What is a Bad Debt Reserve?

What is a Bad Debt Reserve?

Bad Debt Reserve Definition

A bad debt reserve is an accounting tool that companies use to predict the money they won't receive from customers. 

This reserve (allowance for doubtful accounts) shows the total debts that a company believes uncollectible. 

A bad debt provision is recorded on the balance sheet as a deduction from outstanding receivables. A company can accurately report its expected income by estimating and setting aside this reserve.

How it Works

A bad debt allowance works by allowing a company to account for future losses due to an uncollectible account. 

After each accounting period, accountants estimate the total accounts receivables that they believe will not be collected. 

They update the bad debts account to reflect this estimation. 

An allowance reserve affects all companies, be it a small business or a larger enterprise.

This process ensures that the company’s financial statements provide a realistic actual income and financial condition picture. When potential bad debts turns out to be uncollectible, the company then writes it off against the bad debt reserve, which helps maintain the company's financial reporting accuracy.

Bad Debt Reserve Example

Imagine a company, XYZ Corp, has $1,000,000 in total credit sales. From past experience, they expect that 5% will not be paid. XYZ Corp then calculates their bad debt reserve by multiplying their credit sale by 5%, which is $50,000 (according to the allowance method). This is set aside in the allowance account. 

This is reported in the financial statements as a deduction from the total unpaid invoices, showing that XYZ Corp expects to realistically collect only $950,000.

On the balance sheet, the bad debt reserve appears as a contra account (contra asset account) to accounts receivable. 

This means it reduces the total receivable account to reflect the amount the company expects not to collect. The bad debt reserve is listed under current assets, showing the realistic net accounts receivable that the company believes it will collect. This helps ensure that the financial statement presents a clear and accurate financial health. 

Note: A nonbusiness bad debt refers to debts incurred outside a trade or business, which still necessitates an adjustment in the bad debt reserve for accurate financial reporting.

Bad Debt Reserve vs. Bad Debt Expense

Bad debt reserve and bad debt expense are two related but distinct concepts in accounting.

Doubtful debt is a provision on the balance sheet. It represents the estimated accounts receivable that customers will not pay. This reserve adjusts the total receivables to show a highly accurate collection expectation. 

Bad debt expense appears on the income statement

It reflects the receivables that a company has determined will not be collected during a specific accounting period. This expense directly affects the company's net income because it is a loss realization based on actual and estimated uncollectible receivables.

Together, these accounting treatments help manage credit loss impact on the financial statements.

Note: The Generally Accepted Accounting Principle (GAAP) mandates bad debt reserve usage to ensure potential losses are accurate from uncollectible accounts in financial statements.

Different Ways to Calculate Bad Debt Reserve

  • Percentage of Sales Method: Companies estimate bad debts reserve based on total credit sales, assuming a consistent non-payment rate from historical data.
  • Accounts Receivable Aging Method: This approach involves categorizing debt collection by age, and applying different levels to each category. Older accounts typically have a higher percentage, reflecting increased non-payment risk.
  • Historical Percentage Method: Companies use historical data to find the uncollectible debt in relation to total receivables, applying this rate to the current accounts receivable to estimate the reserve.
  • Specific Identification Method: This method requires evaluating individual outstanding accounts for their non-payment likelihood and setting aside reserves for those specific accounts identified as likely to become bad debt.
Note: In financial services, the bad debt reserve plays a critical role in managing credit risk by accounting for potential losses from non-performing loans or unpaid debts.

Bad Debt Reserve Benefits

Understanding the principles behind bad debt reserves is essential for CPA exam candidates, as it demonstrates their accounting standards' understanding.

  • Accurate Financial Reporting: Bad debt reserves allow companies to reflect a more realistic financial health picture by adjusting their accounts receivable balance to account for potential losses.
  • Improved Decision Making: By accounting for potential bad debts, companies can make more informed decisions regarding credit management, collections strategies, and overall financial planning and analysis.
  • Stabilized Cash Flow: Setting aside reserves for bad debts helps mitigate uncollectible accounts on cash flow, providing more stability in financial operations.
  • Enhanced Investor Confidence: Transparent financial reporting, facilitated by a bad debt expense account, can increase investor confidence by demonstrating prudent risk management practices.
  • Compliance with Accounting Standards: Establishing bad debt reserves ensures compliance with accounting standards, such as GAAP which require companies to recognize potential receivable losses.
Note: A debit bad debt expense reflects the uncollectible accounts recognized in a specific period, while the bad debt reserve represents the estimated receivables that customers will not pay, both crucial for accurate financial reporting. 


1) How do you record a bad debt reserve?

To record a bad debt reserve, decrease the accounts receivable and increase the bad debt expense.

2) Is bad debt reserve a current liability?

Yes, the bad debt reserve is considered a current liability.

3) Is bad debt reserve a loss True or false?

False, a bad debt reserve is not a loss.

4) Which side is reserve for bad debts in final accounts?

The reserve for bad debts appears on the asset side of the final accounts.

Growfin Book a Demo

Don't miss these stories: