Credit & Buyer Intelligence

01 Feb 2024

Master Bad Debt: Formulas, Calculation & Management Tips

Amartya Singh (CEO, FinFloh)

In the realm of finance, bad debt, also known as uncollectible accounts expense, represents a portion of borrowed funds or outstanding balances that a creditor deems irrecoverable. It is an inevitable reality for businesses and individuals that extend credit, as unforeseen circumstances can render borrowers unable to repay their debts. This blog delves into the technical aspects of bad debt, exploring its definition, calculation methods, and effective management strategies.

What Is Bad Debt?

Bad debt arises when a receivable from a customer, client, or borrower is considered unlikely to be collected, often due to financial hardship, bankruptcy, or other reasons. These unpaid amounts are written off, meaning they are removed from the creditor’s financial records as assets and recognized as an expense.

Key Characteristics:

  • Irrecoverability: The critical factor is the low probability of repayment, usually assessed through established criteria or collection efforts that prove futile.
  • Formal Recognition: Once deemed uncollectible, bad debt is officially written off through accounting procedures.
  • Financial Impact: It reduces a creditor’s profitability and net income, affecting financial ratios and potentially raising borrowing costs.

Calculating Bad Debt: Essential Methods

  • Direct Write-Off Method:

Applicability: Suitable for individual bad debts that are readily identifiable as uncollectible.

Process: The specific bad debt amount is directly expensed in the income statement for the period in which it is written off.

Example: If a company writes off a $1,000 invoice as bad debt in December 2023, it records a $1,000 bad debt expense in its December income statement.

  • Allowance Method:

Applicability: More commonly used, especially for businesses that extend credit regularly.


An allowance for doubtful accounts is created, typically as a contra-asset account to accounts receivable.

An estimated bad debt expense is calculated periodically (e.g., monthly, quarterly, annually) using various estimation methods:

  • Percentage of Sales Method: A fixed percentage of credit sales is estimated as bad debt based on historical experience or industry norms.
  • Accounts Receivable Aging Method: Bad debt is estimated based on the age of unpaid receivables, with older invoices having a higher likelihood of default.

The estimated bad debt expense is recorded in the income statement, and the allowance for doubtful accounts is adjusted accordingly.

Example: A company estimates that 2% of its $100,000 credit sales in January 2024 will be uncollectible. It records a $2,000 bad debt expense and increases its allowance for doubtful accounts by $2,000.

Additional Considerations:

  • Tax Implications: In many jurisdictions, bad debt expenses are tax-deductible, offering some relief to creditors.
  • Collection Efforts: Even after write-off, some creditors may pursue debt collection activities using external agencies or legal means. However, the success rate for such efforts is often low, and the costs involved must be weighed against the potential recovery.

Strategies for Effective Bad Debt Management

  • Credit Risk Assessment: Implement a robust credit risk assessment process to evaluate potential borrowers’ creditworthiness before extending credit. This may involve checking credit scores, verifying financial statements, and understanding their repayment history.
  • Clear Credit Terms: Establish clear and concise credit terms that outline payment due dates, late fees, and consequences for non-payment. Communicate these terms effectively to borrowers.
  • Effective Monitoring: Regularly monitor outstanding receivables and identify potential delinquencies early. Prompt collection efforts can sometimes improve recovery rates.
  • Flexible Payment Options: Consider offering flexible payment options, such as installment plans or early payment discounts, to incentivize timely repayments.
  • Insurance: Explore credit insurance, which can mitigate bad debt losses in exchange for premiums. However, carefully evaluate the cost-effectiveness of insurance relative to your expected bad debt experience.
  • Legal Expertise: In complex cases or for significant bad debts, consult legal professionals to explore recovery options and potential legal remedies.


Bad debt is an inherent risk in extending credit, but proactive measures can help businesses and individuals minimize its impact. By understanding the technical aspects of bad debt, employing accurate calculation methods, and implementing effective management strategies, creditors can make informed decisions, protect their financial health, and navigate the challenges of uncollectible accounts effectively.

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