13 Feb 2024

Allowance for Doubtful Accounts: Safeguarding Your Receivables

Subhasis Sahoo (Founding Member - Marketing)

In the world of business, extending credit to customers is a double-edged sword. It encourages sales but carries the risk of uncollected payments. Recognizing this inherent risk, accountants utilize a powerful tool – the allowance for doubtful accounts.

This blog delves into the technicalities of this crucial concept, equipping you with the knowledge to calculate and record allowances accurately.

What is the Allowance for Doubtful Accounts?

Simply put, the allowance for doubtful accounts (AFDA), also known as the bad debt reserve, is an estimate of the portion of accounts receivable that a company expects won’t be collected. By estimating this potential loss beforehand, businesses can ensure their financial statements reflect a more realistic picture of their financial health. This allowance acts as a contra-asset account, meaning it reduces the reported value of accounts receivable on the balance sheet.

Why is it Important?

Maintaining an accurate AFDA serves several critical purposes:

  • Financial Statement Integrity: It reflects the true value of accounts receivable, preventing overstatement of assets and potential misleading information for investors and creditors.
  • Profit Measurement: By estimating bad debt expense, it provides a more accurate picture of a company’s true profitability. Underestimating bad debt can inflate profits on paper, ultimately leading to inaccurate decision-making.
  • Credit Risk Management: Monitoring the AFDA and bad debt expense helps assess the effectiveness of credit policies and identify potential issues with customer creditworthiness.

Calculating the Allowance

Determining the appropriate AFDA amount requires careful consideration and depends on several factors like industry norms, historical bad debt experience, and economic conditions. Here are some common methods employed:

1. Percentage of Receivables Method:

This method calculates the allowance as a fixed percentage of total accounts receivable. This percentage is typically based on historical data or industry averages. While simple, it might not reflect individual customer risks or economic fluctuations.

2. Aging of Receivables Method:

This method categorizes accounts receivable based on their age (e.g., current, 30 days past due, 60 days past due) and applies different percentages of estimated uncollectibility to each category. This approach offers better granularity but requires more detailed analysis.

3. Specific Account Method:

This method individually assesses each customer’s creditworthiness and estimates the uncollectible amount for each account. While highly accurate, it is time-consuming and resource-intensive, making it suitable for high-value accounts or specific industries.

4. Credit Scoring Model:

This method utilizes statistical models and historical data to estimate bad debt based on various customer attributes and economic factors. It offers superior accuracy but requires sophisticated modeling expertise and data accessibility.

The choice of method depends on the company’s size, industry, resources, and risk tolerance. Consulting with an accountant can help determine the most suitable approach.

Recording Journal Entries: Bringing Numbers to Life

Once the AFDA is calculated, it’s time to translate it into accounting entries:

1. Adjusting Entry:

At the end of an accounting period, an adjusting entry is made to record the estimated bad debt expense and update the AFDA:

Bad Debt Expense (Debit)

Allowance for Doubtful Accounts (Credit)

This entry increases the bad debt expense, reducing net income, and increases the AFDA, lowering the net accounts receivable value.

2. Write-off Entry:

When a specific account is deemed uncollectible, a write-off entry is made:

Allowance for Doubtful Accounts (Debit)

Accounts Receivable (Credit)

This entry removes the specific account from accounts receivable and reduces the AFDA balance accordingly.

3. Recovery Entry:

If a previously written-off account is unexpectedly collected, a recovery entry is made:

Accounts Receivable (Debit)

Allowance for Doubtful Accounts (Credit)

This entry increases accounts receivable and the AFDA balance, reflecting the unexpected collection.


By understanding the allowance for doubtful accounts, its calculation methods, and journal entries, you gain valuable tools for financial risk management. By accurately estimating and recording bad debt, companies can achieve transparency in financial statements, ensure accurate profit measurement, and proactively manage credit risk. Remember, consulting with an accounting professional can help you tailor these practices to your specific business needs and navigate the intricacies of financial reporting confidently.

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