When to Recognize Revenue

Revenue recognition is one of the most important concepts in accounting. Deciding when to record revenue and expenses can have a huge impact on the financial statements. Incorrectly recording revenue that has not been earned can inflate profits and give potential investors or lenders incorrect information about the company’s future profitability.

Revenue should be recorded when it is earned, essentially when the work is done. For some businesses, this is fairly simple. When I complete a tax return for a client, I have earned revenue. When a retailer sells a product, revenue is earned. It does not matter when payment is received; the work is completed and therefore the revenue should be recorded. Payments do not affect the recognition of revenue.

When deciding how to record transactions involving revenue, there are two important questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Did the company do the work?
  2. Did the company get paid?

The following chart should help guide you through the process of determining if revenue should be recognized.


Notice the first question is regarding the work. This is the most important factor. Once we have determined it work has been done, then we can look at payment information to determine what the debit should be in the entry.

Let’s look at some examples.

K’s Bounce House Adventures rents bounce houses to individuals and corporations for parties. K’s has the following transactions during the month of February. Record the necessary journal entries.

Feb 2 – K’s agrees to provide a bounce house for a corporate function on February 10 for $300. The companies sign a contract stating that payment will be made on the date of the function.

Feb 4 – K’s provides a bounce house for a birthday party and gets paid at the end of the party, $250.

Feb 5 – K’s provides two bounce houses for a town picnic, $700. K’s must bill the town and will receive payment within 30 days.

Feb 7 – K’s signs a contract to provide a bounce house for a birthday party on Feb 20 for $350. The contract requires the customer to pay 50% of the balance today and the rest the day of the party.

Feb 10 – K’s provides the bounce house for the contract signed on Feb 2 and is paid.

Feb 13 – K’s provides a bounce house for a function booked in January. The customer paid the entire amount of the contract, $275, when the function was booked.

Feb 20 – K’s provides the bounce house for the contract signed on Feb 7 and is paid the remaining balance.

Feb 25 – K’s receives the payment from the town event on Feb 5.

For each of the transactions, ask yourself the two questions above. The solutions are listed below with explanations. Try working through the transactions before looking at the solutions. Take notes on the transactions you had trouble identifying. Usually there is a pattern. Find your weaknesses and work on them. Write your own transactions for those types of entries.

Click here for the solutions to the transactions.

Related Videos:

Revenue Recognition

Basic Journal Entries, Part 1

Basic Journal Entries, Part 2

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