 14.5 Discuss the Applicability of Earnings per Share as a Method to Measure Performance
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Multiple Choice
    10. Questions
    11. Exercise Set A
    12. Exercise Set B
    13. Problem Set A
    14. Problem Set B
    15. Thought Provokers
  16. 15 Partnership Accounting
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 15.1 Describe the Advantages and Disadvantages of Organizing as a Partnership
    3. 15.2 Describe How a Partnership Is Created, Including the Associated Journal Entries
    4. 15.3 Compute and Allocate Partners’ Share of Income and Loss
    5. 15.4 Prepare Journal Entries to Record the Admission and Withdrawal of a Partner
    6. 15.5 Discuss and Record Entries for the Dissolution of a Partnership
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Multiple Choice
    10. Questions
    11. Exercise Set A
    12. Exercise Set B
    13. Problem Set A
    14. Problem Set B
    15. Thought Provokers
  17. 16 Statement of Cash Flows
    1. Why It Matters
    2. 16.1 Explain the Purpose of the Statement of Cash Flows
    3. 16.2 Differentiate between Operating, Investing, and Financing Activities
    4. 16.3 Prepare the Statement of Cash Flows Using the Indirect Method
    5. 16.4 Prepare the Completed Statement of Cash Flows Using the Indirect Method
    6. 16.5 Use Information from the Statement of Cash Flows to Prepare Ratios to Assess Liquidity and Solvency
    7. 16.6 Appendix: Prepare a Completed Statement of Cash Flows Using the Direct Method
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. Multiple Choice
    11. Questions
    12. Exercise Set A
    13. Exercise Set B
    14. Problem Set A
    15. Problem Set B
    16. Thought Provokers
  18. Financial Statement Analysis
  19. Time Value of Money
  20. Suggested Resources
  21. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
  22. Index

What happens if your business anticipates incurring a loss or debt? Do you need to report this if you are uncertain it will occur? What if you know the loss or debt will occur but it has not happened yet? Do you have to report this event now, or in the future? These are questions businesses must ask themselves when exploring contingencies and their effect on liabilities.

A contingency occurs when a current situation has an outcome that is unknown or uncertain and will not be resolved until a future point in time. The outcome could be positive or negative. A contingent liability can produce a future debt or negative obligation for the company. Some examples of contingent liabilities include pending litigation (legal action), warranties, customer insurance claims, and bankruptcy.

While a contingency may be positive or negative, we only focus on outcomes that may produce a liability for the company (negative outcome), since these might lead to adjustments in the financial statements in certain cases. Positive contingencies do not require or allow the same types of adjustments to the company’s financial statements as do negative contingencies, since accounting standards do not permit positive contingencies to be recorded.

Pending litigation involves legal claims against the business that may be resolved at a future point in time. The outcome of the lawsuit has yet to be determined but could have negative future impact on the business.

Warranties arise from products or services sold to customers that cover certain defects (see Figure 12.8). It is unclear if a customer will need to use a warranty, and when, but this is a possibility for each product or service sold that includes a warranty. The same idea applies to insurance claims (car, life, and fire, for example), and bankruptcy. There is an uncertainty that a claim will transpire, or bankruptcy will occur. If the contingencies do occur, it may still be uncertain when they will come to fruition, or the financial implications.

Image shows a one-year warranty guaranteed seal.
Figure 12.8 One-Year Warranty. Companies may offer product or service warranties. (credit: modification of “Seal Guaranteed” by “harshahars”/Pixabay, CC0)

The answer to whether or not uncertainties must be reported comes from Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) pronouncements.

Two Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) Requirements for Recognition of a Contingent Liability

There are two requirements for contingent liability recognition:

  1. There is a likelihood of occurrence.
  2. Measurement of the occurrence is classified as either estimable or inestimable.

Application of Likelihood of Occurrence Requirement

Let’s explore the likelihood of occurrence requirement in more detail.

According to the FASB, if there is a probable liability determination before the preparation of financial statements has occurred, there is a likelihood of occurrence, and the liability must be disclosed and recognized. This financial recognition and disclosure are recognized in the current financial statements. The income statement and balance sheet are typically impacted by contingent liabilities.

For example, Sierra Sports has a one-year warranty on part repairs and replacements for a soccer goal they sell. The warranty is good for one year. Sierra Sports notices that some of its soccer goals have rusted screws that require replacement, but they have already sold goals with this problem to customers. There is a probability that someone who purchased the soccer goal may bring it in to have the screws replaced. Not only does the contingent liability meet the probability requirement, it also meets the measurement requirement.

Application of Measurement Requirement

The measurement requirement refers to the company’s ability to reasonably estimate the amount of loss. Even though a reasonable estimate is the company’s best guess, it should not be a frivolous number. For a financial figure to be reasonably estimated, it could be based on past experience or industry standards (see Figure 12.9). It could also be determined by the potential future, known financial outcome.

Image shows an estimate determination possibilities checklist. The list includes past experience with a checkmark, industry standards with a checkmark, and future, known financial outcome without a checkmark.
Figure 12.9 Contingent Liabilities Estimation Checklist. These are possible ways to determine a contingent liability financial estimate. (credit: modification of “Checklist” by Alan Cleaver/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Let’s continue to use Sierra Sports’ soccer goal warranty as our example. If the warranties are honored, the company should know how much each screw costs, labor cost required, time commitment, and any overhead costs incurred. This amount could be a reasonable estimate for the parts repair cost per soccer goal. Since not all warranties may be honored (warranty expired), the company needs to make a reasonable determination for the amount of honored warranties to get a more accurate figure.

Another way to establish the warranty liability could be an estimation of honored warranties as a percentage of sales. In this instance, Sierra could estimate warranty claims at 10% of its soccer goal sales.

When determining if the contingent liability should be recognized, there are four potential treatments to consider.

Let’s expand our discussion and add a brief example of the calculation and application of warranty expenses. To begin, in many ways a warranty expense works similarly to the bad debt expense concept covered in Accounting for Receivables in that the anticipated expense is determined by examining past period expense experiences and then basing the current expense on current sales data. Also, as with bad debts, the warranty repairs typically are made in an accounting period sometimes months or even years after the initial sale of the product, which means that we need to estimate future costs to comply with the revenue recognition and matching principles of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).

Some industries have such a large number of transactions and a vast data bank of past warranty claims that they have an easier time estimating potential warranty claims, while other companies have a harder time estimating future claims. In our case, we make assumptions about Sierra Sports and build our discussion on the estimated experiences.

For our purposes, assume that Sierra Sports has a line of soccer goals that sell for $800, and the company anticipates selling 500 goals this year (2019). Past experience for the goals that the company has sold is that 5% of them will need to be repaired under their three-year warranty program, and the cost of the average repair is $200. To simplify our example, we concentrate strictly on the journal entries for the warranty expense recognition and the application of the warranty repair pool. If the company sells 500 goals in 2019 and 5% need to be repaired, then 25 goals will be repaired at an average cost of $200. The average cost of $200 × 25 goals gives an anticipated future repair cost of $5,000 for 2019. Assume for the sake of our example that in 2020 Sierra Sports made repairs that cost $2,800. Following are the necessary journal entries to record the expense in 2019 and the repairs in 2020. The resources used in the warranty repair work could have included several options, such as parts and labor, but to keep it simple we allocated all of the expenses to repair parts inventory. Since the company’s inventory of supply parts (an asset) went down by $2,800, the reduction is reflected with a credit entry to repair parts inventory. First, following is the necessary journal entry to record the expense in 2019.

The journal entry is made in 2019 and shows a Debit to Warranty expense for $5,000, and a credit to Allowance for warranty expense for $5,000 with the note “Anticipated future warranty expense allowance.”

Next, here is the journal entry to record the repairs in 2020.

The journal entry is made in 2020 and shows an Allowance for warranty expense for $2,800, and a credit to Repair parts inventory for $2,800 with the note “To reflect the repair of goals under warranty.”

Before we finish, we need to address one more issue. Our example only covered the warranty expenses anticipated from the 2019 sales. Since the company has a three-year warranty, and it estimated repair costs of $5,000 for the goals sold in 2019, there is still a balance of $2,200 left from the original $5,000. However, its actual experiences could be more, the same, or less than $2,200. If it is determined that too much is being set aside in the allowance, then future annual warranty expenses can be adjusted downward. If it is determined that not enough is being accumulated, then the warranty expense allowance can be increased.

Since this warranty expense allocation will probably be carried on for many years, adjustments in the estimated warranty expenses can be made to reflect actual experiences. Also, sales for 2020, 2021, 2022, and all subsequent years will need to reflect the same types of journal entries for their sales. In essence, as long as Sierra Sports sells the goals or other equipment and provides a warranty, it will need to account for the warranty expenses in a manner similar to the one we demonstrated.

Think It Through

Product Recalls: Contingent Liabilities?

Consider the following scenario: A hoverboard is a self-balancing scooter that uses body position and weight transfer to control the device. Hoverboards use a lithium-ion battery pack, which was found to overheat causing an increased risk for the product to catch fire or explode. Several people were badly injured from these fires and explosions. As a result, a recall was issued in mid-2016 on most hoverboard models. Customers were asked to return the product to the original point of sale (the retailer). Retailers were required to accept returns and provide repair when available. In some cases, retailers were held accountable by consumers, and not the manufacturer of the hoverboards. You are the retailer in this situation and must decide if the hoverboard scenario creates any contingent liabilities. If so, what are the contingent liabilities? Do the conditions meet FASB requirements for contingent liability reporting? Which of the four possible treatments are best suited for the potential liabilities identified? Are there any journal entries or note disclosures necessary?

Four Potential Treatments for Contingent Liabilities

If the contingency is probable and estimable, it is likely to occur and can be reasonably estimated. In this case, the liability and associated expense must be journalized and included in the current period’s financial statements (balance sheet and income statement) along with note disclosures explaining the reason for recognition. The note disclosures are a GAAP requirement pertaining to the full disclosure principle, as detailed in Analyzing and Recording Transactions.

If the contingent liability is probable and inestimable, it is likely to occur but cannot be reasonably estimated. In this case, a note disclosure is required in financial statements, but a journal entry and financial recognition should not occur until a reasonable estimate is possible.

If the contingency is reasonably possible, it could occur but is not probable. The amount may or may not be estimable. Since this condition does not meet the requirement of likelihood, it should not be journalized or financially represented within the financial statements. Rather, it is disclosed in the notes only with any available details, financial or otherwise.

If the contingent liability is considered remote, it is unlikely to occur and may or may not be estimable. This does not meet the likelihood requirement, and the possibility of actualization is minimal. In this situation, no journal entry or note disclosure in financial statements is necessary.

Financial Statement Treatments
  Journalize Note Disclosure
Probable and estimable Yes Yes
Probable and inestimable No Yes
Reasonably possible No Yes
Remote No No
Table 12.2 Four Treatments of Contingent Liabilities. Proper recognition of the four contingent liability treatments.

Let’s review some contingent liability treatment examples as they relate to our fictitious company, Sierra Sports.

Probable and Estimable

If Sierra Sports determines the cost of the soccer goal screws are $30, the labor requirement is one hour at a rate of $40 per hour, and there is no extra overhead applied, then the total estimated warranty repair cost would be $70 per goal: $30 + (1 hour × $40 per hour). Sierra Sports sold ten goals before it discovered the rusty screw issue. The company believes that only six of those goals will have their warranties honored, based on past experience. This means Sierra will incur a warranty liability of $420 ($70 × 6 goals). The $420 is considered probable and estimable and is recorded in Warranty Liability and Warranty Expense accounts during the period of discovery (current period).

The journal entry shows a Debit to Warranty expense for $420, and a credit to Warranty liability for $420 with the note “To recognize estimated warranty liability for soccer goals.”

An example of determining a warranty liability based on a percentage of sales follows. The sales price per soccer goal is $1,200, and Sierra Sports believes 10% of sales will result in honored warranties. The company would record this warranty liability of $120 ($1,200 × 10%) to Warranty Liability and Warranty Expense accounts.

The journal entry shows a Debit to Warranty expense for $120, and a credit to Warranty Liability for $120 with the note “To recognize estimated warranty liability for soccer goals as a percentage of sales.”

When the warranty is honored, this would reduce the Warranty Liability account and decrease the asset used for repair (Parts: Screws account) or Cash, if applicable. The recognition would happen as soon as the warranty is honored. This first entry shown is to recognize honored warranties for all six goals.

The journal entry shows a Debit to Warranty liability for $420, and a credit to Parts: screws for $420 with the note “To record an honored warranty for soccer goals.”

This second entry recognizes an honored warranty for a soccer goal based on 10% of sales from the period.

The journal entry shows a Debit to Warranty Liability for $120, and a credit to Parts: screws for $120 with the note “To record an honored warranty for soccer goals at 10 percent of sales.”

As you’ve learned, not only are warranty expense and warranty liability journalized, but they are also recognized on the income statement and balance sheet. The following examples show recognition of Warranty Expense on the income statement Figure 12.10 and Warranty Liability on the balance sheet Figure 12.11 for Sierra Sports.

The image shows the Income Statement for the Year ended December 31, 2017 for Sierra Sports. Revenue $19,500, less Cost of Goods sold $9,000, Gross profit $10,500, Salaries expense $2,700, Administrative expense $1,500, Warranty expense $420, Utilities expense $300, Total expenses $4,920. Net income $5,580.
Figure 12.10 Sierra Sports’ Income Statement. Warranty Expense is recognized on the income statement. (attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)
The figure shows the Balance Sheet at December 31, 2017 of Sierra Sports. Assets are categorized by Current assets and Property, Plant, and Equipment. Under current assets: Cash $21,580, Accounts receivable $2,000, Total current assets $23,580. Under Property, Plant, and Equipment: Buildings $300,000, Sporting Equipment $60,000, Total Property, Plant, and Equipment $360,000. Total assets $383,580. Liabilities and stockholders’ equity are categorized by Current liabilities, Long-term liabilities, and Stockholders’ Equity. Under Current liabilities: Note Payable: Current $18,000, Accounts payable $8,580, Warranty liability $420, Unearned revenue $4,000, Total current liabilities $31,000. Under Long-term liabilities: Notes payable $342,000. Under Stockholders’ equity: Common stock $5,000, Retained earnings $5,580, Total Stockholders’ equity $10,580. Total Liabilities and Stockholders’ equity $383,580.
Figure 12.11 Sierra Sports’ Balance Sheet. Warranty Liability is recognized on the balance sheet. (attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)

Probable and Not Estimable

Assume that Sierra Sports is sued by one of the customers who purchased the faulty soccer goals. A settlement of responsibility in the case has been reached, but the actual damages have not been determined and cannot be reasonably estimated. This is considered probable but inestimable, because the lawsuit is very likely to occur (given a settlement is agreed upon) but the actual damages are unknown. 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.

Sierra Sports could say the following in its financial statement disclosures: “There is pending litigation against our company with the likelihood of settlement probable. Detailed terms and damages have not yet reached agreement, and a reasonable assessment of financial impact is currently unknown.”

Reasonably Possible

Sierra Sports may have more litigation in the future surrounding the soccer goals. These lawsuits have not yet been filed or are in the very early stages of the litigation process. Since there is a past precedent for lawsuits of this nature but no establishment of guilt or formal arrangement of damages or timeline, the likelihood of occurrence is reasonably possible. The outcome is not probable but is not remote either. Since the outcome is possible, the contingent liability is disclosed in Sierra Sports’ financial statement notes.

Sierra Sports could say the following in their financial statement disclosures: “We anticipate more claimants filing legal action against our company with the likelihood of settlement reasonably possible. Assignment of guilt, detailed terms, and potential damages have not been established. A reasonable assessment of financial impact is currently unknown.”

Remote

Sierra Sports worries that as a result of pending litigation and losses associated with the faulty soccer goals, the company might have to file for bankruptcy. After consulting with a financial advisor, the company is pretty certain it can continue operating in the long term without restructuring. The chances are remote that a bankruptcy would occur. Sierra Sports would not recognize this remote occurrence on the financial statements or provide a note disclosure.

IFRS Connection

Current Liabilities

US GAAP and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) define “current liabilities” similarly and use the same reporting criteria for most all types of current liabilities. However, two primary differences exist between US GAAP and IFRS: the reporting of (1) debt due on demand and (2) contingencies.

Liquidity and solvency are measures of a company’s ability to pay debts as they come due. Liquidity measures evaluate a company’s ability to pay current debts as they come due, while solvency measures evaluate the ability to pay debts long term. One common liquidity measure is the current ratio, and a higher ratio is preferred over a lower one. This ratio—current assets divided by current liabilities—is lowered by an increase in current liabilities (the denominator increases while we assume that the numerator remains the same). When lenders arrange loans with their corporate customers, limits are typically set on how low certain liquidity ratios (such as the current ratio) can go before the bank can demand that the loan be repaid immediately.

In theory, debt that has not been paid and that has become “on demand” would be considered a current liability. However, in determining how to report a loan that has become “on-demand,” US GAAP and IFRS differ:

  • Under US GAAP, debts on which payment has been demanded because of violations of the contractual agreement between the lender and creditor are only included in current liabilities if, by the financial statement presentation date, there have been no arrangements made to pay off or restructure the debt. This allows companies time between the end of the fiscal year and the actual publication of the financial statements (typically two months) to make arrangements for repayment of the loan. Most often these loans are refinanced.
  • Under IFRS, any payment or refinancing arrangements must be made by the fiscal year-end of the debtor. This difference means that companies reporting under IFRS must be proactive in assessing whether their debt agreements will be violated and make appropriate arrangements for refinancing or differing payment options prior to final year-end numbers being reported.

A second set of differences exist regarding reporting contingencies. Where US GAAP uses the term “contingencies,” IFRS uses “provisions.” In both cases, gain contingencies are not recorded until they are essentially realized. Both systems want to avoid prematurely recording or overstating gains based on the principles of conservatism. Loss contingencies are recorded (accrued) if certain conditions are met:

  • Under US GAAP, loss contingencies are accrued if they are probable and can be estimated. Probable means “likely” to occur and is often assessed as an 80% likelihood by practitioners.
  • Under IFRS, probable is defined as “more likely than not” and is typically assessed at 50% by practitioners.

The determination of whether a contingency is probable is based on the judgment of auditors and management in both situations. This means a contingent situation such as a lawsuit might be accrued under IFRS but not accrued under US GAAP. Finally, how a loss contingency is measured varies between the two options as well. For example, if a company is told it will be probable that it will lose an active lawsuit, and the legal team gives a range of the dollar value of that loss, under IFRS, the discounted midpoint of that range would be accrued, and the range disclosed. Under US GAAP, the low end of the range would be accrued, and the range disclosed.

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