Excerpts: SEC Staff Accounting Bulletin: No. 101 – Revenue Recognition in Financial Statements

  • This staff accounting bulletin summarizes certain of the staff’s views in applying generally accepted accounting principles to revenue recognition in financial statements. The staff is providing this guidance due, in part, to the large number of revenue recognition issues that registrants encounter.
  • For example, a March 1999 report entitled Fraudulent Financial Reporting: 1987-1997 An Analysis of U. S. Public Companies, sponsored by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations (COSO) of the Treadway Commission, indicated that over half of financial reporting frauds in the study involved overstating revenue.
  • Based on these guidelines, revenue should not be recognized until it is realized or realizable and earned.
  • SFAC No. 5, paragraph 83(b) states that “an entity’s revenue-earning activities involve delivering or producing goods, rendering services, or other activities that constitute its ongoing major or central operations, and revenues are considered to have been earned when the entity has substantially accomplished what it must do to be entitled to the benefits represented by the revenues” [footnote reference omitted].
  • Paragraph 84(a) continues “the two conditions (being realized or realizable and being earned) are usually met by the time product or merchandise is delivered or services are rendered to customers, and revenues from manufacturing and selling activities and gains and losses from sales of other assets are commonly recognized at time of sale (usually meaning delivery)” [footnote reference omitted]. In addition, paragraph 84(d) states that “If services are rendered or rights to use assets extend continuously over time (for example, interest or rent), reliable measures based on contractual prices established in advance are commonly available, and revenues may be recognized as earned as time passes.”
  • Question: When should the revenue relating to nonrefundable, up-front fees in these types of arrangements be recognized?
  • Interpretive Response: The staff believes that registrants should consider the specific facts and circumstances to determine the appropriate accounting for nonrefundable, up-front fees. Unless the up-front fee is in exchange for products delivered or services performed that represent the culmination of a separate earnings process, the deferral of revenue is appropriate.

Source: SEC