Contingent Liability: What Is It, and What Are Some Examples?

Pending lawsuits and product warranties are common contingent liability examples because their outcomes are uncertain. The accounting rules for reporting a contingent liability differ depending on the estimated dollar amount of the liability and the likelihood of the event occurring. The accounting rules ensure that financial statement readers receive sufficient information. Contingent liabilities are recorded if the contingency is likely and the amount of the liability can be reasonably estimated. The liability may be disclosed in a footnote on the financial statements unless both conditions are not met. The key principle established by the Standard is that a provision should be recognised only when there is a liability i.e. a present obligation resulting from past events.

This liability is not required to be recorded in the books of accounts, but a disclosure might be preferred. If the negative outcome is reasonably probably but the liability can’t be estimated, it should be disclosed in the financial statement footnotes. If the negative lawsuit outcome is probable and the liability can be estimated, it must be recorded as a liability on the balance sheet. We just know that if the company loses the suit to its customers, it will owe $10M in damages. This potential obligation is considered a contingent liability because it depends on the outcome of the lawsuit.

  • As this concept hovers around ambiguity and uncertainty about the amount of money one should set aside for the expense, here are two questions one must ask before accounting for any potential unforeseen obligation.
  • The outcome of the pending obligation is known and the value can be reasonably estimated.
  • 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).
  • There are a few different rules when a contingent liability is reported as a liability on the balance sheet, disclosed in the footnotes, or simply ignored.

In accounting, contingent liabilities are liabilities that may be incurred by an entity depending on the outcome of an uncertain future event[1] such as the outcome of a pending lawsuit. These liabilities are not recorded in a company’s accounts and shown in the balance sheet when both probable and reasonably estimable as ‘contingency’ what is the difference between cost and price or ‘worst case’ financial outcome. A footnote to the balance sheet may describe the nature and extent of the contingent liabilities. The likelihood of loss is described as probable, reasonably possible, or remote. The ability to estimate a loss is described as known, reasonably estimable, or not reasonably estimable.

What Is the Journal Entry for Contingent Liabilities?

In the event of an audit, the company must be able to explain and defend its contingent accounting decisions. Banks that issue standby letters of credit or similar obligations carry contingent liabilities. All creditors, not just banks, carry contingent liabilities equal to the amount of receivables on their books. If a company is sued by a former employee for $500,000 for age discrimination, the company has a contingent liability.

  • A provision is a liability which can only be measured using a significant degree of estimation.
  • This does not meet the likelihood requirement, and the possibility of actualization is minimal.
  • There is only one scenario where a provision will not be recorded in the books of accounts.
  • The breach is usually a failure in the contract or not up to the mark performance by the party.

Supposing the company is coming up with a new product to launch in the market and the product is still in the development stage. The company may need to consult with suppliers and other designers outside the company and this may require a legal contract before the business is done. The company needs to come up with an amount that reflects an approximate value of damage if done. Now let us see the differences between provisions and contingent liabilities. When determining if the contingent liability should be recognized, there are four potential treatments to consider. On the Radar briefly summarizes emerging issues and trends related to the accounting and financial reporting topics addressed in our Roadmaps.

Using Knowledge of a Contingent Liability in Investing

While this is true for all facets of your business, it’s crucial when starting a new contract. In order to safeguard your company’s finances and reputation, you must take both existing and potential obligations into consideration when you engage into a contract. Contingent liabilities are liabilities that may occur if a future event happens. Working through the vagaries of contingent accounting is sometimes challenging and inexact. Company management should consult experts or research prior accounting cases before making determinations.

What is a Contingent Liability?

The damages that need to be compensated by the party if and when there is a breach in the contract. The breach is usually a failure in the contract or not up to the mark performance by the party. Let’s say that the manufacturer has estimated that out of all the mobile phones produced, about 2,000 mobiles would be called back due to fault reasons.

The International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and GAAP outline certain requirements for companies to record all of their contingent liabilities. This is because of their connection with three discount accounting principles. Contingent liabilities should be analyzed with a serious and skeptical eye, since, depending on the specific situation, they can sometimes cost a company several millions of dollars. Sometimes contingent liabilities can arise suddenly and be completely unforeseen. The $4.3 billion liability for Volkswagen related to its 2015 emissions scandal is one such contingent liability example. The accounting of contingent liabilities is a very subjective topic and requires sound professional judgment.

ICAS report on IAS 37 and decommissioning liabilities

Contingent liabilities are those liabilities that tend to occur in the future depending on an outcome. It may or may not be disclosed in a footnote unless it meets both conditions. Some of the common contingent liabilities examples are product warranties, pending investigations, and potential lawsuits.

Business leaders should also be aware of contingent liabilities, because they should be considered when making strategic decisions about a company’s future. In simple words, contingent liabilities are those obligations that will arise in future due to certain events that took place in the past or will be taking place in future. Therefore, it is also important to describe the liability in the footnotes that accompany the financial statements.

Other examples include guarantees on debts, liquidated damages, outstanding lawsuits, and government probes. Contingent liabilities do not get recorded in the financial statements of a company. These are obligations that are yet to occur, but there is a probability that it may occur in future. If the contingent liability is considered remote, it is unlikely to occur and may or may not be estimable. This does not meet the likelihood requirement, and the possibility of actualization is minimal.

Since this condition does not meet the requirement of likelihood, it should not be journalized or financially represented within the financial statements. Rather, it is disclosed in the notes only with any available details, financial or otherwise. Even if the outcome is based on the probability of occurrence of the event, it is considered an actual liability.

An entity may choose how to classify business interruption insurance recoveries in the statement of operations, as long as that classification is not contrary to existing generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). And the accountant, management, auditors, etc must make a decision based on the information they have whether it is still a contingent liability or if it is now a provision or even a liability. This means there is uncertainty about recording such a liability in the financial accounts.


The determination of whether a contingency is probable is based on the judgment of auditors and management in both situations. This means a contingent situation such as a lawsuit might be accrued under IFRS but not accrued under US GAAP. Finally, how a loss contingency is measured varies between the two options as well. Under US GAAP, the low end of the range would be accrued, and the range disclosed. If the contingency is reasonably possible, it could occur but is not probable.

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