What is Bad Debt? A Guide to Calculating Expenses

Bad Debt Expenses: Calculations & Management

Bad debt is a term that no business owner wants to hear. It refers to money customers owe that cannot be collected, leading to significant losses for the business. But what exactly is bad debt, and how can you calculate it? 

This blog post will guide you through bad debt expenses, why tracking them is essential, and methods to calculate them. We will also provide an overview of accounts receivable and how analysing them can help your business make informed decisions. 

Lastly, we'll answer some frequently asked questions on bad debt expenses, such as whether it's an expense or loss, and provide examples of bad debt expenses. By the end of this post, you'll better understand bad debt expenses and how they impact your business's financial statements.

What is a Bad Debt Expense?

A bad debt expense is when a company cannot collect payment from a customer for goods or services provided. This can result from non-payment or bankruptcy. It appears as a loss on the income statement and reduces overall profit. Companies must estimate their bad debt expense and include it in financial statements. 

Why Track Bad Debt?

Monitoring bad debt enables businesses to pinpoint areas for improvement, adjust credit policies and collection procedures, make informed decisions about extending credit, and calculate accurate financial health. This data helps reduce bad debt and improve profitability.

Calculating Bad Debt Expenses

When managing finances, calculating bad debt expenses is crucial for businesses. This expense arises when a customer defaults on payment for goods or services provided. The allowance and direct write-off methods are two popular ways of calculating this loss. 

While the former estimates are based on historical records and track doubtful accounts receivable through an allowance account in the balance sheet, the latter only records the actual write-off after considering defaulting customers as uncollectible accounts receivable.

Direct Write-Off Method

Small businesses may find the Direct Write-Off method suitable for calculating debt expenses. When a receivable becomes uncollectible, the accountant writes off the doubtful account by debiting Bad Debts Expenses and crediting Accounts Receivable. 

However, this easy-to-use method can lead to inaccuracies in financial statements and isn't allowed under GAAP for bigger businesses. 

Recording Bad Debt Expenses

Estimating bad debt is crucial for businesses to maintain accurate financial reporting. The process involves creating an allowance for doubtful accounts by estimating uncollectible debt using either the percentage of sales or the ageing of accounts receivable method. Regularly reviewing and adjusting the allowance for doubtful accounts ensures accurate financial statements that reflect a proper receivable balance. 

When to Record Bad Debt

If you have been trying to collect a payment from a customer for some time now and have not succeeded, it may be time to record bad debt expenses in your accounting system. Registering bad debt is necessary when a customer becomes unlikely to pay their outstanding balance. 

Write-Off Method Recording

When recording bad debt expense in your small business's balance sheet or income statement using accrual accounting principles under generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), you have various options, such as the allowance and direct write-off methods. 

One of the most common methods is writing off uncollectible amounts from your receivable account(s) using the write-off method. Before doing so, though, ensure that you first consider doubtful accounts or debts with payment terms that are longer collectable than usual.

Allowance Method Recording

The allowance method is one of the most commonly used methods for recording bad debt expenses. This method involves making estimates based on historical data and current trends in the industry to determine how much lousy debt a company expects to have in an accounting period. 

A company can accurately reflect its financial obligations by recording this estimate as an expense on its income statement and offsetting it against its accounts receivable on the balance sheet using the allowance for doubtful accounts. 

Accounts Receivable Overview

Accounts receivable (AR) refers to the money customers owe for products or services purchased on credit. To maintain cash flow in a business while dealing with AR, one must differentiate between good debts (when payments are made) and bad debts (when payments aren't collected). 

Calculating bad debt expenses involves recording them in an income statement after removing them from accounts payables using direct write-off or allowance methods. 

What Are Accounts Receivable?

Accounts receivable are the money owed to a company by its customers for goods/services provided and considered an asset. Managing them is crucial for cash flow and timely payments. Bad debt expenses involve estimating un-collectable accounts. 

Analysing Accounts Receivable

Analysing accounts receivable involves defining debt and its impact on a company's financial health. It also includes identifying potential bad debts by analysing accounts receivable ageing reports. Minimising bad debts is crucial for which strategies like setting credit limits and offering payment plans can be used. Various methods can be adopted to calculate the amount of bad debt expense incurred during an accounting period, like the percentage of sales or accounts receivable ageing method. 

Learning from Financial Statements

Analysing your financial statements is essential to ensuring the long-term financial health of your business. By examining trends and patterns in areas like expenses and revenue, you can identify opportunities to reduce costs or increase profits. Calculating bad debt accurately is critical since it affects your balance sheet and income statement. 

Bad debt arises when a customer defaults on payment for goods or services provided, so keeping a close eye on accounts receivable is vital. 


Bad debt is an expense when a customer defaults on payment for goods or services a company provides. It can be calculated using different methods, such as the direct write-off or allowance method, and should be recorded on the balance sheet and income statement. 

The allowance method of calculating bad debt allows for more accurate estimation by considering factors like past credit sales and the ageing of accounts receivable. Accounting principles such as GAAP require businesses to make reasonable estimations of un-collectable accounts to maintain accuracy in financial statements. By following best practices and taking appropriate steps to estimate bad debts, you can ensure your business stays financially healthy over the long term.

Bad Debt - An Expense or a Loss?

In financial accounting, bad debt is classified as an expense. It refers to the amount owed by customers who are unlikely to pay. Bad debt expense is recorded when a company anticipates that some of its accounts receivable will not be collected. In contrast, the difference between bad debt expense and actual write-offs is a loss.

What Are Examples of Bad Debt Expenses?

Bad debt expenses can occur from unpaid invoices, defaulted loans, and credit card charge-offs. It may also arise from customers who declare bankruptcy or leave the business. Companies record lousy debt expenses as losses on their income statements. Stricter credit policies and collection agencies can help reduce bad debt expenses.


In conclusion, bad debt is an unavoidable reality for businesses and needs to be carefully tracked and recorded. It is essential to understand the different methods of calculating bad debt expenses and recording them accurately in financial statements. 

Analysing accounts receivable regularly can help you identify trends and potential areas of concern. Financial statements are crucial tools that shareholders use to assess the health of a company. 

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