Allowance For Doubtful Accounts – Definition & How to Calculate it

An allowance for doubtful accounts estimates the number of outstanding receivables a company does not expect to collect. Allowance for doubtful accounts is a contra-asset account listed as a negative or zero balance on a company's balance sheet. It can also be referred to as Allowance for Uncollectible Expense, Allowance for Bad Debts, Provision for Bad Debts or Bad Debt Reserve.

The AFDA recognizes and records expected losses from unpaid customer invoices or accounts receivable (A/R). Companies use the allowance method to estimate uncollectible accounts and adjust their financial statements to present an accurate picture of their financial position, specifically cash flow.

The calculation of the AFDA is simple, but it can be somewhat subjective. It usually involves two main components:

Estimating the percentage of bad debt that is expected to be uncollectable. This can be done by reviewing historical data, such as customer payment patterns and trends in industry-specific metrics.

Calculate the amount of bad debt that is expected to be uncollectable. The estimated bad debt percentage is then applied to the accounts receivable balance at a specific time point.

The three primary methods of calculating Allowance for Doubtful Accounts are:

The Percentage-of-Sales Method – estimates allowance using a predetermined percentage of current sales. It assumes that a certain amount of uncollectable debt is associated with each sale and that this percentage remains consistent.

  1. The Accounts Receivable Aging Method – this method estimates the allowance based on the age of accounts receivable. It tracks how long customers have been overdue on payments or invoices, and then calculates a certain percentage of bad debt for each age period.
  3. The Direct Write-Off Method – this method directly charges off the uncollectable accounts as they are determined to be uncollectable. This is the least accurate of the three methods and should only be used if very few customers make late payments or default on their invoices.

Regardless of your method, reviewing your allowance periodically and adjusting it accordingly is essential. This will ensure that your financial statements accurately represent the status of your company's accounts receivable.

The Allowance for Doubtful Accounts is a vital component of any business's financial planning, as it allows companies to account for the potential losses associated with unpaid receivables.

Businesses can use the proper methods to estimate the AFDA to ensure their balance sheets remain accurate and up-to-date.

Below are questions and answers to some of the most common questions related to allowance for doubtful accounts.

The allowance for doubtful accounts is recorded as a contra-asset account on the balance sheet.

When an invoice is written off, a journal entry must be made, with a debit to bad debt expense and a credit to allowance for doubtful accounts.

The bad debt expense is the amount charged when a customer fails to pay their invoice. Conversely, the allowance for doubtful accounts is an estimate of the total amount of uncollectable receivables that are expected to be written off.
No, the allowance for doubtful accounts is not a current asset. It is typically classified as a contra-asset account and is used to offset the accounts receivable balance on the balance sheet. Accounts receivable are a current asset.

Accountants use allowance for doubtful accounts to ensure that their financial statements accurately reflect the current state of their receivables. 

The AFDA helps accountants estimate the amount of bad debt that is expected to be uncollectable and adjusts the accounts receivables balance accordingly. This ensures that the company's financial statement accurately reflects its overall financial health.

While the allowance for doubtful accounts is a useful accounting method that can help assess the true value of the accounts receivable asset, it has shortfalls that need to be considered. It is impossible to know which customers will default in a given year, which makes the process inherently inaccurate. If a large customer defaults unexpectedly, the allowance for doubtful accounts will not protect a company from suffering significant impacts to cash flow and profitability.

It is important to understand that the allowance doesn’t protect against slow payments or lessen the impact of bad debt losses. As such, effective credit management and debt collection procedures should be a critical part of the evaluation of how to limit the effect bad debt can have on your business.

There are also downsides to having too small or too large of an allowance for doubtful accounts. Trade credit insurance is one tool to help reduce the overall impact of bad debts and secure the accounts receivable asset, thereby improving the accuracy of cash flow and P&L forecasting.

At Allianz Trade, we can help by providing you with trade credit insurance services and tools needed to reduce the uncertainty of buyer default and greatly reduce the impact of bad debt. It can also help you to estimate your allowance for doubtful accounts more accurately. 

By monitoring customer payment behavior, we can provide insights into customer delinquency trends to help you determine which customers are at greater risk of defaulting on their payments. This, in turn, will allow you to adjust your allowance for doubtful accounts accordingly. If there is a large, unexpected default, you can rest assured that we will pay the claim, effectively eliminating what could have been a devastating bad debt loss.

Our credit risk assessment services also allow you to thoroughly evaluate customer creditworthiness and make informed decisions about whom to extend credit to.

Properly managing the allowance for doubtful accounts ensures that your financial statements are accurate and up-to-date.

To learn more about how we can help your business grow, contact one of our sales agents by filling out the form below.