Understanding Bad Debt Expense Journal Entry

Many businesses offer their products and services on credit to customers, allowing them to pay later. While extending credit can help businesses increase sales and customer loyalty, it also exposes them to the risk of bad debts. A bad debt is an amount owed by a customer that is deemed uncollectible and unlikely to be paid back.

Understanding Bad Debt Expense Journal Entry

When a business realizes that it will not be able to collect an outstanding debt from a customer, they must record a bad debt expense in their books. This expense represents the amount of money that the business no longer expects to receive from the customer. In this article, we will discuss bad debt expense journal entries, including what they are and how to record them properly.

What is a Bad Debt Expense Journal Entry?

A journal entry is a record of financial transactions made by a business. Whenever something happens that affects a company’s finances, such as making a sale or paying an expense, it should be recorded in their journals. A bad debt expense journal entry is created when a business recognizes that one of its customers’ accounts receivable is no longer collectible.

Accountants use two methods for recording bad debts: the direct write-off method and the allowance method. The direct write-off method records the entire amount of the accounts receivable as bad debt once it has been determined uncollectible. This method can lead to inaccuracies in financial reporting since it only records expenses when they become unmanageable.

On the other hand, under the allowance method, companies estimate their future bad debts based on past experiences or industry averages and set aside money for potential losses before they occur. Using this approach results in more accurate financial statements since for each accounting period; companies report expenses associated with estimated losses instead of waiting until these losses become definite.

How to Record Bad Debt Expense using Allowance Method?

Now let’s take an example of how you can make a journal entry for a bad debt expense using the allowance method. Suppose your company has extended a $500 credit to a customer and recorded it in their accounts receivable. The customer fails to pay the amount, and after several attempts to collect it, you decide that it’s uncollectible.

The first step is to make an adjustment to the allowance for doubtful accounts (AFDA) account. AFDA is an estimate of the portion of credit sales that a business deems uncollectible. We set aside a portion of our revenue as we extend credit to our customers based on any historical data or industry averages.

To adjust your AFDA balance, you need to identify the percentage of uncollectible debts from historical records; this can be an average experience or just what the company sets aside. For this example purpose, let’s assume that your company uses 2% as its estimate.

$10,000 x 2% = $200 (estimated bad debt expense)

Now adjust the AFDA account by crediting it with $200:

Date Account Debit Credit
03/01/20XX Bad Debt Expense $0 $200
Allowance for Doubtful Accounts $200 $0

The next step is to record actual bad debt expense in your books, which you write off against your accounts receivable using this journal entry:

Date Account Debit Credit
03/01/20XX Bad Debt Expense $500
Accounts Receivable (Customer) $500

That’s it! By recording these entries into the general ledger in our accounting system, we have reduced our inaccurate assets’ balance and prepared accurate financial reports.


As we have discussed, businesses must record bad debt expense journal entries when a customer’s account receivable is deemed uncollectible. Using the allowance method to estimate future bad debts leads to more accurate financial statements than the direct write-off method. Setting aside an amount from our revenue beforehand for doubtful accounts helps businesses prepare for potential losses and reduce the impact of unexpected expenses.

Properly recording bad debt expense ensures that companies report reliable financial information, which is crucial in making informed decisions about future business activities. We hope this article has helped you understand how to record bad debt expense journal entries properly.


What is a bad debt expense journal entry?

A bad debt expense journal entry is a record of the amount of money that a company predicts it will not be able to collect from customers who owe them money. This is done to reflect a more accurate picture of the company’s finances.

When do companies use bad debt expense journal entries?

Companies typically use bad debt expense journal entries when they have identified that certain customers are unlikely to pay their outstanding debts. It is used to adjust the accounts receivable and net income line items on their financial reports.

How does a bad debt expense journal entry affect a company’s financial statements?

A bad debt expense journal entry reduces the value of the accounts receivable asset on the balance sheet, which in turn reduces net income on the income statement. This reflects a more conservative approach to accounting for future losses by reflecting decreases in revenue early, rather than later.

Why would a company need to make bad debt expense journal entries each period?

Since businesses are always extending credit to customers, they need to constantly monitor their accounts receivable balances and make adjustments for any unpaid debts that appear unlikely to be collected in order to keep their financial statements accurate and up-to-date.

Can’t companies just write off unpaid debts without making the appropriate adjustment in their accounting records?

While it might seem practical or convenient for companies to simply write off unpaid debts, this method can result in inaccurate accounting records, which could lead to legal or regulatory issues down the line. By making bad debt expense journal entries, companies ensure that their books accurately reflect all debts owed and potential losses from those debts.

Are there different ways of recording bad debt expenses depending on industry or business type?

Yes, there are different methods that companies use when recording bad debt expenses. These methods may depend on industry standards, such as percentage of revenue or aged accounts receivable methods. It’s best for each company to consult with an accountant to determine the best method based on their specific needs.

Can a company choose not to record bad debt expenses?

While companies technically have the option to not record bad debt expenses, doing so would result in inaccurate financial statements, which could harm the company in many ways, including losing investor confidence or facing legal issues.

How can companies prevent bad debts from occurring in the first place?

Companies can prevent bad debts by thoroughly vetting potential customers and ensuring that they have clean credit histories before extending any lines of credit. Additionally, offering incentives like early payment discounts can encourage customers to pay promptly and avoid accruing additional interest fees over time.

Are there tax implications for recording bad debt expenses?

Yes, there are tax implications when recording bad debt expenses. Since these losses are seen as operating expenses, they can sometimes reduce taxable income and lower a company’s tax bill for that year. However, it is important for businesses to consult with a tax professional before making any final decisions regarding these entries.

Can bad debts ever be recovered after being recorded on a journal entry?

Yes, it is possible for some previously recorded bad debts to be recovered at a later date through legal action or other means. If this happens, the company would then need to reverse the original journal entry and restore the account balance accordingly.

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