Write off bad debts 28 Feb 2017

With 31 March looming as the end of many businesses’ financial year, there’s always the prospect of paying too much tax, It doesn’t need to be this way.

One of the biggest issues is the importance of writing off bad debts. It seems almost every year we have a client for whom we prepare the annual financial statements, who has a large amount of money owing to them.

When we get the results for the year we find there is a big profit, which has been inflated by an excessive accounts receivable figure. Discussion reveals some of this money is never going to be collected.

Can we fix the problem?

No. The law will not permit us to write off bad debts back-dated to the previous year. The client has to pay the tax and wait until next year to get these bad debts written off.

In the end the result is the same but in the meantime our client has to pay his tax earlier than would have been necessary.

Look at the debts owing to you. Are there some you have been pursuing and who won’t pay you? Have you taken every reasonable step to get paid?

If yes, you must physically write off the bad debt before balance date, if you want to reduce your accounts receivable and hence your profit and tax. It depends on the system you are using as to how you go about this. If it's a very basic system like keeping copies of the invoices you have sent out, just write on your copy the words “written off as a bad debt on…” and insert the date. Do this now. It is not something you want to overlook.

You should tell us the amount you have written off as Inland Revenue likes us to record this separately.

Can you continue to try to collect a bad debt? Definitely yes. If you’re lucky enough to get some money it becomes part of your taxable income.

(See also ‘Get your debtors right at 31 March, page 2)

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