Short-Term Liabilities vs Long-Term Liabilities

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on May 22, 2023

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Liability Definition

A liability is a debt or other obligation owed by one party to another party.

In more direct terms, it is a payment or obligation for which a company is held liable by another party.

Companies primarily increase their liabilities by taking out loans, issuing debt in the form of bonds, or increasing accounts payable.

Liabilities are recorded on a company's balance sheet along with assets and equity.

Because a liability is an amount of money that must be paid by some point in the future, it is fair to think of liabilities as being more or less equivalent to debt, with a key distinction being that only some liabilities also carry interest.

Using Liabilities to Increase Capital

Companies take on liabilities to increase their capital in order to finance operations or projects.

Unlike raising equity by selling company shares, there is an expectation that any debt a company incurs will be paid back, plus any interest payments due.

Because of this, for a company to comfortably accept new debt, its owners must be confident that the investment will increase profits enough to cover the debt expense and then some, in order to come out with a net gain.

Short-Term or Long-Term Liabilities?

Liabilities can be either short-term or long-term.

Short-term liabilities cover any debt that must be paid within the coming year.

This includes interest payments on loans (but not necessarily the principal of the loan), monthly utilities, short-term accounts payable, and so on.

Long-term liabilities cover any debts with a lifespan longer than one year. Examples would be mortgages, rent on property, pension obligations, auto loans, and any other large expense that is paid over the course of multiple years.

Short-Term Liabilities Definition & Examples

Short-term liabilities, also known as current liabilities, are obligations or debts that a company expects to settle within a year or its operating cycle, whichever is longer. They represent the company's financial obligations that are due in the near future and typically require the use of current assets or the creation of new liabilities to fulfill.

Common examples of short-term liabilities include accounts payable, accrued expenses, short-term loans, and current portions of long-term debt. Accounts payable are amounts owed to suppliers for goods or services received but not yet paid for. Accrued expenses represent expenses that have been incurred but not yet paid, such as salaries, utilities, or interest.

Short-term loans and lines of credit are borrowed funds that need to be repaid within a year. These can provide businesses with necessary working capital for day-to-day operations. The current portion of long-term debt refers to the portion of long-term debt that is due within the next year.

Managing short-term liabilities effectively is crucial for maintaining a healthy cash flow and financial stability. Companies must carefully monitor their payment obligations and ensure they have sufficient liquidity to meet these obligations on time. Failure to do so can result in strained relationships with suppliers, additional interest expenses, or even default on loans.

In summary, short-term liabilities are the financial obligations a company must settle within a year. Monitoring and managing these liabilities are essential for maintaining a healthy financial position and avoiding potential disruptions in cash flow.

Long-Term Liabilities Definition & Examples

Long-term liabilities are obligations or debts that a company expects to settle over a period longer than one year or its normal operating cycle. Unlike short-term liabilities, which require repayment within a year, long-term liabilities have a longer repayment horizon.

Common examples of long-term liabilities include long-term loans, bonds payable, leases, and pension obligations. Long-term loans are debts that are scheduled to be repaid over several years, often with fixed interest rates. Bonds payable represent debt securities issued by a company to raise capital, with a specified maturity date and periodic interest payments.

Leases, such as operating leases or capital leases, are contractual agreements where a company obtains the use of an asset in exchange for rental payments over an extended period. These lease obligations are considered long-term liabilities.

Pension obligations arise when a company provides retirement benefits to its employees, promising to make future payments after they retire. These obligations are typically funded over the long term.

Long-term liabilities play a significant role in a company's capital structure and financial planning. They can impact the company's creditworthiness, interest expenses, and financial flexibility. Managing long-term liabilities effectively involves assessing the company's ability to meet future payment obligations, considering the impact on cash flow, and maintaining a balance between long-term debt and equity.

In conclusion, long-term liabilities are financial obligations that extend beyond one year. They include long-term loans, bonds payable, leases, and pension obligations. Proper management of long-term liabilities is crucial for maintaining financial stability and planning for the future.

Define Liability in Simple Terms

When evaluating the performance of a company, analysts like to see that any short-term liabilities can be completely covered by cash. Any long-term liabilities should be able to be covered by revenue generated over time by assets.

Liabilities are not the same as expenses. An expense is a cost associated with doing business, such as COGS or cost of goods sold, depreciation and amortization of assets, and so on.

These are recorded on a company's income statement rather than the balance sheet, and are used to calculate net income rather than the value of assets or equity.

Liabilities are distinct in that they are obligations and debts owed, not business costs.

Investor Pro-Tip

Because liabilities are outstanding balances, they are considered to work against the overall spending power of a company.

More specifically, liabilities are subtracted from total assets to arrive at a company's equity value.

Incurring too much debt is risky for a company. If a company incurs an amount of debt that it cannot pay off, it is at risk of default, or bankruptcy.

Because of this, investors evaluating whether or not to invest in a company often prefer to see a manageable level of debt on a business's balance sheet. However, less debt does not always mean a better investment.

Liability Across Industries

What is considered an acceptable ratio of equity to liabilities is heavily dependent on the particular company and the industry it operates in.

Some companies that earn a consistently large profit and can easily pay back debts, but that also consistently need to invest in new or improved assets to grow the business might regularly carry large amounts of debt.

Companies in the energy sector, particularly oil, are an example. Other companies, such as those in the IT sector, don't often need to spend a significant amount of money on assets, and so more often finance operations through equity.

The ratio of debt to equity is simply known as the debt-to-equity ratio, or D/E ratio.

Short-Term Liabilities vs Long-Term Liabilities FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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