Off-Balance Sheet Liabilities

What is an Off-Balance Sheet?

Off-balance sheet items include assets or liabilities that do not appear on a company’s balance sheet. However, that does not mean that these items may not exist. These are the actual assets and liabilities that companies own. However, there are some technical aspects that prevent them from appearing on the balance sheet.

Off-balance sheet accounting has long been a critical point for experts. Most accounting standards have introduced provisions that prevent such accounting. Sometimes, however, off-balance sheet accounting may be necessary to meet the fundamental definition of elements. For example, operating leases in the previous accounting standards were off-balance sheet items. The latest accounting standards change that.

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What are Off-Balance Sheet Liabilities?

Off-balance sheet liabilities are similar to any off-balance sheet items. These are obligations that companies may owe to other parties. However, accounting standards may not allow them to be a part of the balance sheet. Usually, companies and businesses don’t need to perform any accounting treatment for these liabilities or report it in their financial statements.

Usually, off-balance sheet liabilities include items that are not firm obligations. However, companies may need to settle them at a future date. For example, lawsuits may cause off-balance sheet liabilities where the company may need to pay it in the future. However, at the time of the reporting, the liabilities may not have realized.

Despite that, most accounting standards require companies to disclose liabilities that may not appear on the balance sheet. There are various disclosure requirements for each liability that companies must follow. For example, reporting companies must disclose the possibility and nature of the lawsuits that are off-balance sheets. These may also be a part of the contingencies and commitments that companies report.

Some companies may also use off-balance sheet accounting to keep their liabilities away from their financial statements. This kind of accounting is not permissible under most accounting standards. Companies do so to mask the financial position and appear more financially healthy. For some companies, it may be a case of removing any adverse liabilities to appear more liquid.

What are some examples of Off-Balance Sheet Liabilities?

There are various types of off-balance sheet liabilities that companies may have. Some of the most common ones include the following.

Operating leases

For a long time, operating leases have been a part of off-balance sheet liabilities. As mentioned, the latest changes in accounting standards may rectify it but with a limited scope. With operating leases, companies only report the associated rent payments. They do not list the asset or the liability that corresponds to the lease.

Leaseback agreements

As with operating leases, companies do not put leaseback agreements on their balance sheets. These agreements are common where one company sells an asset and leases it back from the buyer. Companies may use it to keep their financial statements clear of any adverse liabilities. Like with operating leases, companies don’t report the asset or liability associated with the agreements. They only record and report the related rent payments.


Off-balance sheet is a term used to describe assets or liabilities that companies have but don’t appear on their balance sheet. Off-balance sheet liabilities are the liabilities that companies may have to settle in the future but don’t report in the financial statements. Despite that, they must disclose it in the notes to the financial statements, as required by accounting standards.

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