Prepaid Expenses and Other Current Assets on the Balance Sheet

Learn to analyze this key part of a balance sheet

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While reviewing a company's balance sheet, you'll likely notice a current assets section at the top. Within this category, companies have some fairly standard accounts which act as placeholders for assets the company expects to generally either receive or use up within one year.

This includes prepaid expenses, along with other typical current asset accounts such as cash and equivalents, accounts receivable, and inventory.

Prepaid Expenses Accounts

In the course of everyday operating activities, many firms pay for goods or services before they actually receive delivery of them. This includes items like employee labor, which the company records into a prepaid salaries account until it cuts paychecks.

Companies pre-pay many other types of expenses including taxes, utility bills, rents, insurance, and interest expense. These may be pooled together and listed on the balance sheet under one "prepaid expenses" heading, although each prepaid item is typically maintained in its own account within the company's general ledger accounting system.

Prepaid Expense Example

Consider a retail store that moves into your local mall, signs a rental agreement, and pays 12 months of rent in advance. If the monthly rent is $2,000, the store would show the $24,000 payment on its balance sheet under "prepaid expenses. Each month, it would deduct $2,000 from the prepaid expenses, transferring it to a rent expense line on the income statement. By the end of the year, the full $24,000 would show as expenses on the income statement, and there would be $0 left in the prepaid expense asset account shown in the current asset section of the balance sheet.

Prepaid Expenses and Risk

Depending on what a prepayment covers, you might be exposed to a degree of risk if the other party never delivers. If the retail store in the previous example pays a full year's rent, for example, there's a risk that the lease could be terminated before those 12 months are up, and the landlord might keep—or attempt to keep—all of the money.

Unless there is a legal requirement requiring the payment recipient to keep the prepaid funds in an escrow account, the firm or individual could file for bankruptcy and not be in a position to deliver the goods or services for which the purchaser had already paid.

In this situation, it would convert the person or firm making the prepayment into a general creditor who had to get in line with other creditors to wait for a payment distribution during a bankruptcy proceeding.

Other Current Assets on a Balance Sheet

Other current assets consist of assets that are either owed to the company within one year or likely to be used within one year. Aside from prepaid expenses, this includes:

  • Cash and equivalents: This includes the company's cash in bank accounts, received but undeposited checks, savings and money market accounts, and liquid investments such as Treasury bills.
  • Accounts Receivable: This includes payments not yet received from customers for sales made on credit terms.
  • Notes Receivable: These are debts owed to the company, payable within one year. The remaining portion of the note, if longer than one year, resides in the long-term assets section of the balance sheet.
  • Inventories: For non-service companies, this account contains components that haven't yet been converted into products and finished goods that haven't yet been sold to customers.