Bad debt

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Bad debt occasionally called Uncollectible accounts expense is a monetary amount owed to a creditor that is unlikely to be paid and for which the creditor is not willing to take action to collect for various reasons, often due to the debtor not having the money to pay, for example due to a company going into liquidation or insolvency. [1] There are various technical definitions of what constitutes a bad debt, depending on accounting conventions, regulatory treatment and the institution provisioning. In the USA, bank loans with more than ninety days' arrears become "problem loans". [2] Accounting sources advise that the full amount of a bad debt be written off to the profit and loss account or a provision for bad debts as soon as it is foreseen. [1]


Doubtful debt

Doubtful debts are those debts which a business or individual is unlikely to be able to collect. The reasons for potential non-payment can include disputes over supply, delivery, the condition of item or the appearance of financial stress within a customer's operations. When such a dispute occurs it is prudent to add this debt or portion there of to the doubtful debt reserve. This is done to avoid over-stating the assets of the business as trade debtors are reported net of Doubtful debt. When there is no longer any doubt that a debt is uncollectible, the debt becomes bad. An example of a debt becoming uncollectible would be:- once final payments have been made from the liquidation of a customer's limited liability company, no further action can be taken.

Doubtful debt reserve

Also known as a bad debt reserve, this is a contra account listed within the current asset section of the balance sheet. The doubtful debt reserve holds a sum of money to allow a reduction in the accounts receivable ledger due to non-collection of debts. This can also be referred to as an allowance for bad debts. Once a doubtful debt becomes uncollectable, the amount will be written off.

Accounting practice in different countries

United States

Allowance for bad debts are amounts expected to be uncollected but that are still possible to be collected (when there is no other possibility for collection, they are considered uncollectible accounts). For example, if gross receivables are US$100,000 and the amount that is expected to remain uncollected is $5,000, net receivables will be US$95,000.

In financial accounting and finance, bad debt is the portion of receivables that can no longer be collected, typically from accounts receivable or loans. Bad debt in accounting is considered an expense.

There are two methods to account for bad debt:

  1. Direct write off method (Non-GAAP) - a receivable that is not considered collectible is charged directly to the income statement.
  2. Allowance method (GAAP) - an estimate is made at the end of each fiscal year of the amount of bad debt. This is then accumulated in a provision that is then used to reduce specific receivable accounts as and when necessary.

Because of the matching principle of accounting, revenues and expenses should be recorded in the period in which they are incurred. When a sale is made on account, revenue is recorded along with account receivable. Because there is an inherent risk that clients might default on payment, accounts receivable have to be recorded at net realizable value. The portion of the account receivable that is estimated to be not collectible is set aside in a contra-asset account called Allowance for doubtful accounts. At the end of each accounting cycle, adjusting entries are made to charge uncollectible receivable as expense. The actual amount of uncollectible receivable is written off as an expense from Allowance for doubtful accounts.


Some types of bad debts, whether business or non-business-related, are considered tax deductible. Section 166 of the Internal Revenue Code provides the requirements for which a bad debt to be deducted. [3]

Criteria for deduction

To be considered deductible, the debt must be:

  • bona fide debt, and
  • worthless within the taxable year.

A debt is defined as a debt which arises from a debtor-creditor relationship based upon a valid and enforceable obligation to pay a determinable sum of money. The debt in question must also be considered worthless. This distinction is further broken down into the level of collectibles. One must determine whether the qualifying debt is completely or partially worthless. A partially worthless status means a portion of the debt may be recovered in future periods. Numerous factors are taken into consideration including the debtor’s insolvency status, health conditions, credit standing, etc. [4]

Section 166

Section 166 limits the amount of the deduction. There must be an amount of tax capital, or basis, in question to be recovered. In other words, is there an adjusted basis for determining a gain or loss for the debt in question.

An additional factor in applying the criteria is the classification of the debt (non-business of business). A business bad debt is defined as a debt created or acquired in connection with a trade or business of the taxpayer. Whereas, a non-business debt is defined as a debt that is not created or acquired in connection with a trade or business of the taxpayer. The classification is quite significant in terms of the deductibility. A non-business bad debt must be completely worthless in order to be deducted. However, a business bad debt is deductible whether it is partially or completely worthless.

Mortgage bad debt

Mortgages which may noncollectable can be written off as a bad debt as well. However, they fall under a slightly different set of rules. 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 following years at the same amount. Thus a $60,000 mortgage bad debt will take 20 years to write off. [5] Most owners of junior (2nd, 3rd, etc.) fall into this when the 1st mortgage forecloses with no equity remaining to pay on the junior liens.

There is one option available for mortgages not available for business debt - donation. The difference is that a valuation of $10,000 can be taken without an appraisal. An appraisal may be able to increase the value to more and must be based on other similar mortgages that actually sold, but generally is less than the face value. The real difference is that as a donation the amount of deduction is limited to up to 50% of Adjusted Gross Income per year with carryovers taken over the next 5 years

. [6] This is because the deduction is now classified as a donation instead of a bad debt write off and uses Schedule A instead of Schedule D

. [5] This can significantly increase current year's tax reductions compared to the simple write off. The caveat is that it must be completed PRIOR to the date of final foreclosure and loss. The process is simple, but finding a charity to cooperate is difficult since there will be no cash value as soon as the 1st mortgage forecloses.

Problem loan

In the USA, bank loans with more than ninety days' arrears become "problem loans".

Related Research Articles

Balance sheet Accounting financial summary

In financial accounting, a balance sheet is a summary of the financial balances of an individual or organization, whether it be a sole proprietorship, a business partnership, a corporation, private limited company or other organization such as government or not-for-profit entity. Assets, liabilities and ownership equity are listed as of a specific date, such as the end of its financial year. A balance sheet is often described as a "snapshot of a company's financial condition". Of the four basic financial statements, the balance sheet is the only statement which applies to a single point in time of a business' calendar year.

Debits and credits

In double entry bookkeeping, debits and credits are entries made in account ledgers to record changes in value resulting from business transactions. A debit entry in an account represents a transfer of value to that account, and a credit entry represents a transfer from the account. Each transaction transfers value from credited accounts to debited accounts. For example, a tenant who writes a rent cheque to a landlord would enter a credit for the bank account on which the cheque is drawn, and a debit in a rent expense account. Similarly, the landlord would enter a credit in the rent income account associated with the tenant and a debit for the bank account where the cheque is deposited.

Depreciation Decrease in asset values, or the allocation of cost thereof

In accountancy, depreciation refers to two aspects of the same concept: first, the actual decrease of fair value of an asset, such as the decrease in value of factory equipment each year as it is used and wears, and second, the allocation in accounting statements of the original cost of the assets to periods in which the assets are used.

Tax deduction is a reduction of income that is able to be taxed and is commonly a result of expenses, particularly those incurred to produce additional income. Tax deductions are a form of tax incentives, along with exemptions and credits. The difference between deductions, exemptions and credits is that deductions and exemptions both reduce taxable income, while credits reduce tax.

Under United States tax law, itemized deductions are eligible expenses that individual taxpayers can claim on federal income tax returns and which decrease their taxable income, and is claimable in place of a standard deduction, if available.

Factoring (finance)

Factoring is a financial transaction and a type of debtor finance in which a business sells its accounts receivable to a third party at a discount. A business will sometimes factor its receivable assets to meet its present and immediate cash needs. Forfaiting is a factoring arrangement used in international trade finance by exporters who wish to sell their receivables to a forfaiter. Factoring is commonly referred to as accounts receivable factoring, invoice factoring, and sometimes accounts receivable financing. Accounts receivable financing is a term more accurately used to describe a form of asset based lending against accounts receivable. The Commercial Finance Association is the leading trade association of the asset-based lending and factoring industries.

An individual retirement account (IRA) in the United States is a form of "individual retirement plan", provided by many financial institutions, that provides tax advantages for retirement savings. An individual retirement account is a type of "individual retirement arrangement" as described in IRS Publication 590, individual retirement arrangements (IRAs). The term IRA, used to describe both individual retirement accounts and the broader category of individual retirement arrangements, encompasses an individual retirement account; a trust or custodial account set up for the exclusive benefit of taxpayers or their beneficiaries; and an individual retirement annuity, by which the taxpayers purchase an annuity contract or an endowment contract from a life insurance company.

Accounts receivable Claims for payment held by a business

Accounts receivable, abbreviated as AR or A/R, are legally enforceable claims for payment held by a business for goods supplied or services rendered that customers have ordered but not paid for. These are generally in the form of invoices raised by a business and delivered to the customer for payment within an agreed time frame. Accounts receivable is shown in a balance sheet as an asset. It is one of a series of accounting transactions dealing with the billing of a customer for goods and services that the customer has ordered. These may be distinguished from notes receivable, which are debts created through formal legal instruments called promissory notes.

Garnishment is a legal process for collecting a monetary judgment on behalf of a plaintiff from a defendant. Garnishment allows the plaintiff to take the money or property of the debtor from the person or institution that holds that property. A similar legal mechanism called execution allows the seizure of money or property held directly by the debtor.

A tax refund or tax rebate is a payment to the taxpayer when the taxpayer pays more tax than they owe.

Debt collection is the process of pursuing payments of debts owed by individuals or businesses. An organization that specializes in debt collection is known as a collection agency or debt collector. Most collection agencies operate as agents of creditors and collect debts for a fee or percentage of the total amount owed.

Per diem or daily allowance is a specific amount of money that an organization gives an individual, typically an employee, per day to cover living expenses when travelling on the employer's business.

A flow-through entity (FTE) is a legal entity where income "flows through" to investors or owners; that is, the income of the entity is treated as the income of the investors or owners. Flow-through entities are also known as pass-through entities or fiscally-transparent entities.

Debt settlement is a settlement negotiated with a debtor's unsecured creditor. Commonly, creditors agree to forgive a large part of the debt: perhaps around half, though results can vary widely. When settlements are finalized, the terms are put in writing. It is common that the debtor makes one lump-sum payment in exchange for the creditor agreeing that the debt is now cancelled and the matter closed. Some settlements are paid out over a number of months. In either case, as long as the debtor does what is agreed in the negotiation, no outstanding debt will appear on the former debtor's credit report.

A debt buyer is a company, sometimes a collection agency, a private debt collection law firm, or a private investor that purchases delinquent or charged-off debts from a creditor or lender for a percentage of the face value of the debt based on the potential collectibility of the accounts. The debt buyer can then collect on its own, utilize the services of a third-party collection agency, repackage and resell portions of the purchased portfolio or any combination of these options.

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A charge-off or chargeoff is a declaration by a creditor that an amount of debt is unlikely to be collected. This occurs when a consumer becomes severely delinquent on a debt. Traditionally, creditors make this declaration at the point of six months without payment. A charge-off is a form of write-off.

According to the law, the term adjustment may appear in varied contexts, as a synonym for terms with unrelated definitions:

A write-off is a reduction of the recognized value of something. In accounting, this is a recognition of the reduced or zero value of an asset. In income tax statements, this is a reduction of taxable income, as a recognition of certain expenses required to produce the income.


  1. 1 2 "Bad debt - Oxford Reference". Oxford University Press. January 2010. doi:10.1093/ac9780199563050.001.0001/acref-9780199563050-e-347 (inactive 31 May 2021). ISBN   978-0-19-956305-0 . Retrieved 6 June 2016.Cite journal requires |journal= (help); |chapter= ignored (help)CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of May 2021 (link)
  2. Moles, Peter; Terry, Nicholas (1997). "Bad debt". Oxford Reference. ISBN   9780198294818 . Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  3. "" . Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  4. "Tax Topics - Topic 453 Bad Debt Deduction" . Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  5. 1 2 "" (PDF). Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  6. "" (PDF). Retrieved 6 June 2016.