Private Schools: Accounting for Delinquent Accounts

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Even schools with the most stringent of tuition policies can find themselves dealing with delinquent accounts. So, how do you account for them?

How to Write-off the Balance?

The accounting profession prefers the allowance method over the direct write-off method because it more accurately matches revenue with expenses. The accounts receivable will be presented on the balance sheet with a reduction called the allowance for doubtful accounts. This means the net amount of the accounts receivable will be lower and closer to the amount that will actually be collected. Bad debt expense is reported at the time the allowance for doubtful accounts is created and adjusted.

In the allowance method, the doubtful tuition collections are estimated and bad debt expense is recognized before the debts actually become uncollectible. A school can do this at the beginning of the school year by calculating a percentage of tuition that may never be paid. You don’t have to know which students won’t pay or the exact unpaid amount, but you can report a conservative estimate of the amount on the books that you don’t expect to collect.

Non-GAAP direct write-off method does not use any allowance or reserve account. Although the direct write-off method is simple and allows you to specifically identify the student account once known to be uncollectible, it often violates the matching principle of accounting because it recognizes bad debt expense which is likely related to a previous accounting period.

Evaluate Tuition Collection History

At the start of each school year, schools should evaluate tuition collection history, make an estimate of uncollectible tuition, and record an allowance for doubtful accounts. For example, tuition contracts total $1,000,000 and the school estimates that 5% or $50,000 will be uncollectible. When making the entry, the school will also record a monthly allowance for doubtful accounts ($50,000/10 months).

Bad Debt Expense – Other $5,000

Allowance for Doubtful Accounts $5,000

When recording an allowance for doubtful accounts, remember that you need to relieve the allowance when an obligation is determined to be uncollectible and therefore a bad debt. The allowance is eliminated, the accounts receivable is eliminated, and any difference is added to the bad debt expense. For example, receivables in the amount of $65,000 were determined to be uncollectible in June. No other write-offs occurred during the year and the Allowance for Doubtful Accounts = $50,000.

Allowance For Doubtful Accounts $50,000
Bad Debt Expense – Other $15,000

Accounts Rec – Tuition $65,000

Afterward the allowance account will be zero and bad debt expense will be $65,000.

Account for the Bad Debt Recovery

While collection efforts for certain students may initially result in a write-off, some families may desire to pay their outstanding balance after the account has been deemed uncollectible. To recover the payment on the school’s books, you will need to account for the bad debt recovery by reversing the original entry of a bad debt depending on what method was used.

  •  GAAP-allowance method – create a debit to the accounts receivable asset account in the amount of the recovery, with the offsetting credit to the allowance for doubtful accounts contra asset account.
  • Non-GAAP direct write-off method – if the original entry was instead a credit to accounts receivable and a debit to bad debt expense, then reverse this original entry when a recovery occurs.

Then record the cash receipt from the bad debt recovery, which is a debit to the cash account and a credit to the accounts receivable asset account.

For more information, please contact Melissa Musser, CPA, CISA at

About Melissa Musser

has written 6 post in this blog.

Melissa Musser currently serves as a Manager in Aronson’s Nonprofit & Association Services Group, with 15 years professional experience, including eight years of public accounting with both a regional and Big Four firm. Her professional experience includes five years as a manager of corporate and IT internal audit where she has implemented major transformation initiatives, such as COSO 2013, data analytics, shared service centers and information security. Melissa specializes in providing assurance and consulting services for associations, faith based organizations, independent schools, and other nonprofit service organizations.

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