Are bad business debts a tax deduction?

Posted on May 28, 2016

If you’re in business long enough, you’ll run into a customer who doesn’t pay you. Despite your best efforts, you may conclude that you’ll never receive the money. Do you have a tax-deductible bad debt? The answer depends in part on whether you operate your business using the cash or accrual method of accounting.

Cash. When you use the cash method, you report taxable income when you receive it and deduct expenses when they are actually paid. While this makes your bookkeeping simple, you get no direct deduction for a bad debt. Since the income was never received, it was never reported or taxed. However, you will still be able to indirectly deduct the labor, merchandise, and overhead used to provide for the goods or services that were delivered but not paid for.

Accrual. Under the accrual method, you report income when you send an invoice to the customer. Expenses are deducted when they are due, regardless of when you pay them. This method is more complicated than the cash method, since you must track accounts receivable and accounts payable. However, because you report taxable income when you bill your customers, you have a bad debt deduction that you can claim as an operating expense if your customers fail to pay.

For more information about accounting for bad debts, contact us.

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