Contingent Liability: Definition & Meaning

Often, the longer the span of time it takes for a contingent liability to be settled, the less likely that it will become an actual liability. A warranty is another common contingent liability because the number of products returned under a warranty is unknown. Assume, for example, that a bike manufacturer offers a three-year warranty on bicycle seats, which cost $50 each.

  • Sometimes the breach in copyright infringement can lead to contingent liabilities.
  • As well, there are three primary principles that outline and indicate whether or not a contingent liability is recorded.
  • At first, the contingency liability is expressed in form of an expense in the loss and profit account and then it is mentioned in the balance sheet.
  • Usually, the contingent liability will be outlined and disclosed in a footnote on the financial statement.

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. These liabilities can harm the company’s stock price because contingent liabilities can negatively impact the business’s future profitability.

Effects of Contingent Liabilities

Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., has expanded from a search engine to a global brand with a variety of product and service offerings. Check out Google’s contingent liability considerations in this press release for Alphabet Inc.’s First Quarter 2017 Results to see a financial statement package, including note disclosures. 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. 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. Record a contingent liability when it is probable that the loss will occur, and you can reasonably estimate the amount of the loss.

  • If the estimated loss can only be defined as a range of outcomes, the U.S. approach generally results in recording the low end of the range.
  • Moreover, some liabilities, such as accounts payable or income taxes payable, are essential parts of day-to-day business operations.
  • Considering and accounting for contingent liabilities requires a broad range of information and the ability to practice sound judgment.
  • Contingent liabilities are shown as liabilities on the balance sheet and as expenses on the income statement.

This type of liability only gets recorded if the contingency is a possibility, and also if the total amount of the potential liability is reasonably and accurately estimated. A contingent liability hinges on uncertain future events and is recognized when both likelihood and estimated amount conditions are met. In contrast, an actual liability is a current obligation with a definite amount, necessitating immediate payment.

Under GAAP, a contingent liability is defined as any potential future loss that depends on a “triggering event” to turn into an actual expense. A warranty is considered contingent because the number of products that will be returned under a warranty is unknown. As part of the due diligence process, some potential investors look at a company’s prospectus, which must include all the information on its financial statements. Investors pay particular attention to items that reduce the company’s ability to generate profits, like contingent liabilities. Some events may eventually give rise to a liability, but the timing and amount is not presently sure.

The accounting rules for the treatment of a contingent liability are quite liberal – there is no need to record a liability unless the risk of loss is quite high. Thus, you should review the disclosures accompanying a company’s financial statements to see if there are additional risks that have not yet been recognized. These disclosures should be considered advance warning of amounts that the best personal finance services for 2021 may later appear as formal liabilities in the financial statements. Contingent assets are possible assets whose existence will be confirmed by the occurrence or non-occurrence of uncertain future events that are not wholly within the control of the entity. Contingent assets are not recognised, but they are disclosed when it is more likely than not that an inflow of benefits will occur.

In these cases, the outcome is balanced between likelihood and non-likelihood. While these potential obligations are less certain than probable ones, they still warrant attention and disclosure. Probable contingent liabilities represent situations where there is a significant likelihood of an event occurring, leading to a potential future obligation. These situations are both foreseeable and quantifiable, allowing companies to make informed financial preparations. Contingent assets are assets that are likely to materialize if certain events arise. These assets are only recorded in financial statements’ footnotes as their value cannot be reasonably estimated.

When Do I Need to Be Aware of Contingent Liability?

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) and Warranty Liability on the balance sheet (Figure) for Sierra Sports. 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.

This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors. In addition, liabilities impact the company’s liquidity and, in the case of debt, capital structure. Contingent liability can be assumed—for example, for losses arising from product or service failure—where the insurer has assumed liability by providing a performance warranty. A liability is something owed by someone—it sets up an obligation or a debt.

It is probable that funds will be spent and the amount can likely be estimated. If the estimated loss can only be defined as a range of outcomes, the U.S. approach generally results in recording the low end of the range. International accounting standards focus on recording a liability at the midpoint of the estimated unfavorable outcomes. Contingent liabilities can pose a threat to the reduction of net profitability and company assets.

Within the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) there are three main categories of contingent liabilities. Usually, the contingent liability will be outlined and disclosed in a footnote on the financial statement. It would not be disclosed in a footnote, however, if both conditions are not met. For a contingent liability to become relevant, it depends on its timing, its value can be estimated or is known, and whether or not it will become an actual liability. Both these examples underscore the intricate nature of contingent liabilities and how they guide financial decisions, ensuring transparency and accuracy in a company’s financial reporting. Estimation of contingent liabilities is another vague application of accounting standards.

Contingent Liability Accounting

In the example of ACE Ltd, the present obligation is the legal claim brought against it by a customer. And the past event is the company delivering the defective product and turning down the claim of the customer. Let’s understand why it is important for a business to provide for contingent liabilities with an example. If some amount within the range of loss appears at the time to be a better estimate than any other amount within the range, that amount shall be accrued. When no amount within the range is a better estimate than any other amount, however, the minimum amount in the range should be accrued.

A warranty can also be considered a contingent liability, since there is uncertainty about the exact number of units that will be returned by customers for repair or replacement. Considering and accounting for contingent liabilities requires a broad range of information and the ability to practice sound judgment. They can be a tricky endeavor for both management and investors to navigate since the likelihood of them occurring isn’t guaranteed.

Difference Between Types of Liabilities

However, poor management of liabilities may result in significant negative consequences, such as a decline in financial performance or, in a worst-case scenario, bankruptcy. In our case, we make assumptions about Sierra Sports and build our discussion on the estimated experiences. Warranties arise from products or services sold to customers that cover certain defects (see (Figure)).

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. Imagine a business being sued for copyright infringement by a rival business. The business projects a $5 million loss if the firm loses the case, but the legal department of the business believes the rival firm has a strong case. The most common example of a remote contingency would be a frivolous lawsuit. If the lawyer and the company decide that the lawsuit is frivolous, there won’t be any need to provide a disclosure to the public. However, if there is more than a 50% chance of winning the case, according to the prudence principle, no benefits would be recorded on the books of accounts.

These obligations have not occurred yet but there is a possibility of them occurring in the future. 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.

Lawsuits, especially with huge companies, can be an enormous liability and significantly impact the bottom line. Companies that underestimate the impact of legal fees or fines will be non-compliant with GAAP. We have another Q&A that discusses the recording of contingent liabilities. Here, “Reasonably possible” means that the chance for occurrence of an event is more than remote but less than likely. It will help students develop an understanding of the concept of contingent liabilities. Provisions are a sum of money that is set aside in order to cover a probable expense that will happen in future.

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