Accrued expenses are money that your business owes but hasn’t paid yet. These could be bills or wages that you need to pay in the future. 

They are important for understanding your business’s real financial situation, even if the cash hasn’t moved yet. 

This guide helps you recognize and manage these expenses simply and clearly through practical examples. 

This is also related to our articles on understanding prepaid expense, how to do bank reconciliations, and understanding journal entries in accounting.

various business activities related to finance and accountingHere’s what we’ll cover:

  • An in-depth look at accrued expenses
  • The principles of accrual accounting
  • Distinguishing accrued from prepaid expenses
  • Real-world examples
  • Recording accrued expenses
  • Managing and reversing accrued expenses
  • The impact on financial analysis
  • Navigating challenges

Let’s dive in and demystify accrued expenses together.

Understanding Accrued Expenses

When you’re running a business, keeping track of money moving in and out is more than just looking at what hits or leaves your bank account. Here’s where accrued expenses come into play. 

Simply put, these are bills you’ve racked up but haven’t paid yet. Think of it as putting something on a tab that you’ll settle later.

Accrued expenses are your business’s version of an “IOU.” Whether it’s the electricity you used this month, the salary for your hard-working team that’s due next week, or the interest on a loan that’s accumulating, these are all expenses that you owe.

Principle Behind Accrued Expenses

The main idea here is timing. In accounting, when you incur an expense matters just as much as when you pay it. 

Recognizing income and expenses when earned or incurred is accrual basis accounting. 

Recognizing income and expenses when the money enters or leaves the bank account is cash basis accounting. 

We only deal with accrued expenses when we’re preparing the financial statements on an accrual basis. 

Difference Between Accrued and Prepaid Expenses

Here’s where things get a bit more detailed, but stick with me. 

While accrued expenses are what you owe but haven’t paid, prepaid expenses are the opposite. 

Prepaid expenses are payments you make upfront for something you’ll receive or use over time. 

An example could be paying for a year’s worth of insurance in one go. You’ve paid already, but you’ll be using the service throughout the year.

In essence, accrued expenses look forward to what you need to pay, while prepaid expenses look back at what you’ve already paid for but haven’t fully used up. 

Examples of Accrued Expenses

Let’s dive into some everyday scenarios you might face that involve accrued expenses. 

Wages and Salaries

Imagine it’s the end of September, but you won’t process your team’s paychecks until October 5th. Even though the money hasn’t left your account yet, you still owe these wages for September’s work. 

To keep things straight, you record this as an accrued expense at the end of September. This way, your financials show that you’ve incurred the expense of wages in September, matching the work done in that period.

Debit: Wages and Salaries Expense (Expense Account) – This increases your expense for September, reflecting the cost of labor performed during the month.

Credit: Accrued Wages Payable (Liability Account) – This increases your liabilities, showing you owe this amount in wages to be paid on October 5th.

Utility Bills

Next up, let’s talk about your electric bill. You used the electricity all through October, but the bill doesn’t arrive until November, and that’s when you’ll pay it. 

Since the electricity was used in October, you should record an accrued expense for it in October’s books. This means even before the bill arrives, you acknowledge that you owe money for the utilities consumed.

Debit: Utilities Expense (Expense Account) – This increases your expense for October, reflecting the cost of electricity used during the month.

Credit: Accrued Utilities Payable (Liability Account) – This increases your liabilities, showing you owe money for the electricity used in October to be paid when the bill arrives in November.

Interest Expense on Loans

Say you took out a business loan, and interest accumulates over time, but you only make payments quarterly. Even though you’re not paying the interest monthly, it’s still accruing each month. 

You should record a portion of the interest as an accrued expense each month. This practice ensures your financial reports accurately reflect the interest you owe as it builds up, keeping no surprises for the future.

Debit: Interest Expense (Expense Account) – This increases your monthly expense, reflecting the cost of the interest that accumulates on your loan each month.

Credit: Accrued Interest Payable (Liability Account) – This increases your liabilities, indicating the amount of interest owed that has not yet been paid.

Services Received but Not Yet Billed

Lastly, imagine you hire a contractor in late October, but their invoice won’t land in your inbox until November. The service was provided in October, so you need to recognize this expense in October’s accounting, even without the invoice. 

This is another accrued expense, acknowledging that you’ve received a service and owe money for it, ensuring your financial records are complete and correct for the period the service was received.

Debit: Service Expense (Expense Account) – This increases your expense for October, showing the cost of the contractor’s services received during the month.

Credit: Accrued Expenses Payable (Liability Account) – This increases your liabilities, indicating you owe money for the services provided by the contractor in October, to be paid once the invoice is received in November.

Recording Accrued Expenses

Recording accrued expenses is actually a straightforward process once you know the steps. Let’s break it down to make your accounting easier to manage.

  • Identify the Expense: First up, figure out what expenses you’ve incurred but haven’t paid yet. This could be anything from wages to utility bills.
  • Record the Expense: For each accrued expense, make an entry in your accounting ledger. This entry should include the date the expense was incurred, a brief description, and the amount owed. An expense account will be debited and the accrued expense account will be credited. 

Adjusting Entries

How to Reverse: Once you pay an accrued expense, you’ll need to reverse the entry in your accounting ledger. This means recording a payment that offsets the initial accrued expense entry.

Why Reverse: Reversing an accrued expense removes it from your liabilities, showing it’s no longer an amount you owe. This keeps your books accurate and reflects your actual financial position.

Using the above example, let’s say all your bills get paid in the next month. For each of these entries, you would reverse the accrual (since the expense is paid and no longer owed). 

When the utility bill gets paid, you would reverse your original entry. Which means:

  • Credit (decrease) Utilities Expense
  • Debit (decrease) Accrued Expense

Then the actual payment goes directly to Utilities Expense, essentially zeroing out the expense for the month (because the expense was already recorded last month). 

Now there is nothing else owed to utilities in your accrued expense register.

Accrued Expenses and Financial Statements

Income Statement: Accrued expenses will show up as expenses on your income statement, reducing your net income. This gives you a true reflection of your earnings after accounting for all costs, even those not yet paid.

Balance Sheet: On the balance sheet, accrued expenses increase your liabilities since they are obligations you need to pay in the future..

Accrued Expenses and Financial Analysis

Accrued expenses can tell you a lot about where your business stands financially and where it’s headed. Here’s a breakdown of their impact and why they matter for your financial planning.

  • Profitability Clarity: Accrued expenses give you a clearer picture of your profitability by showing expenses that haven’t hit your bank yet. This helps you understand your real financial position.
  • Expense Management: Knowing your accrued expenses helps you manage your outgoing cash more effectively, ensuring you’re not caught off guard by upcoming payments.
  • Liabilities Insight: They add to your liabilities on the balance sheet until they’re paid off, affecting how much your business is worth on paper.

Accrued Expenses for Forecasting and Analysis

  • Budgeting: Understanding your accrued expenses is vital for accurate budgeting. It helps you anticipate future cash needs and plan for them.
  • Trend Spotting: By tracking these expenses over time, you can spot trends in your spending and identify areas where you might save money.
  • Forecast Accuracy: Including accrued expenses in your financial forecasts makes your predictions more accurate, giving you a better foundation for making business decisions.

Challenges with Accrued Expenses

Recognizing and recording these expenses accurately can be tricky, but getting a handle on it is key to keeping your finances in line. Let’s explore some common challenges and how to overcome them.

  • Forgetting to Record: It’s easy to overlook an expense that hasn’t yet been billed or paid. This oversight can lead to inaccurate financial reports.
  • Misclassification: Sometimes, expenses might be incorrectly classified. For instance, an accrued expense could mistakenly be recorded as a prepaid expense.
  • Timing Issues: Getting the timing right is crucial. An expense must be recorded in the period it’s incurred, not necessarily when it’s paid. Mistiming can distort your financial picture.

Consequences of Mismanagement

  • Cash Flow Problems: If you’re not keeping track of what you owe, you might think you have more cash available than you actually do, leading to overspending.
  • Tax Implications: Inaccurate expense recording can mess up your tax filings, potentially leading to fines or audits.
  • Inaccurate Financial Statements: This can mislead stakeholders about the company’s financial health and lead to poor decision-making.

Best Practices for Accrued Expenses

  • Regular Reviews: Make it a habit to regularly review and update your accrued expenses. This helps catch any that might have been missed or recorded incorrectly.
  • Use Reliable Software: Accounting software can automate much of the process, reducing the chance of human error and ensuring expenses are recorded and classified correctly.
  • Document Everything: Keep detailed records of all transactions, including the date, amount, and nature of each expense. This documentation will be invaluable for accurate record-keeping and any future audits.


We’ve covered the ins and outs of accrued expenses, from what they are to how they impact your business’s financial health and reporting. Understanding and managing these expenses is crucial for maintaining accurate financial records and ensuring your business runs smoothly.

  • Accrued Expenses: These are the expenses your business has incurred but hasn’t paid yet. They play a vital role in giving you a clear picture of your financial situation.
  • Recording and Managing: Keeping track of these expenses requires diligence and a good system whether it’s software or a set of practices to make sure everything is accounted for correctly.
  • Impact on Financial Analysis: Accrued expenses affect how you assess your business’s financial health and plan for the future. They’re important for budgeting, forecasting, and making informed decisions.
  • Challenges: It’s easy to slip up by forgetting to record an expense or misclassifying it. The consequences can be serious, from cash flow issues to problems with tax authorities.
  • Best Practices: Stay on top of your accrued expenses with regular reviews, reliable accounting software, and by keeping your team well-informed about proper accounting practices.

Accurate expense recognition is key to trustworthy financial reporting, helping you make better decisions for the future of your business. 

Let’s keep those books in order and your business on the path to success.

Next, check out our articles on 21 best tax software, apps & tools in 2023, how to hire a virtual bookkeeper, and understanding owner’s equity.

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FAQ: Accrued expense examples

Here's some answers to commonly asked questions about accrued expense examples

What are accrued expenses?

Accrued expenses are basically the bills you’ve racked up during a specific period but haven’t paid off yet. For instance, if your employees worked in June, but you pay them in July, their wages for June are an accrued expense. It’s like acknowledging you owe for services or goods you’ve already received or used.


How do I reverse an accrued expense?

Identify the Accrued Expense: Look at your records to find the accrued expense entry. This could be anything from wages, utility bills, interest on loans, to contractor services.

Make the Reversal Entry: When you pay the expense, you’ll need to adjust your accounts:

  • Debit the relevant accrued liability account (e.g., Accrued Wages Payable, Accrued Utilities Payable) to decrease it.
  • Credit your Cash or Bank account to reflect the outflow of cash.

This effectively reverses the original accrual, updating your ledger to show that the expense has been paid and the liability no longer exists.

How can I manage accrued expenses effectively?

  • Keep detailed records: Note every expense as it occurs, including the date and amount.
  • Regularly review your accounts: Check your accrued expenses regularly to ensure they’re up-to-date.
  • Use accounting software: Many software options can help track and manage your expenses, reducing the chance for error.
  • Educate your team: Make sure anyone involved in your accounting process understands how to recognize and record accrued expenses.
  • Reverse expenses when paid: Once an accrued expense is paid, make sure to reverse the entry to keep your books accurate.