Contingent Liability Definition, Example and FAQs

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 can help encourage clarity between the company’s shareholders and investors and reduce any potential con activities. An example of this principle is when a $ 100 invoice to a company with net assets of $ 5 billion would be immaterial, but a $ 50 million invoice to the same company would be materialistic.

At first, the contingency liability is expressed in form of an expense in the loss and profit account and then it is mentioned in the balance sheet. Others interested in their work can take a license to produce or publish their work. Sometimes the breach in copyright infringement can lead to contingent liabilities. 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.

What Is the Journal Entry for Contingent Liabilities?

Likewise, a note is required when it is probable a loss has occurred but the amount simply cannot be estimated. Normally, accounting tends to be very conservative (when in doubt, book the liability), but this is not the case for contingent liabilities. Therefore, one should carefully read the notes to the financial statements before investing or loaning money to a company.

Or it can also be said as the guarantee performed by certain companies as a result of the contract. Contingencies may be positive as well as negative, but accounting practices only consider negative outcomes. Contingent liability is coverage for losses to a third party for which the insured is vicariously liable.

IAS 37 — Provisions, Contingent Liabilities and Contingent Assets

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. A contingent liability can be very challenging to articulate in monetary terms. As it depends on the probability of the occurrence of that specific circumstance, that probability can vary according to one’s judgment.

Four Potential Treatments for Contingent Liabilities

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’ 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.


Contingent assets are not recognised, but they are disclosed when it is more likely than not that an inflow of benefits will occur. However, when the inflow of benefits is virtually certain an asset is recognised in the statement of financial position, because that asset is no longer considered to be contingent. “Reasonably possible” means that the chance of the event occurring is more than remote but less than likely. The accounting rules for the treatment of a contingent liability are quite liberal – there is no need to record a liability unless the risk of loss is quite high. Thus, you should review the disclosures accompanying a company’s financial statements to see if there are additional risks that have not yet been recognized.

These obligations result from previous transactions or occurrences, and they are contingent on future events and indeterminate in nature. 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.

As the name suggests, if there are very slight chances of the liability occurring, the US GAAP considers calling it a remote contingency. The full disclosure principle states that all necessary information that poses an impact on the financial strength of the company must be registered in the public filings. A great example of the application of prudence would be recognizing anticipated bad debts.

These liabilities get recorded in the financial statements of a company if the contingency is likely to happen and the amount can be reasonably estimated. Sometimes, the contingent liability is recorded in the footnote of a financial statement. This financial recognition and disclosure are recognized in the current financial statements. what are accrued liabilities accrued expenses examples and more The income statement and balance sheet are typically impacted by contingent liabilities. If a contingent liability is deemed probable, it must be directly reported in the financial statements. Nevertheless, generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, only require contingencies to be recorded as unspecified expenses.

Check for Disclosures in the Footnotes

First, the company must decide if the contingent liability should be recognized with an accounting transaction created and included in its reports. This process looks at the probability of the occurrence and whether the cost of the occurrence can be estimated. There are sometimes significant risks that are simply not in the liability section of the balance sheet. Most recognized contingencies are those meeting the rather strict criteria of “probable” and “reasonably estimable.” One exception occurs for contingencies assumed in a business acquisition. An example might be a hazardous waste spill that will require a large outlay to clean up.

The new product the company is launching may still be kept discreet as the breach in secrecy may result in huge losses for the company. So if there is a breach of indiscretion, the other party, i.e., a supplier or designer hired may have to pay the liquidated damages. Accounting and reporting of contingent liabilities are regulated for public companies. Companies may also need to report them on private offerings of securities, too. Say an employer pays an employee “off the books” in cash and doesn’t report the income or the taxes, or pay the unemployment insurance for this employee. If the employee is laid off and tries to file an unemployment claim, the case may come before a state unemployment board.

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