What Is Bad Debt? Write Offs and Methods for Estimating

They could create a fictitious customer in the subsidiary ledger and then post the credit to the fictitious customer’s account, but it’s not common practice to do that. Instead, we create a separate GL account called Allowance for Doubtful Accounts. It’s a companion account to Accounts Receivable, and since it has a credit balance, it is called a “contra account.” We’ll see more of these acoounts as we go on. One way to provision for bad debt is to understand the historical performance of loans in specific populations.

The direct write-off method is therefore not the most theoretically correct way of recognizing bad debts. Bad debt provision is important in times of crisis because it provides a financial buffer and protects businesses from being impacted too heavily by customers’ hardships. Here’s how to account for doubtful and bad debt on financial statements, along with a primer on bad debt provision and why it’s important today. You may deduct business bad debts, in full or in part, from gross income when figuring your taxable income. If you do a lot of business on credit, you might want to account for your bad debts ahead of time using the allowance method.

The business only has to report the amount of the recovery equal to the amount it previously deducted. If a portion of the deduction did not trigger a reduction in the company’s tax bill, it does not have to report that part of the recovered funds as income. “In Europe and North America, non-collectible written-off revenues had risen to 2% before the pandemic,” says a McKinsey article. It is a worrisome sign if the bad debt rate (the ratio of bad debt and AR in a year) is too high. On the surface, the reason behind it might seem to be limited only to the client, but how a company handles its AR also plays an important role. While it’s important for business professionals to understand bad debt provision in general, it’s an especially timely topic as the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic and numerous natural disasters.

That means that we expect to collect in cash $740,000 once all the payments and non-payments are accounted for. Remember, to recognize a revenue or an expense means to record it, and to realize it means it actually happens. In this case, to realize a revenue recorded “on account” means to collect the cash. Fundamentally, like all accounting principles, bad debt expense allows companies to accurately and completely report their financial position. At some point in time, almost every company will deal with a customer who is unable to pay, and they will need to record a bad debt expense.

Recovery of Bad Debts

The aging method groups all outstanding accounts receivable by age, and specific percentages are applied to each group. For example, a company has $70,000 of accounts receivable less than 30 days outstanding and $30,000 of accounts receivable more than 30 days outstanding. Although bad debt expense can be detrimental to a business’s long-term success, there are ways to manage this expense and mitigate bad debt-related risks. Trade credit insurance provides coverage for a wide range of bad debt-related losses, while also providing businesses with the tools and support to manage their credit and accounts receivable more effectively.

  • The allowance for doubtful accounts is a contra-asset account that nets against accounts receivable, which means that it reduces the total value of receivables when both balances are listed on the balance sheet.
  • You need to set aside an allowance for bad debts account to have a credit balance of $2500 (5% of $50,000).
  • The past experience with the customer and the anticipated credit policy plays a role in determining the percentage.
  • With the write-off method, there is no contra asset account to record bad debt expenses.

In fact, it is not considered GAAP, so public companies who file audited financial statements with the SEC cannot use this method. We’ll cover a better method, the one used by most companies for year end financials, in the next section. I would buy them from you based on the net realizable value—the cash I would expect to ultimately collect. Notice they did not post the credit side of the entry to Accounts Receivable because the subsidiary account always, always, always has to agree with the control account.

The term bad debt refers to these outstanding bills that the business considers to be non-collectible after making multiple attempts at collection. If the actual bad debt was greater than the provision, the bad debt expense must be tracked on the income statement for the same accounting period during which the loan or credits were issued. Bad debt expenses make sure that your books reflect what’s actually happening in your business and that your business’ net income doesn’t appear higher than it actually is. Accurately recording bad debt expenses is crucial if you want to lower your tax bill and not pay taxes on profits you never earned. When you finally give up on collecting a debt (usually it’ll be in the form of a receivable account) and decide to remove it from your company’s accounts, you need to do so by recording an expense.

A significant amount of bad debt expenses can change the way potential investors and company executives view the health of a company. Bad debt is an expense recognized by companies for receivable balances. It represents money owed by customers to a company that it does not deem recoverable. In other words, a bad debt expense is a charge for an irrecoverable receivable balance.

Under the direct write-off method, the company calculates bad debt expense by determining a particular account to be uncollectible and directly write off such account. Unlike the allowance method, there is no estimation involved here as the company specifically choose which accounts receivable to write off and record bad debt expense immediately. Likewise, the company may record bad debt expense at any time during the period. Aging schedule of accounts receivable is the detail of receivables in which the company arranges accounts by age, e.g. from 0 day past due to over 90 days past due. In this case, the company can calculate bad debt expenses by applying percentages to the totals in each category based on the past experience and current economic condition.

Example of Bad Debt Expense

Mortgages that may be non-collectible can be written off as bad debt as well. As stated above, they can only be written off against tax capital, or income, but they are limited to a deduction of $3,000 per year. Any loss above that can be carried over to the following years at the same amount.

Topic No. 453, Bad Debt Deduction

A bad debt might be recovered through a payment from a bankruptcy trustee or because the debtor has decided to settle the debt at a lower amount. Before we get into the ways to prevent and reduce bad debts, it’s important to understand why bad debts happen. Every business is different, but the following are some common reasons that contribute to bad debts in various industries. Notice how the subsidiary ledger agrees to the GL control account and does not include our estimated $10,000 of bad debt. It’s a stand-alone account usually classified as a selling expense (which you will see in the module on Merchandising Operations). However, Allowance for Doubtful Accounts is attached to Accounts Receivable.


When a company makes a credit sale, it books a credit to revenue and a debit to an account receivable. The problem with this accounts receivable balance is there is no guarantee the company will collect the payment. For many different reasons, a company may be entitled to receiving money for a credit sale but may never actually receive those funds. One of the best ways to manage bad debt expense is to use this metric to monitor accounts receivable for current and potential bad debt overall and within each customer account.

Once companies determine a balance to be uncollectible, they must record a bad debt expense. When a company provides goods or services for credit, it allows the customer some time to pay. Usually, every company establishes its credit terms based on various factors. Consequently, companies must determine whether those balances have become bad debts. Businesses that use cash accounting principles never recorded the amount as incoming revenue to begin with, so you wouldn’t need to undo expected revenue when an outstanding payment becomes bad debt.

However, if the credit sales fluctuate a lot from one period to another, using the net sales method to calculate bad debt expense may not be as accurate as using credit sales. It does not involve creating a separate account which reduces those balances indirectly. taxpayer identification numbers Instead, bad debts cause a reduction in the account receivable balances in the balance sheet. In some cases, companies may recover balances even though they were irrecoverable before. If that occurs, companies must reverse the accounting for bad debt expense.

Bad debt expense is reported within the selling, general, and administrative expense section of the income statement. However, the entries to record this bad debt expense may be spread throughout a set of financial statements. The allowance for doubtful accounts resides on the balance sheet as a contra asset. Meanwhile, any bad debts that are directly written off reduce the accounts receivable balance on the balance sheet. Bad Debt Expense is an important business/finance term because it reflects the estimated uncollectible amount from customers or clients who fail to fulfill their payment obligations.