What Are General Provisions?

What Are General Provisions?

4 Min.

General provisions are a type of balance sheet item that represent funds reserved by a company as assets to cover expected future losses. The amount set aside is based on estimating potential future losses. Lenders are obligated to create general provisions each time they issue a loan to safeguard against any possible defaults by the borrowers. However, the creation of general provisions has declined since regulators prohibited using past experiences to estimate the provision level.


Within corporate balance sheets, general provisions signify reserved funds designated by companies as assets for covering foreseeable future losses. In the banking sector, these general provisions qualify as supplementary capital as per the initial Basel Accord. Such provisions listed on the financial institutions' balance sheets are regarded as higher-risk assets due to the implicit assumption that the underlying funds will likely default.

Explaining General Provisions

In the corporate world, potential losses are inevitable due to factors like depreciating asset values, product malfunctions, legal disputes, and late-paying customers. Therefore, companies must make adequate financial provisions to manage these risks.

However, corporations cannot acknowledge provisions arbitrarily; they must adhere to specific criteria outlined by regulatory bodies. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) provide guidance on contingencies and provisions. GAAP delineates its directives in Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) 410, 420, and 450, while IFRS presents its guidelines in the International Accounting Standard (IAS) 37.

Accounting for Future Liabilities

To record general provisions, an expense is documented in the income statement, coupled with establishing a corresponding liability on the balance sheet. Account nomenclature for general provisions varies based on the account type or maybe consolidated alongside accounts receivable, representing outstanding balances for delivered goods or services not yet compensated by customers. For businesses managing transactions and customer relations through accounts receivables, a general provision for bad debts or doubtful accounts may appear on the balance sheet. Although the amount is uncertain before default, it is estimated with reasonable accuracy.

Historically, companies might have analyzed write-offs from the previous fiscal year when creating general provisions for doubtful accounts in the current year. However, IAS 39 now prohibits such practices due to the subjectivity involved. Instead, an impairment review is mandated to assess the recoverability of receivables and associated provisions.

Companies with pension plans may reserve a portion of capital for impending obligations. If reported on the balance sheet, general provisions for estimated future liability amounts may only be disclosed as footnotes.

Requirements of Banks and Lenders

In adherence to global benchmarks, financial institutions, including banks, must maintain sufficient capital reserves to mitigate risks. This standard can be fulfilled by presenting either an allowance for bad debts or a general provision on the balance sheet. These reserve funds serve as supplementary capital, safeguarding against potential defaults on high-risk loans.

Distinguishing Provisions: General vs. Specific

Specific provisions arise when identifiable future losses come to the forefront. Instances include recording receivables if a particular customer encounters severe financial issues or engages in a trade dispute with the entity. Balances are discerned by analyzing aged receivables, showcasing the time elapsed since document creation. Long-outstanding balances may be encompassed in the specific provision for doubtful debts.

Nevertheless, specific provisions may not account for the entire doubtful receivable amount. For instance, a 50% chance of recovering a doubtful debt for a specific receivable may necessitate a particular provision of 50%. In the banking industry, generic provisions are set aside at the time of loan approval, while specific provisions are established to protect against loan defaults.

Noteworthy Factors in Provision Accounting

Controversies have surrounded provisions, with historical instances of creative accountants manipulating them to balance profits. This involved increasing provisions during prosperous years and reducing them in periods of lower earnings. To address this issue, accounting regulators have implemented stringent measures. New guidelines discourage subjective estimates, resulting in a reduction in the creation of general provisions.


General provisions are crucial in corporate financial management, representing funds earmarked to offset anticipated future losses. The decline in their creation, spurred by regulatory measures, reflects a commitment to curbing potential misuse. Financial institutions, bound by global standards, utilize general provisions as supplementary capital to mitigate risks associated with high-risk loans. The distinction between general and specific provisions underscores the nuanced approach in accounting for identifiable future losses. Overall, these provisions form a vital aspect of financial strategies, adapting to evolving regulatory landscapes to ensure transparency and sound fiscal practices.

General Provision
Specific Provision