Allowance for Doubtful Accounts and Bad Debt Expenses Cornell University Division of Financial Affairs


In accrual-basis accounting, recording the allowance for doubtful accounts at the same time as the sale improves the accuracy of financial reports. The projected bad debt expense is properly matched against the related sale, thereby providing a more accurate view of revenue and expenses for a specific period of time. In addition, this accounting process prevents the large swings in operating results when uncollectible accounts are written off directly as bad debt expenses. Companies turn to the allowance method to properly report revenues and the related expenses in the periods that they were earned and incurred. The allowance shows up as a contra-asset to offset receivables on the balance sheet and as bad debt expense to offset sales on the income statement.

If the percentage rate is still valid, the company makes no change. However, if the situation has changed significantly, the company increases or decreases the percentage rate to reflect the changed condition. For example, in periods of recession and high unemployment, a firm may increase the percentage rate to reflect the customers’ decreased ability to pay. However, if the company adopts a more stringent credit policy, it may have to decrease the percentage rate because the company would expect fewer uncollectible accounts. An allowance for doubtful accounts, or bad debt reserve, is a contra asset account that decreases your accounts receivable.

Allowance for Doubtful Accounts Journal Entry Example

Now, let’s say you want to write off $10,000 in bad debt for your business. In that case, the allowance for doubtful accounts will be debited, and accounts receivable will be credited.

  • In addition, this accounting process prevents the large swings in operating results when uncollectible accounts are written off directly as bad debt expenses.
  • The inherent uncertainty as to the amount of cash that will actually be received affects the physical recording process.
  • The University’s collections efforts are considered to be completed once accounts are turned over to a collection agency.

Net receivables are the money owed to a company by its customers minus the money owed that will likely never be paid, often expressed as a percentage. Let’s try and make accounts receivable more relevant or understandable using an actual company.

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With this method, the journal entry is a debit to the allowance for bad or doubtful debts account. Allowance for doubtful accounts is a financial metric that estimates the value of rendered services or goods sold that you don’t expect to get paid for. Essentially, it’s a tool used in accrual accounting as a way of tracking bad debt up front with the end goal of maintaining more accurate financial statements. This journal entry takes into account a debit balance of $2000 and adds the prior period’s balance to the estimated balance of $4608 in the current period, providing for a bad debt of $6608 ($4608+2000).


The allowance for doubtful accounts method is an estimate of how much of the company’s accounts receivable will be uncollectible. This estimate is entered as an adjustment in the books at the end of each accounting period. A journal entry debiting bad debt expense and crediting allowance for uncollectible accounts will be made with the estimate amount. Producing financial statements in compliance with GAAP is a requirement for public companies listed on a US Exchange. The matching principle requires that revenues be matched to their related expense within an accounting period. To approximate this as much as possible, a company must rely on the accrual-basis accounting method to periodically estimate certain revenues and expenses.

Sec. 704-17: Write Off and Allowance Procedures for Uncollectible Accounts

The must record an additional expense for this amount to also increase the allowance’s credit balance. The second method of estimating the allowance for doubtful accounts is the aging method.

Is Allowance for Doubtful Accounts a Credit or Debit?

The Allowance for Doubtful Accounts account is a contra asset. Contra assets are still recorded along with other assets, though their natural balance is opposite of assets. While assets have natural debit balances and increase with a debit, contra assets have natural credit balance and increase with a credit.

The first step in Allowance for Uncollectible Accountsing for the allowance for doubtful accounts is to establish the allowance. This is done by using one of the estimation methods above to predict what proportion of accounts receivable will go uncollected. For this example, let’s say a company predicts it will incur $500,000 of uncollected accounts receivable. The allowance is established in the same accounting period as the original sale, with an offset to bad debt expense. The allowance for doubtful accounts is a contra account that records the percentage of receivables expected to be uncollectible, though companies may specifically trace accounts. Finding the proper amount for the allowance for doubtful accounts is not an instant process. To create a standard allowance, have those financial records that indicate how many accounts have not been collected.

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This approach 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 also known as the balance sheet approach. The final point relates to businesses with very little exposure to the possibility of bad debts, typically, entities that rarely offer credit to its customers. Assuming that credit is not a significant component of its sales, these sellers can also use the direct write-off method. The companies that qualify for this exemption, however, are typically small and not major participants in the credit market. Thus, virtually all of the remaining bad debt expense material discussed here will be based on an allowance method that uses accrual accounting, the matching principle, and the revenue recognition rules under GAAP.

  • This process will effectively reduce the Bad Debt Expense in the period and increase cash.
  • During the interim, bad debts are estimated and recorded on the income statement as an expense and on the balance sheet through an allowance account, a contra asset.
  • To protect your business, you can create an allowance for doubtful accounts.
  • Many businesses use a more refined version of the percentage-of-receivables approach, known as the Aging of receivables approach.
  • The allowance for doubtful accounts (or the “bad debt” reserve) appears on the balance sheet to anticipate credit sales where the customer cannot fulfill their payment obligations.
  • When it comes to your small business, you don’t want to be in the dark.
  • If, however, a company uses the direct write-off method, it will credit accounts receivable to write off the bad debt.

No physical evidence exists at the time of sale to indicate which will become worthless . For convenience, accountants wait until financial statements are to be produced before making their estimation of net realizable value. The necessary reduction is then recorded by means of an adjusting entry. Let’s say your business brought in $60,000 worth of sales during the accounting period.