How Do I? Write Off Bad Business Debts

A business with a significant amount of receivables should evaluate whether some of them may be written off as business bad debts. A business taxpayer may deduct business bad debts if the receivable becomes partially or completely worthless during the tax year.

In general, most business taxpayers must use the specific charge-off method to account for bad debts. The deduction in any case is limited to the taxpayer’s adjusted basis in the receivable.

The deduction allowed for bad debts is an ordinary deduction, which can serve to offset regular business income dollar for dollar. If the taxpayer holds a security, which is a capital asset, and the security becomes worthless during the tax year, the tax law only allows a deduction for a capital loss. However, notes receivable obtained in the ordinary course of business are not capital assets. Therefore, if such notes become partially or completely worthless during the tax year, the taxpayer may claim an ordinary deduction for bad debts.

For a taxpayer to sustain a bad debt deduction, the debt must be bona fide. The IRS looks carefully at a bad debt of a family member.

To be entitled to a business debt write off, the taxpayer must also make a reasonable attempt to collect the debt. However, in a nod to reality, the IRS does not request the taxpayer to turn the debt over to a collection agency or file a lawsuit in an attempt to collect the debt if doing so has little probability of success.

Deadlines for claiming a write off for any past business bad debt must be watched. Taxpayers have until the later of (1) seven years from the date they timely filed their tax return or (2) two years from the time they paid the tax, to claim a refund for a deduction for a wholly worthless debt not deducted on the original return.

If and only to the extent that this publication contains contributions from tax professionals who are subject to the rules of professional conduct set forth in Circular 230, as promulgated by the United States Department of the Treasury, the publisher, on behalf of those contributors, hereby states that any U.S. federal tax advice that is contained in such contributions was not intended or written to be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer by the Internal Revenue Service, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer for such purpose.

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