The current portion of long-term debt is a separate line item in the balance sheet, on which is stated the amount of long-term debt that is scheduled for payment within the next year. This line item is closely followed by creditors, lenders, and investors, who want to know if a company has sufficient liquidity to pay off its short-term obligations. If there do not appear to be a sufficient amount of current assets to pay off short-term obligations, creditors and lenders may cut off credit, and investors may sell their shares in the company.
For example, a business has a $1,000,000 loan outstanding, for which the principal must be repaid at the rate of $200,000 per year for the next five years. In the balance sheet, $200,000 will be classified as the current portion of long-term debt, and the remaining $800,000 as long-term debt.
A company can keep its long-term debt from ever being classified as a current liability by periodically rolling forward the debt into instruments with longer maturity dates and balloon payments. If the debt agreement is routinely extended, the balloon payment is never due within one year, and so is never classified as a current liability.
It is possible for all of a company's long-term debt to suddenly be accelerated into the "current portion" classification if it is in default on a loan covenant. In this case, the loan terms usually state that the entire loan is payable at once in the event of a covenant default, which makes it a short-term loan.