Allowance Method

Updated on February 23, 2024
Article byGayatri Ailani
Edited byShreya Bansal
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is The Allowance Method?

The Allowance Method in accounting sets aside funds to cover anticipated bad debts from credit sales. It calculates a reserve based on past sales and customer risk assessment, ensuring a realistic reflection of expected uncollectible amounts in financial statements.

Allowance Method

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It plays a crucial role in prudent financial planning, guiding credit policies, aiding in decision-making, and ensuring the company’s financial stability. Acknowledging and preparing for possible losses from uncollectible accounts contributes to a more realistic depiction of the company’s financial situation, fostering transparency and informed financial management.

Key Takeaways

  • The allowance method in accounting involves setting aside funds as a reserve to cover expected losses from uncollectible accounts.
  • Its purpose is to build a reserve based on past trends and risk assessments. It aligns bad debt expenses with sales within the same reporting period, ensuring a more realistic portrayal of a company’s financial health.
  • It takes a proactive and structured approach to account for potential bad debts, whereas the direct write-off method recognizes bad debts only when they are confirmed as uncollectible.

Allowance Method Explained

The allowance method for doubtful accounts serves as a proactive measure to anticipate and manage the impact of potential bad debts. By setting aside a reserve based on a percentage of sales adjusted for customer risk, companies ensure a more accurate representation of their financial health. This reserve acts as a buffer against expected losses, aligning bad debt expenses with the sales they relate to within the same reporting period. This matching principle provides readers of financial statements with a clearer insight into the actual profitability tied to those sales, fostering transparency and accuracy in assessing a company’s performance.

The process begins with an initial entry: debiting the bad debt expense and crediting the allowance for doubtful accounts, effectively increasing the reserve. The allowance operates as a contra account, offsetting the accounts receivable. When a specific bad debt is identified, the allowance for doubtful accounts is debited (reducing the reserve), while the accounts receivable is credited (reducing the receivable asset). If the customer later pays a written-off invoice, the process reverses both the allowance and accounts receivable increase. It involves debiting the cash account to raise the cash balance while crediting the accounts receivable to reduce the receivable asset.

Essentially, the allowance method streamlines financial reporting by anticipating and accounting for potential bad debts within the same period as the associated sales, ensuring a more accurate portrayal of a company’s financial position. This approach enables businesses to mitigate risks, make informed decisions, and present a clearer picture of their profitability and liquidity to stakeholders and investors. Moreover, it facilitates prudent financial planning, allowing companies to navigate uncertainties associated with uncollectible debts more effectively while maintaining transparency and reliability in financial disclosures.


Let us look at the examples of the allowance method to understand the concept better.

Example #1

Suppose ABC Inc., a retail sector company, records total credit sales of $500,000 for a specific reporting period. To account for potential bad debts, they decide to set aside a reserve at 5% of their credit sales based on past trends and customer risk assessments.

1. Initial reserve creation:

ABC Inc. makes an initial accounting entry for the bad debt reserve:

  • Debit Bad Debt Expense: $25,000 (5% of $500,000)
  • Credit Allowance for Doubtful Accounts: $25,000

This entry establishes a $25,000 reserve for anticipated losses from uncollectible accounts.

2. Recognition of a specific bad debt:

Later, ABC Inc. identified that a customer account of $2,000 is uncollectible:

  • Debit Allowance for Doubtful Accounts: $2,000
  • Credit Accounts Receivable: $2,000

It reduces the accounts receivable by $2,000 and also reduces the reserve in the allowance for doubtful accounts.

3. Collection of previously written-off debt:

Subsequently, the customer settles the previously written-off debt of $2,000. The correct accounting entry to record this collection is:

  • Debit Cash: $2,000
  • Credit Allowance for Doubtful Accounts: $2,000

This entry increases the cash balance by $2,000 and replenishes the allowance for doubtful accounts by the same amount, reflecting the recovery of the previously written-off debt.

This hypothetical example illustrates how ABC Inc. effectively uses the allowance method to manage potential bad debts. By initially creating a reserve and then adjusting it for specific bad debts and recoveries, ABC Inc. ensures a more accurate reflection of its financial position.

Example #2

XYZ Corp., a company in the manufacturing sector, has a mix of accounts receivable at different aging stages:

  • Accounts receivable less than 60 days: $120,000
  • Accounts receivable more than 60 days: $50,000

1. Initial allowance for doubtful accounts estimation:

Based on their historical data, XYZ Corp. estimates the likelihood of uncollectibility for each category of receivables:

  • Less than 60 Days: 2.5% of $120,000 = $3,000
  • More than 60 Days: 6% of $50,000 = $3,000

The total estimated allowance for doubtful accounts would then be:

  • Total estimated reserve: $3,000 (Less than 60 days) + $3,000 (More than 60 days) = $6,000

2. Adjustment in subsequent period:

During a subsequent accounting period, XYZ Corp. reassesses its accounts receivable:

  • New Required Reserve: $4,200

Given the reassessment, XYZ Corp. realizes an adjustment is necessary:

  • Adjustment Amount = New Required Reserve – Initial Estimated Reserve

= $4,200 – $6,000 = -$1,800

It reflects a decrease in the provision required for potential bad debts based on the latest assessment of outstanding receivables.

This scenario illustrates how XYZ Corp. utilizes the allowance method to manage its accounts receivable, making adjustments based on changing assessments of credit risk.


The allowance method holds substantial importance in financial accounting as it provides a structured approach to anticipate and manage potential losses from uncollectible accounts. By establishing a reserve based on historical data, customer risk assessments, and current economic conditions, businesses can more accurately reflect their financial health.

The allowance method for bad debts ensures a realistic portrayal of profitability by aligning bad debt expenses with the corresponding sales within the same reporting period, adhering to the matching principle in accounting. Consequently, stakeholders gain a clearer understanding of a company’s actual financial position, aiding in informed decision-making, prudent financial planning, and effective risk management.

Additionally, the allowance method fosters transparency and credibility in financial reporting, as it enables companies to proactively address potential bad debts, ensuring more accurate and reliable financial statements. Ultimately, this approach enhances the overall reliability and usefulness of financial information, contributing to the stability and trustworthiness of a company in the eyes of investors, creditors, and other stakeholders.

Allowance Method vs Direct Write-Off

The differences between the allowance method and direct write-off are as follows –

BasisAllowance MethodDirect Write-off Method
Financial Statement AccuracyEnhances accuracy by distributing bad debt expenses across corresponding sales periods, improving transparency and reliability of financial statements.It can lead to distorted financial statements, as bad debts are only recognized upon confirmation, impacting a single period disproportionately.
Adherence to GAAPIt is preferred under GAAP due to compliance with the matching principle, offering a more accurate reflection of financial health.Less favored under GAAP because it breaches the matching principle, failing to match bad debt expenses with related sales and resulting in less accurate reporting.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Does the allowance method affect net income?

Yes, the allowance method affects net income. Estimating and recording bad debt expenses in the same period as related sales reduces net income by the amount of the anticipated bad debts, providing a more accurate reflection of a company’s profitability for that period.

2. How to use the allowance method for uncollectible accounts?

To use the allowance method for uncollectible accounts:
1. Estimate potential bad debts based on historical data and customer risk assessments.
2. Record this estimate as a bad debt expense in your financial statements, crediting a contra asset account – Allowance for Doubtful Accounts.
3. Adjust this reserve periodically to reflect actual uncollectible debts, ensuring accurate financial reporting.

3. Why is the allowance method required by GAAP?

The allowance method is favored by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) due to its adherence to the matching principle and its ability to provide a more accurate representation of a company’s financial position. This method enhances transparency, allowing for better financial planning, informed decision-making, and reliable financial reporting, meeting the standards of accuracy and consistency upheld by GAAP.

This has been a guide to what is the Allowance Method. Here, we explain the concept with its comparison with direct write-off, examples, & importance. You can learn more about financing from the following articles –

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