Contingent Liabilities Definition, Types & Example

It is disclosed in the footnotes of the financial statements as they have an enormous impact on the company’s financial conditions. These liabilities become contingent whenever their payment contains a reasonable degree of uncertainty. Only the contingent liabilities that are the most probable can be recognized as a liability on financial statements. Other contingencies are relegated to footnotes present and future value of annuities as long as uncertainty persists. A contingent liability is an existing condition or set of circumstances involving uncertainty regarding possible business loss, according to guidelines from the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). In the Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 5, it says that a firm must distinguish between losses that are probable, reasonably probable or remote.

  • In this scenario, the contingent liability is not recorded or disclosed if the probability of its occurrence is remote.
  • If the contingency is reasonably possible, it could occur but is not probable.
  • The ability to estimate a loss is described as known, reasonably estimable, or not reasonably estimable.
  • It can be recorded only if estimation is possible; otherwise, disclosure is necessary.
  • As a result, it is shown as a footnote in the balance sheet and not recognized in par with other components of financial statements.

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. The extent and nature of the contingent liability can be explained by a footnote. On the other hand, if it is only reasonably possible that the contingent liability will become a real liability, then a note to the financial statements is required.

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To further simplify, the loss due to future events is not likely to happen but not necessarily be considered as unlikely. It could be a situation where the liability is probable, but the amount couldn’t be estimated. It’s common that unpredictable events can happen in business, often creating losses. These potential losses are contingent liabilities that companies need to plan for and report to investors. Learn how to deal with contingent liabilities in a business financial system. Contingent liabilities can pose a threat to the reduction of net profitability and company assets.

  • Such contingency is neither recorded on the financial statements nor disclosed to the investors by the management.
  • When damages have been determined, or have been reasonably estimated, then journalizing would be appropriate.
  • If an outflow is not probable, the item is treated as a contingent liability.
  • 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.
  • If the case is unsuccessful, $5 million in cash is credited (reduced), and the accruing account is debited.

It could also be determined by the potential future, known financial outcome. It does not make any sense to immediately realize a contingent liability – immediate realization signifies the financial obligation has occurred with certainty. 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.

FASB Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 5 requires any obscure, confusing or misleading contingent liabilities to be disclosed until the offending quality is no longer present. Examples of contingent liabilities are the outcome of a lawsuit, a government investigation, and the threat of expropriation. Therefore, it is also important to describe the liability in the footnotes that accompany the financial statements. By nature, contingent liabilities are uncertain and for a business, these are the future expenses or outflows that might occur. By providing for contingent liabilities, it gives an opportunity for businesses to asses and be prepared for the situation. A contingent liability is an amount that you may have an obligation in the future depending on certain events.

SASB Standards

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. 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.

Difference Between Types of Liabilities

The accrual account permits the firm to immediately post an expense without the need for an immediate cash payment. If the lawsuit results in a loss, a debit is applied to the accrued account (deduction) and cash is credited (reduced) by $2 million. An estimated liability is certain to occur—so, an amount is always entered into the accounts even if the precise amount is not known at the time of data entry. Here, contingent liabilities are recognized only when the liability is reasonably possible to estimate and not probable. Here, it becomes necessary to notify it to shareholders and other users of financial statements because the outcome will have an impact on investment related decisions. A lawsuit is a legal proceeding taken by the party claiming to have incurred any damage or loss by the other party.

Examples

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Check for Disclosures in the Footnotes

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. Contingent liabilities are those that are likely to be realized if specific events occur.

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. If the supplier makes the loan payments needed to pay off the loan, the company will have no liability. If the supplier fails to repay the bank, the company will have an actual liability.

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).

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). If the warranties are honored, the company should know how much each screw costs, labor cost required, time commitment, and any overhead costs incurred.

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