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Accrual vs. Provision: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 7, 2023
Accrual refers to the recording of revenues and expenses when they are incurred, while provision is a specific amount set aside for a probable future expense.

Key Differences

Accrual accounting recognizes economic events regardless of when cash transactions occur, emphasizing the matching of revenues with expenses at the time when transactions occur, not when payment is made or received. Provision, however, is an accounting principle that dictates setting aside an amount for a foreseeable liability or reduction in the value of an asset, even if the exact amount or timing is uncertain.
In accrual accounting, income is recorded when earned, and expenses are reported when incurred, not necessarily when cash is exchanged. This method gives a more accurate picture of a company's financial health. A provision is more conservative; it's an estimated amount, acknowledging that something will likely need to be paid in the future, such as warranties or bad debts.
The use of accruals ensures that financial statements reflect all relevant information about revenues and expenses. Provisions, on the other hand, are a way to anticipate potential future costs and represent liabilities that are uncertain in timing or amount.
Accruals can represent both assets and liabilities; they can include accounts receivable, accounts payable, accrued rent, or salaries. Provisions are strictly related to liabilities and are not associated with receivables. They are recorded in a separate account and often reviewed to assess their adequacy over time.
The process of accrual is driven by the recognition principle, while the creation of a provision is driven by the prudence principle. Accruals do not necessarily represent cash outflows or inflows until the underlying event occurs, whereas provisions are set aside for expected outflows, affecting the company's financial reserves.

Comparison Chart


Recording of income and expenses when they are earned or incurred, regardless of when cash is exchanged.
Setting aside funds for a future liability or reduction in asset value, whose timing or amount is uncertain.

Financial Statement Impact

Affects both the income statement and the balance sheet.
Primarily affects the balance sheet, creating or adjusting liabilities.


Recognition principle, matching revenues with expenses.
Prudence principle, anticipating future expenses.

Cash Flow

No immediate impact on cash flow.
May decrease current cash flow to cover future liabilities.


Can represent both assets and liabilities.
Represents only liabilities.

Accrual and Provision Definitions


The process by which businesses record transactions in the periods they occur.
Year-end accruals are necessary for accurate financial reporting.


Supplies of food, drink, or equipment, especially for a journey.
They stocked up on provisions before the long hike.


Recognition of revenue or expenses that have been incurred but not yet paid.
The accrual of interest will be added to the loan balance.


The act of providing or preparing for a future need, especially in financial contexts.
They made a provision in the budget for potential equipment repairs.


Accumulation or increase of something over time, especially benefits or debts.
Her vacation time accrual stopped during her unpaid leave.


A financial term for setting aside money to cover a future liability.
The company made a provision for doubtful debts.


An accrued expense or income that is recognized in the books before it is paid or received.
Accrual for the project's costs began as soon as the work was performed.


A clause in a legal document that stipulates a particular requirement or condition.
The contract had a provision that allowed early termination.


The accounting method that records revenues and expenses when they are earned, regardless of when the money is received or paid.
The accrual method showed a higher profit margin than cash-based accounting.


Anticipating possible future scenarios and preparing accordingly in accounting or planning.
Financial provisions ensure the company can handle unforeseen expenses.


The act or process of accumulating; an increase.


The act of providing or supplying something
The provision of health care.
The provision of rations.


Something that accumulates or increases.


An increase; something that accumulates, especially an amount of money that periodically accumulates for a specific purpose


(accounting) from the creditor's viewpoint, a charge incurred in one accounting period that has not been, but is to be, paid by the end of it.




The act of accumulating


When is accrual accounting required?

Generally, for publicly traded companies and when preparing financial statements according to GAAP.

What is an accrual in accounting?

It's the recording of revenue or expenses when they occur, not when cash is exchanged.

What does provision mean in financial terms?

A provision is money set aside to cover a future liability.

How does accrual impact financial statements?

It affects both the income statement and balance sheet by recognizing revenues and expenses in the period they occur.

What types of transactions are recorded on an accrual basis?

Revenues earned and expenses incurred, regardless of cash transactions.

How often are provisions reviewed?

Typically, they are reviewed each reporting period or when significant events occur.

Do all companies use accrual accounting?

No, small businesses may use cash-based accounting, but larger companies often use accrual accounting.

Is a provision a type of accrual?

While related, a provision is not an accrual but rather a liability for anticipated expenses.

What's the difference between a provision and a reserve?

Provisions are for known liabilities, while reserves are for general future uncertainties.

What's an example of a provision in a contract?

A clause stating that a tenant must give 30 days' notice before vacating.

Are provisions recorded as expenses?

They are recorded as liabilities but reflect future expenses.

Can provisions change over time?

Yes, they can be adjusted as more information becomes available.

Does accrual accounting comply with GAAP?

Yes, it is the preferred method under GAAP.

What happens if a provision is too high or too low?

It must be adjusted in future accounting periods to reflect better estimates.

Can provisions affect a company's profit?

Yes, by recognizing anticipated expenses, provisions can reduce reported profit.

Are accruals considered actual cash flow?

No, they represent transactions not necessarily related to immediate cash flow.

Does accrual accounting affect a company's taxes?

It can affect the timing of tax liabilities.

Is accrual basis better than cash basis?

It provides a more accurate financial picture but is more complex.

Can individuals use accrual accounting for personal finances?

It's uncommon, but individuals could use it for a more comprehensive view of their finances.

Is a provision a current or long-term liability?

It can be either, depending on when the anticipated liability is expected to arise.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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