Assets Liabilities and Equity

There are three elements to a balance sheet, assets liabilities and equity.

assets liabilities and equity

The three elements together must satisfy the accounting equation for the balance sheet to balance.

Assets = Liabilities + Equity


An asset is a resource the business has purchased in the past from which future economic benefits are expected to flow. They are items which a business owns and has control of such as inventory or motor vehicles, but can also include costs which have been paid in advance such as rent, which will be treated as an expense in a future income statement.

Examples of Assets and Future Benefit

For example, if a business purchases a piece of machinery for use in its factory, then the machinery will be in use over its useful life to manufacture products, and therefore has a future economic benefit to the business.

In contrast to this, if a business purchases items which have no future economic benefit, then this cost will be recorded as an expense. For example, if the business has a wage cost for hours worked by factory employees, then this cost has no future benefit (the hours paid for have already been worked) and the cost is treated as an expense.

In addition, costs which are immaterial may also be treated as expenses even though they might have a future benefit. For example, a box of pens has a future value, but the cost is immaterial and the time and effort needed to monitor the inventory of pens is such that it would be more efficient to record the cost as a stationery expense in the current accounting period.

Assets in Accounting

It should be noted that the term assets in accounting is much narrower than that used in the general sense. Not all assets have a cost, for example employees, customer lists or the inherent brand value of a business are in the general sense assets, but since they have no cost, they are not regarded as assets in accounting and are not included on the balance sheet of the business.

In the accounting records, asset accounts normally have a debit balance which means they are increased by debit entries and decreased by credit entries.

Assets are shown on the balance sheet of the business as either current assets or non-current assets.

Current Assets

Assets can classified as current assets if they are cash or cash equivalents, or when they are held primarily for the purpose of trade or they are realized or used as part of the normal operating cycle. Current assets includes assets such as inventory, accounts receivable, short-term investments, accrued revenue, prepaid expenses and cash.

Other assets which are not part of the normal operating cycle, are classified as current assets if they expect to be realized within twelve months of the balance sheet date.

Current assets are shown in the balance sheet at the lower of cost or net realizable value in order of liquidity (most liquid first).

Non-Current Assets

Non-current assets are all other assets not classified as a current asset. They include long term investments in marketable securities, property, and plant and equipment.

Non-current assets are for use long term within the business and are not bought primarily to be sold. They are sometimes referred to as long term assets or fixed assets.

Non-current assets such as property, plant and equipment are included in the balance sheet at their original cost less accumulated depreciation.


A liability is an obligation to pay a third party incurred by a business as part of its trading operations. For example, when a business buys goods from a supplier on credit, the business has a liability to the supplier to pay for the goods. The settling of the liability will result in an outflow of resources. A liability can also arise from the receipt of revenue in advance. Liabilities are beyond the control of the business.

A liability is shown on the credit side of the balance sheet of a business and is part of the fundamental accounting equation. Liabilities can be classified in the balance sheet as current liabilities or non-current liabilities.

Current Liabilities

Liabilities can classified as current liabilities when they are held primarily for the purpose of trade or they are settled as part of the normal operating cycle.

Examples of balance sheet current liabilities include the following:

  • Short term notes payable
  • Accounts payable
  • Accrued expenses
  • Deferred revenue
  • Dividends payable
  • Interest payable
  • Short term loans
  • Taxes payable

It is important to correctly identify operating current liabilities, as they form an important component of the calculation of working capital, and the current and quick liquidity ratios.

Other liabilities which are not part of the normal operating cycle are classified as current liabilities if they have to be settled within twelve months of the balance sheet date. These will include liabilities such as bank overdrafts short-term loans and the current portion of long-term debt, dividends payable, and income taxes.

Non-Current Liabilities

Non-current liabilities are all other liabilities not classified as a current liabilities. They include long term debt, notes payable, and bonds payable.

Non-current liabilities are those which are payable in a period of time greater than the normal operating cycle of the business or twelve months, if longer.

For most businesses, the operating cycle is shorter than twelve months, and so non-current liabilities are usually those due in more than twelve months from the balance sheet date.

Non-current liabilities are sometimes referred to as long term liabilities, and are shown on the balance sheet between current liabilities and equity, forming part of the total liabilities of the business.

Examples of non-current liabilities include the following:

  • Long term bonds payable
  • Long term notes payable
  • Deferred revenue
  • Long term loans
  • Deferred income taxes
  • Long-term unearned revenue
  • Long term mortgages payable

Non-Current Liabilities Example

It is important that liabilities are correctly classified into current and non current components. For example, suppose a business issued 5,000 bonds paying 6% interest at the start of the financial year, January 1 2018. The bonds are issued for 500,000, and the business has an obligation to redeem 500 bonds each year starting from 2016.

At the end of the first year, December 31 2018, the interest payable of 500,000 x 6% = 30,000, and bonds of 50,000 due to be redeemed in 2019, are shown as current liabilities as they are due within 12 months of the balance sheet date. The remaining bonds of 450,000 are shown as long term liabilities as they are due to be redeemed in more than 12 months from the balance sheet date.

Assets and Liabilities Comparison

The differences between assets and liabilities discussed above are summarized in the table below.

Assets vs Liabilities Comparison
Assets Liabilities
Resource Obligation
Future benefit Future sacrifice
Under control of business Beyond control of business
Arises from past event Arises from past event


Equity is the amount due to the owners of the business, this includes the paid-in capital invested by them and any retained earnings the business has. For a company the term owners equity is replaced by the term stockholders equity.

Equity can also be viewed as the net worth of business which is the difference between its assets and liabilities. This can be seen by rearranging the basic accounting equation.

Assets = Liabilities + Equity

This can be rearranged to give the following:

Equity = Assets - Liabilities

It is important to understand that the equity shown in the balance sheet does not reflect the market value of the equity but is simply the difference between the assets of the business at cost and the liabilities.

Last modified June 16th, 2020 by Michael Brown

About the Author

Chartered accountant Michael Brown is the founder and CEO of Double Entry Bookkeeping. He has worked as an accountant and consultant for more than 25 years and has built financial models for all types of industries. He has been the CFO or controller of both small and medium sized companies and has run small businesses of his own. He has been a manager and an auditor with Deloitte, a big 4 accountancy firm, and holds a degree from Loughborough University.

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