Revenue Recognition Step 1: Identify the Contract(s) with a Customer

As noted in our prior blog post, new revenue recognition standards were issued in 2014. The first step of the new revenue recognition standard is to identify the contract(s) with a customer. A contract with a customer must meet all of the following criteria:

1. Has approval and commitment of the parties
2. Rights of the parties are identified
3. Payment terms are identified
4. The contract has commercial substance
5. Collectability of consideration is probable

The contract may be written, verbal or implied by customary business practices. The enforceability of the rights and obligations in a contract are a matter of law and vary across legal jurisdictions, industries and entities. An entity should consider these practices and processes in determining when an agreement with a customer creates enforceable rights and obligations of that entity.

A contract does not exist if each party has the unilateral enforceable right to terminate a wholly unperformed contract without compensation to the other party. A contract is wholly unperformed if both of the following criteria are met:

1. The entity has not yet transferred any promised goods or services to the customer
2. The entity has not yet received, and is not yet entitled to receive, any consideration in exchange for promised goods or services.

If an organization receives consideration from a customer, and a contract with a customer does not meet the criteria to be considered a contract under revenue recognition, the entity should recognize the consideration received as revenue only when either of the following events occur:

1. The organization has no remaining obligations to transfer goods or services to the customer, and all, or substantially all, of the consideration promised by the customer has been received by the entity and is non-refundable.
2. The contract has been terminated and the consideration received from the customer is non-refundable.

If one of the above criteria is not met, the organization should record the consideration received as a liability until a contract exists or one of the above criteria is met.

There is also an option to combine two or more contracts entered into at or near the same time with the same customer, and account for them as one contract if they meet the following criteria:

1. The contracts are negotiated as a package with a single commercial objective.
2. The amount of consideration to be paid in one contract depends on the other price or performance of the other contract.
3. The goods and services promised in the contracts (or a portion of goods and services promised in the contracts) are a single performance obligation.

In addition, in this step entities must also determine whether or not it is probable that the consideration to which it is entitled will be collected. This includes considering the customer’s ability and intention to pay the consideration when it is due. If it is not probable that an organization will collect the consideration, then revenue will not be recognized until payment is collected from the customer.

In our next post, we will cover how to identify the performance obligation in a contract.

Read other articles in our “Revenue Recognition” Series:


Michelle Hatch is a partner in our Non-Profit Services Group. She oversees audit and accounting engagements for non-profit organizations, including independent schools, trade associations, health and human service organizations and art, cultural and membership organizations. Michelle is also a member of the Employee Benefit Assurance Group and oversees audits for 401(k), 403(b) and defined benefit retirement plans.

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