53 Account for Uncollectible Accounts Using the Balance Sheet and Income Statement Approaches

You lend a friend $500 with the agreement that you will be repaid in two months. At the end of two months, your friend has not repaid the money. You continue to request the money each month, but the friend has yet to repay the debt. How does this affect your finances?

Think of this on a larger scale. A bank lends money to a couple purchasing a home (mortgage). The understanding is that the couple will make payments each month toward the principal borrowed, plus interest. As time passes, the loan goes unpaid. What happens when a loan that was supposed to be paid is not paid? How does this affect the financial statements for the bank? The bank may need to consider ways to recognize this bad debt.

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Fundamentals of Bad Debt Expenses and Allowances for Doubtful Accounts

Bad debts are uncollectible amounts from customer accounts. Bad debt negatively affects accounts receivable (see (Figure)). When future collection of receivables cannot be reasonably assumed, recognizing this potential nonpayment is required. There are two methods a company may use to recognize bad debt: the direct write-off method and the allowance method.


Bad Debt Expenses. Uncollectible customer accounts produce bad debt. (credit: modification of “Past Due Bills” by “Maggiebug 21”/Wikimedia Commons, CC0)

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Bad Debt Expense increases (debit), and Accounts Receivable decreases (credit) for $15,000. If, in the future, any part of the debt is recovered, a reversal of the previously written-off bad debt, and the collection recognition is required. Let’s say this customer unexpectedly pays in full on May 1, 2019, the company would record the following journal entries (note that the company’s fiscal year ends on June 30)

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The journal entry for the Bad Debt Expense increases (debit) the expense’s balance, and the Allowance for Doubtful Accounts increases (credit) the balance in the Allowance. The allowance for doubtful accounts is a contra asset account and is subtracted from Accounts Receivable to determine the Net Realizable Value of the Accounts Receivable account on the balance sheet. A contra account has an opposite normal balance to its paired account, thereby reducing or increasing the balance in the paired account at the end of a period; the adjustment can be an addition or a subtraction from a controlling account. In the case of the allowance for doubtful accounts, it is a contra account that is used to reduce the Controlling account, Accounts Receivable.

At the end of an accounting period, the Allowance for Doubtful Accounts reduces the Accounts Receivable to produce Net Accounts Receivable. Note that allowance for doubtful accounts reduces the overall accounts receivable account, not a specific accounts receivable assigned to a customer. Because it is an estimation, it means the exact account that is (or will become) uncollectible is not yet known.

To demonstrate the treatment of the allowance for doubtful accounts on the balance sheet, assume that a company has reported an Accounts Receivable balance of $90,000 and a Balance in the Allowance of Doubtful Accounts of $4,800. The following table reflects how the relationship would be reflected in the current (short-term) section of the company’s Balance Sheet.

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Therefore, the adjusting journal entry would be as follows.

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Therefore, the adjusting journal entry would be as follows.

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Allowance for Doubtful Accounts decreases (debit) and Accounts Receivable for the specific customer also decreases (credit). Allowance for doubtful accounts decreases because the bad debt amount is no longer unclear. Accounts receivable decreases because there is an assumption that no debt will be collected on the identified customer’s account.

Let’s say that the customer unexpectedly pays on the account in the future. The following journal entries would occur.

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The first entry reverses the previous entry where bad debt was written off. This reinstatement requires Accounts Receivable: Customer to increase (debit), and Allowance for Doubtful Accounts to increase (credit). The second entry records the payment on the account. Cash increases (debit) and Accounts Receivable: Customer decreases (credit) for the amount received.

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To compute the most accurate estimation possible, a company may use one of three methods for bad debt expense recognition: the income statement method, balance sheet method, or balance sheet aging of receivables method.