3 3 Bad Debt Expense and the Allowance for Doubtful Accounts Financial and Managerial Accounting

When a business makes credit sales, there’s a chance that some of its customers won’t pay their bills—resulting in uncollectible debts. To account for this possibility, businesses create an allowance for doubtful accounts, which serves as a reserve to cover potential losses. The percentage of sales method assigns a flat rate to each accounting period’s total sales.

  1. If $2,100 out of $100,000 in credit sales did not pay last year, then 2.1% is a suitable sales method estimate of the allowance for bad debt this year.
  2. Bad Debt Expense increases (debit), and Allowance for Doubtful Accounts increases (credit) for $22,911.50 ($458,230 × 5%).
  3. However, 10% of receivables that had not paid after 30 days might be added to the allowance for bad debt.
  4. This conclusion is reinforced by Dell’s
    beginning-allowance-to-write-offs ratio and its exhaustion rate,
    both of which indicate Dell tends to exhaust its allowance in a
    little over one year.

While businesses expect their customers to pay for their goods and services provided, some will not be able to partially or fully pay their dues. For many reasons, it can happen, including bankruptcy or financial difficulties. Doubtful accounts are considered contra assets because they reduce the account receivables amount.

Using historical data from an aging schedule can help you predict whether or not an invoice will be paid. This amount allows your organization to plan for uncollectible debts that impact your bottom line and budget. The customer has $5,000 in unpaid invoices, so its allowance for doubtful accounts is $500, or $5,000 x 10%. The accounts receivable aging method uses accounts receivable aging reports to keep track of past due invoices. Using historical data from an aging schedule can help you predict whether or not you’ll receive an invoice payment. Yes, allowance accounts that offset gross receivables are reported under the current asset section of the balance sheet.


This estimate of expected bad debt expenses isn’t just a random number; it’s closely tied to another important metric—days sales outstanding (DSO). The allowance for doubtful accounts resides within the “contra assets” division of your balance sheet. However, contrary to subtracting it, you actually incorporate it into your overall accounts receivable (AR). Because it gives you a more realistic picture of the money you can expect to collect from your customers.

Direct Write-Off Method

Note that the debit to the allowance for doubtful accounts reduces the balance in this account because contra assets have a natural credit balance. Also, note that when writing off the specific account, no income statement accounts are used. This is because the expense was already taken when creating or adjusting the allowance. The percentage of receivables method, also known as the percentage of sales method, identifies bad debt accounts as a percentage of total sales or accounts receivable. The outcome of the estimate is used as the amount for the allowance for doubtful accounts provision. The allowance for doubtful accounts isn’t a one-size-fits-all metric; it’s influenced by the unique characteristics of different industries.

The balance sheet method (also known as the percentage of accounts receivable method) estimates bad debt expenses based on the balance in accounts receivable. The method looks at the balance of accounts receivable at the end of the period and assumes that a certain amount will not be collected. Accounts receivable is reported on the balance sheet; thus, it is called the balance sheet method. The balance sheet method is another simple method for calculating bad debt, but it too does not consider how long a debt has been outstanding and the role that plays in debt recovery. With this method, accounts receivable is organized into categories by length of time outstanding, and an uncollectible percentage is assigned to each category. For example, a category might consist of accounts receivable that is 0–30 days past due and is assigned an uncollectible percentage of 6%.

This estimate is made based on the business’s experience with uncollected accounts and any specific information about individual accounts suggesting that payment may not be received. It provides a more accurate picture of the company’s financials by including the expected level of uncollectible accounts. At Allianz Trade, we can help by providing you with trade credit insurance services and tools needed to reduce the uncertainty of buyer default and greatly reduce the impact of bad debt. It can also help you to estimate your allowance for doubtful accounts more accurately.

Over 1.8 million professionals use CFI to learn accounting, financial analysis, modeling and more. Start with a free account to explore 20+ always-free courses and hundreds of finance templates and cheat sheets. Schedule a demo today and witness the future of financial management in action. Since it’s an estimate, thus it’s very important to have clear standards and models to estimate this figure.

The most prevalent approach — called the “percent of sales method” — uses a pre-determined percentage of total sales assumption to forecast the uncollectible credit sales. Otherwise, it could be misleading to investors who might falsely assume the entire A/R balance recorded will eventually be received in cash (i.e. bad debt expense acts as a “cushion” for losses). For example, our jewelry store assumes 25% of invoices that are 90 days past due are considered uncollectible. Say it has $10,000 in unpaid invoices that are 90 days past due—its allowance for doubtful accounts for those invoices would be $2,500, or $10,000 x 25%.

Allowance for doubtful accounts: Methods & calculations

Visit Akounto’s Blog and learn about important accounting concepts crucial for your business. The allowance for doubtful accounts calculation is based on the estimation of bad debt and is adjusted regularly. For example, ARs computing allowance for doubtful accounts easy due for more than 30 days have higher chances of turning to bad debts than those seven days old. Bad Debt Expense increases (debit), and Allowance for Doubtful Accounts increases (credit) for $22,911.50 ($458,230 × 5%).

Firstly, the company debits its AR and credits the allowance for doubtful Accounts. To do so, the company debits the allowance for doubtful accounts and credits the AR. It’s important to note that the net AR remains unaffected, and only the remaining allowance is reduced from $15,000 to $5,000. Allowance for doubtful accounts do not get closed, in fact the balances carry forward to the next year.

Accounts Receivable Method

Ideally, you’d want 100% of your invoices paid, but unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. While collecting all the money you’re owed is the best-case scenario, small business owners know that things don’t always go as planned. Estimating invoices you won’t be able to collect will help you prepare more accurate financial statements and better understand important metrics like cash flow, working capital, and net income. The allowance for doubtful accounts is a contra asset account, and so is listed as a deduction immediately below the accounts receivable line item in the balance sheet. It may be aggregated into the accounts receivable line item, whereby it is not stated separately. As of January 1, 2018, GAAP requires a change in how health-care entities record bad debt expense.

The remaining amount from the bad debt expense account (the portion of the $10,000 that is never paid) will show up on a company’s income statement. Later, if a customer fails to pay their account balance and the company deems the account uncollectible, they would record another journal entry to write off the bad debt. Inconsistent collection history may affect the accuracy of using the percentage of accounts receivable balance to estimate the allowance for doubtful accounts.

It’s important to note that an allowance for doubtful accounts is simply an informed guess, and your customers’ payment behaviors may not align. When assessing accounts receivable, there may come a time when it becomes clear that one or more accounts are simply not going to be paid. Companies create an allowance for doubtful accounts to recognize the possibility of uncollectible debts and to comply with the matching principle of accounting. After figuring out which method you’ll use, you can create the account in the chart of accounts. Let’s explore the importance of allowance for doubtful accounts, the methods of estimating it, and how to record it. Accounting and recording the transactions related to the allowance for doubtful accounts is important for decision-making and regulatory compliance.

Two primary methods exist for estimating the dollar amount of accounts receivables not expected to be collected. If it does not issue credit sales, requires collateral, or only uses the highest credit customers, the company https://simple-accounting.org/ may not need to estimate uncollectability. The allowance for doubtful accounts is bad debt reserve funds created to cover those accounts receivable with a higher probability of default and converting to doubtful accounts.

As a general rule, the longer a bill goes uncollected past its due date, the less likely it is to be paid. Note that the accounts receivable (A/R) account is NOT credited, but rather the allowance account for doubtful accounts, which indirectly reduces A/R. Credit sales all come with some degree of risk that the customer might not hold up their end of the transaction (i.e. when cash payments left unmet). Companies have been known to fraudulently alter their financial results by manipulating the size of this allowance. Auditors look for this issue by comparing the size of the allowance to gross sales over a period of time, to see if there are any major changes in the proportion. There are several possible ways to estimate the allowance for doubtful accounts, which are noted below.


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