Bad Debt Expense

The requirement that a company estimate its bad debt expense follows the matching principle: revenues generated from credit sales are matched with the bad debt estimates from those credit sales.

The bad debt expense reduces net income for the same period the credit sales were reported on the income statement. Because it cannot be known which accounts will be written off until the period after credit sales are made, estimates are required.

Estimates for bad debt are also subtracted from the accounts receivable balance by creating the allowance for doubtful accounts contra account. This account reduces the accounts receivable balance to arrive at the reportable amount of receivables on the balance sheet. This reportable amount is called the net realizable value, or the amount of cash the company expects to receive from accounts receivable.

The estimate for bad debt reduces both the net earnings on the income statement for the period, and the accounts receivable asset on the balance sheet.

Two Purposes for Bad Debt Expense

The estimate for bad debts reduces both net earnings on the income statement, and the accounts receivable
asset on the balance sheet.

Estimating bad debts therefore serves two main purposes:

  1. It matches the revenue generated from credit sales with the expense incurred from them by recording a bad debt expense on the income statement.
  2. It reduces the accounts receivable balance on the balance sheet using the contra account allowance for doubtful accounts.

Estimates for bad debt are either based on

1. A percentage of credit sales, or

2. A percentage of the ending accounts receivable balance.

Both methods are acceptable under GAAP. The first method emphasizes the matching principle, while the second method emphasizes reporting account receivable at the net realizable value.

Since Sunny Sunglasses is new in the business, Sunny estimated that roughly 1% of credit sales will be uncollectible based on industry averages, and recorded the following entry at year-end:

Date Account and Explanation Reference Debits Credits
Dec. 31 Bad Debt Expense 525 $700
Dec. 31 Allowance for Doubtful Accounts 111 $700

The journal entry above used to estimate the bad debt is made as part of the adjusting entries process in the accounting cycle.

Alternatively, Sunny could have taken a percentage of the ending receivable balance to estimate uncollectible accounts.

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  4 Responses to “Bad Debt Expense”

  1. Hi Christine –

    Bad debt expense is taken directly to the income statement based on the estimated total doubtful debt.
    Doubtful debt is a contra account on the balance sheet reducing accounts receivable, and the expense is take to bad debt.
    The balance is maintained, so that if estimated debt increases, so does bad debt expense.
    See this explanation.

  2. what is the difference between bad debt expense and doubtful debt?
    what i learned is that the doubtful debt is a kind of preparing for bad debts, are they the same meaning?
    when we calculate the doubtful debt, should we deduct the balance of allowance for doubt debts ?

  3. Hi Prathi –

    The advantage of the percentage of credit sales is that it emphasizes the matching principle, i.e. the matching of the actual credit sales with the bad debt estimate for the period. The disadvantage is that you have to know how much sales were actually made on credit, and it does not reflect the balance or age of the account which is often a good indicator of bad debt expense.

    The advantage of taking the percentage of accounts receivable method is that it reflects the value of a/r based on uncollectible accounts. You can measure how much of a/r is likely to go bad, esp. based on aging of accounts receivable as illustrated here (should have included this link on the page –
    The disadvantage is that it does not truly match the credit sales with the bad debt expense associated with those credit sales.


  4. what are the disadvantage/advantages of these methods?

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