Liabilities in Accounting: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
Every business has liabilities. In this lesson, you'll learn what liabilities are and how they fit into the overall financial picture of a business, and you'll be provided some examples.


Liabilities are financial obligations a business owes to other persons, businesses and governments. Short-term liabilities are financial obligations that become due within a year, while long-term liabilities are due in a year or longer. A company's total liabilities is the sum of its short-term and long-term liabilities. Liabilities are reported on a company's balance sheet along with its assets and owners' equity.

You should keep in mind that liabilities are financial obligations, not just debt. All debts are financial obligations, but not all financial obligations are debts. For example, let's say you lease a small retail space downtown and must pay rent on a monthly basis and not in arrears - in other words, May's rent is due on May 1, not June 1. Your rent obligation is a financial obligation, and therefore a liability, but it is not a debt because you pay for the use of the property for the month before you use it. If you don't pay your rent on time, it becomes a debt.

Liabilities and the Basic Accounting Equation

Liabilities is one of the three components of the basic accounting equation: Assets = Liabilities + Equity. Assets are the value of the property owned by a company, equity is the owner's capital in the company, and liabilities, as you know, are the financial obligations of the business. If you perform the relevant algebraic operation on the equation, you will come up with the formula for determining liabilities: Liabilities = Assets - Equity.


Let's look at some examples of liabilities. We'll break them down into long-term and short-term liabilities.

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