What Is a Contingent Liability? Commercial Contract Articles


Real liabilities will likely require payment, while contingent liabilities may or may not, depending on future events. Understanding this distinction is important for proper accounting treatment and financial reporting. Contingent liabilities are disclosed in the financial statement footnotes. They are not recorded as liabilities on the balance sheet unless the payment becomes probable and can be reasonably estimated.

Understanding contingent liabilities is crucial for accurate financial reporting and risk management. A contingent liability is a potential obligation that may arise from an event that has not yet occurred. Instead, only disclose the existence of the contingent liability, unless the possibility of payment is remote. There are three possible scenarios for contingent liabilities, all of which involve different accounting transactions. They are dependent upon a certain future event or outcome, which is uncertain at the present time.

Any liabilities arising in such a situation is known as a contingent liability. Although contingent liabilities are necessarily estimates, they only exist where it is probable that some amount of payment will be made. This is why they need to be reported via accounting procedures, and why they are regarded as “real” liabilities. Contingent liabilities are also important for potential lenders to a company, who will take these liabilities into account when deciding on their lending terms.

  • 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.
  • If the liability is probable (more likely than not) but it cannot be measured or estimated with any reliability then such liability has to be recorded as a contingent liability.
  • This shows us that the probability of occurrence of such an event is less than that of a possible contingency.
  • If the case is unsuccessful, $5 million in cash is credited (reduced), and the accruing account is debited.
  • As a business owner, you should work out a range of possible liability issues which may arise from a contract.

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. Contingent liabilities are recorded if the contingency is likely and the amount of the liability can be operating expenses: definition and example reasonably estimated. The liability may be disclosed in a footnote on the financial statements unless both conditions are not met. A contingent liability is a potential financial obligation that may arise depending on uncertain future events outside the company’s control.

IAS 12 — Accounting for uncertainties in income taxes

If the liability is likely to occur and the amount can be reasonably estimated, the liability should be recorded in the accounting records of a firm. Contingent liability refers to those liabilities that can incur as an entity and depends on the outcomes of the pending lawsuit. 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.

  • Now let us see the differences between provisions and contingent liabilities.
  • Internal financial statement users may need to know about the contingent liability to make strategic decisions about the direction of the company in the future.
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The business is exempt from disclosing the possible liability if it considers that the risk of it happening is remote. Contingent liabilities are classified into three types by the US GAAP based on the probability of their occurrence. This principle plays an important role in ensuring reduced information asymmetry between the shareholders and the management. This ensures that income or assets are not overstated, and expenses or liabilities are not understated. Austin has been working with Ernst & Young for over four years, starting as a senior consultant before being promoted to a manager.


Investors pay particular attention to items that reduce the company’s ability to generate profits, like contingent liabilities. Insurance can be an excellent shield against the financial risks of contingent liabilities. By transferring risk to an insurance company, firms can manage their potential losses. The cost of insurance premiums is often far less than the possible financial impact of the unrestrained liability. Under the GAAP, a business should record a contingent liability in its financial records when the liability is likely and able to be estimated. Conversely, under IFRS, these are recognized when an outflow of resources embodying economic benefits has become probable.

What are some examples of contingent liabilities?

It is good practice to record contingent liabilities in your financial statements. As a business owner, you should work out a range of possible liability issues which may arise from a contract. You can estimate how much you may need to settle a present obligation by finding a quote for how much an entity would rationally pay.

Effects of Contingent Liabilities

IFRS Accounting Standards are, in effect, a global accounting language—companies in more than 140 jurisdictions are required to use them when reporting on their financial health. 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.

Here, the company should rely on precedent and legal counsel to ascertain the likelihood of damages. Although it is not realized in the books of accounts, a contingent liability is credited to the accrued liabilities account in the journal. Possible contingency is not recorded in the books of accounts because it is very difficult to articulate the liability in monetary terms due to its limited occurrence.

Regulations for Reporting Contingent Liabilities

Contingent liabilities that are likely to occur but cannot be estimated should be included in a financial statement’s footnotes. Remote (not likely) contingent liabilities are not to be included in any financial statement. Two classic examples of contingent liabilities include a company warranty and a lawsuit against the company. Both represent possible losses to the company, and both depend on some uncertain future event.