The previous discussion has been about loss contingencies. Companies obviously can also have gain contingencies. In a lawsuit, for example, one party might anticipate winning $800,000 but eventually collect $900,000. Are the rules for reporting gain contingencies the same as those applied to loss contingencies? Answer: As a result of the conservatism inherent in financial accounting, the timing used in the recognition of gains does not follow the same rules applied to losses. Losses are anticipated when they become probable; that is a fundamental rule of financial accounting. Recognition of gains is delayed until they actually occur (or, at least until they reach the point of being substantially complete). Disclosure in the notes is still important but the decision as to whether the outcome is probable or reasonably possible is irrelevant in reporting a gain. Gains are not anticipated for reporting purposes.
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In accounting for warranties, cash rebates, the collectability of receivables and other similar contingencies, the likelihood of loss is not an issue. These losses are almost always probable. For the accountant, the challenge is in arriving at a reasonable estimate of that loss. How many microwaves will break and have to be repaired? What percentage of cash rebate coupons will be presented by customers in the allotted time? How often will a transmission need to be replaced? Many companies utilize such programs on an ongoing basis so that data from previous offers will be available to help determine the amount of the expected loss. However, historical trends cannot be followed blindly. Officials still have to be alert for any changes that could impact previous patterns. For example, in bad economic periods, customers are more likely to take the time to complete the paperwork required to receive a cash rebate. Or the terms may vary from one warranty program to the next. Even small changes in the wording of an offer can alter the expected number of claims. To illustrate, assume that a retail store sells ten thousand refrigerators during Year One for $400 cash each. The product is covered by a warranty that extends until the end of Year Three. No claims are made in Year One but similar programs in the past have resulted in repairs being made to 3 percent of the refrigerator at an average cost of $90. Thus, this warranty is expected to cost a total of $27,000 (ten thousand units × 3 percent or three hundred claims × $90 each). Immediate recognition is appropriate because the loss is both probable and subject to reasonable estimation.
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