If someone owes you money that you can't collect, you may have a bad debt. For a discussion of what constitutes a valid debt, refer to Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses, and Publication 535, Business Expenses. Generally, to deduct a bad debt, you must have previously included the amount in your income or loaned out your cash. If you're a cash method taxpayer (most individuals are), you generally can't take a bad debt deduction for unpaid salaries, wages, rents, fees, interests, dividends, and similar items. For a bad debt, you must show that at the time of the transaction you intended to make a loan and not a gift. If you lend money to a relative or friend with the understanding the relative or friend may not repay it, you must consider it as a gift and not as a loan.
There are two kinds of bad debts – business and nonbusiness.
Business Bad Debts - Generally, a business bad debt is a loss from the worthlessness of a debt that was either created or acquired in a trade or business or closely related to your trade or business when it became partly to totally worthless. You can deduct it on Form 1040, Schedule C (PDF), Profit or Loss from Business (Sole Proprietorship), or on your applicable business income tax return.
The following are examples of business bad debts (if previously included in income):
- Loans to clients and suppliers
- Credit sales to customers, or
- Business loan guarantees
A business deducts its bad debts, in full or in part, from gross income when figuring its taxable income. For more information on methods of claiming business bad debts, refer to Publication 535, Business Expenses.
Nonbusiness Bad Debts - All other bad debts are nonbusiness. Nonbusiness bad debts must be totally worthless to be deductible. You can't deduct a partially worthless nonbusiness bad debt.
A debt becomes worthless when the surrounding facts and circumstances indicate there's no reasonable expectation of payment. To show that a debt is worthless, you must establish that you've taken reasonable steps to collect the debt. It's not necessary to go to court if you can show that a judgment from the court would be uncollectible. You may take the deduction only in the year the debt becomes worthless. You don't have to wait until a debt is due to determine that it's worthless.
Report a nonbusiness bad debt as a short-term capital loss on Form 8949 (PDF), Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, Part 1, line 1. Enter the name of the debtor and "bad debt statement attached" in column (a). Enter your basis in the bad debt in column (e) and enter zero in column (d). Use a separate line for each bad debt. It's subject to the capital loss limitations. A nonbusiness bad debt deduction requires a separate detailed statement attached to your return.
Page Last Reviewed or Updated: April 14, 2017