B is for Bad Debt (Business)

In some instances bad debts may be written off.  Here we’ll look at what factors must be present in order to take a deduction.

For Accrual Method Taxpayers:

When using the accrual accounting method, management estimates an allowance for bad debts based on several factors such as prior experience, industry comparisons, the debtor’s ability to pay and/or appraisals of current economic conditions.  This is known as the allowance method.  Keep in mind; this is an estimate of an event that has not yet occurred.  When it comes to tax, the IRS does not allow you to make this estimate.  As you can imagine, it would be abused as a “tax planning” strategy.  Therefore, for tax purposes, we can only deduct actual bad debts.  The following factors must exist in order to deduct a bad debt:

  1. It must be a creditor-debtor relationship
  2. There must be a legal obligation to pay a fixed sum of money
  3. There must be an actual loss of money (loss of time spent rendering services is not a loss of money unless the uncollected fee has already been included in taxable revenues on the accrual method)
  4. Proof that the debt is and will remain uncollectible
  5. A business purpose for the debt

When using the specific charge-off method to deduct bad debt (unlike the allowance method previously discussed), management has to prove that the debt is uncollectible to expense it.

Recovery of previously written off bad debts in subsequent years is recognized as other income in the year received.  As always, see your tax preparer when determining what your business can deduct for bad debt expense.

For Cash Method Taxpayers:

Cash basis businesses cannot deduct bad debt since the related revenue was never recognized.  There would only be bad debt for actual cash lost, i.e. because it was paid in cash to a vendor, etc.

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