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What is a prepayment?

Understanding prepayments is important for financial analysis, as it helps you gain a better understanding of your business’s financial health. But what is a prepayment? Here’s more information on the meaning of prepayments and how to include prepayments in the balance sheet.

Prepayments explained

Prepayment is a term used in accounting that refers to the settlement of debts or instalment loans before they are officially due. Put simply, any time you pay a bill, operating expense, or non-operating expense before it’s due, you’re looking at a prepayment. There are a vast range of debts and obligations that businesses may choose to settle in advance, such as wages, rent, or revolving lines of credit.

Why are prepayments important?

Prepayments help you to understand how much profit your business is making in any given month. For example, if you make a payment that covers several months, but you record it as a lump sum in the month when you made payment, it will affect your profit margins for that month. By spreading the cost of payment over several months, you’ll gain a more accurate picture of how your business is performing, which will have an effect on the efficacy of your business’s financial model.

Prepayment example

To understand prepayments in a little more depth, it helps to see how it works in the real world. Rent is an especially good prepayment example. If the accounting year ends on 30th April, but you pay six months’ rent in advance on 10th April, covering April, May, June, July, August, and September, you’ll need to split the bill into two parts.

The first part will cover April, as that falls under the current financial year. The second part covers the remaining months. Whereas the first part of the bill ends up in your profit and loss account (as it’s an expense belonging to the current year), the second part goes on your balance sheet as a prepayment, because it belongs to the next financial year.

What is a prepayment penalty?

If you’ve borrowed money from the bank, you can be penalised for paying a debt back too quickly. This is referred to as a prepayment penalty. While penalising individuals or corporations for paying money back too quickly may seem counterproductive, they have a good reason for doing it. Essentially, it’s so that banks can extract a minimum amount of interest from the borrower. If you were to pay back the entire cost of the debt early into the repayment schedule, then banks would lose money. In the case of prepayment, sometimes banks will charge a specific portion of the total amount as interest.

How do you record a prepayment in the balance sheet?

Recording a prepayment in the balance sheet is relatively straightforward, although it’s best to entrust this task to an accounting professional. Here’s a simple guide for how to record prepayments:

  1. First off, you need to record the original transaction. So, when you receive the invoice or make the payment, it should be recorded as you would normally do so.

  2. Then, you need to reverse the effect of the purchase invoice in your accounting journals. This moves the value of the transaction from the profit and loss account to the prepayments balance sheet.

  3. Finally, once you’ve received the goods/service, you’ll need to move the monthly values back from the prepayments balance sheet to the profit and loss account.

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GoCardless Ltd., Sutton Yard, 65 Goswell Road, London, EC1V 7EN, United Kingdom

GoCardless (company registration number 07495895) is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority under the Payment Services Regulations 2017, registration number 597190, for the provision of payment services. GoCardless SAS (23-25 Avenue Mac-Mahon, Paris, 75017, France), an affiliate of GoCardless Ltd (company registration number 834 422 180, R.C.S. PARIS), is authorised by the ACPR (French Prudential Supervision and Resolution Authority), Bank Code (CIB) 17118, for the provision of payment services.