What Is a Write-Off? Definition and Examples for Small Businesses

What Is a Write-Off? Definition and Examples for Small Businesses

Deskera Content Team
Deskera Content Team
Table of Contents
Table of Contents

The write-Off is a tax-deductible operating expense. Expenses are everything that is purchased as part of running a business for profit. The cost of these items is deducted from your income to reduce your total taxable income. According to the IRS, examples of Write-Off include vehicle costs and rent or mortgage payments.

Here's what we will be looking into:

  • Definition of Write-off
  • Meaning of Write-off
  • Examples of a Write-off
  • Understanding Write-Off
  • The most common scenarios of write-offs
  • What is Tax write-off
  • Tax Write-Off Examples
  • Why Are Assets Written Off?
  • What Is a Write-Off in Accounting?
  • Write-Off vs. Write Downs
  • Conclusion
  • Key Takeaways

Definition of Write-off

The write-Off is an accounting standard that reduces the value of an asset while debiting it from a liability account. It is primarily used by companies trying to account for losses from stored inventory, outstanding loan liabilities, or outstanding receivables. In other words, it can also be widely referred to as lowering or minimizing the annual tax amount.

Meaning of Write-off

The write-Off is an expense that can be claimed as a tax credit. The write-Off is deducted from the total income to determine the total taxable income of SMEs. Eligible Write-Off is essential to running a company and is common in the company's industry. According to the IRS, a Write-Off isn’t 100% necessary, but it should be considered a normal expense to support the business.

Most project costs can be fully or partially deducted. Small businesses, to save tax, write-off many expenses, but if they overdo it, the accounting can lead to losses also. Companies need to make a profit to be able to write off their operating expenses. Non-cash "hobby" businesses cannot write-off their costs from the owner's taxes.

Small businesses typically fill out Appendix C of the form to deduct operating costs from their taxes.

Examples of a Write-off

Write-off usually occurs by redistributing some or all of the balance of the asset account to the expense account. Accounting may vary from asset to asset.

For example

  1. Failure to collect accounts receivable is usually offset by an adjustment to the allowance for a contra account also called doubtful accounts
  2. Obsolete our outdated inventory can be offset directly against reserves (contra accounts) for obsolete inventory or can be charged directly to the cost of goods sold
  3. When a fixed asset is no longer used, it is offset against all relevant amortization or Write-off with the remaining amount debited to the loss account
  4. If the advance payment cannot be collected, it is written off as a compensation expense

Understanding Write-Off

Companies regularly use accounting Write-Off to account for the loss of assets related to different situations. For this reason, balance sheet Write-Offs are typically included as a debit to the expense account in the balance sheet and a credit to the associated asset account. Each Write-Off scenario is different, but usually, the expense is also reported in the income statement and the revenue already reported is deducted.

Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) explain the accounting items required for Write-Off. The two most common methods to Write-Off are:

  • The direct Write-Off method
  • The allowance method

The most common scenarios of write-offs

The entries depend on the individual scenario. The three most common scenarios of write-offs are unpaid accounts receivable, unpaid bank loans, and inventory losses.

1. Accounts Receivables

The company may need to write-off after determining that the payment due will not be cleared and the invoice will remain unpaid. On the balance sheet, this is usually a debit to unsettled receivables accounts as a liability and a credit to accounts receivable.

2. Bank loans

Financial institutions or banks use Write-Off accounts when they run out of all methods of debt collection. These write-offs are closely monitored to another type of non-cash account that manages expectations for losses on unpaid debts, which are the institution’s loan loss reserves. These Loan loss reserves serve as a forecast for outstanding debt, whereas write-off is the final indicator.

3. Inventory

There are several reasons why a company needs to write-off part of its inventory. Inventory can be lost, stolen, contaminated, or out of date. On the balance sheet, inventory write-off generally involves a credit to inventory and an expense debit for the unusable value of inventory.

What is Tax write-off?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows businesses to request a standard deduction for their income tax return and list the deduction if that amount is exceeded. The deduction reduces the adjusted total income applied to the corresponding tax rate.

Tax credits apply to unpaid taxes and are sometimes referred to as a type of write-off because they directly reduce the overall tax burden. The IRS allows businesses to write-off various costs that significantly reduce taxable profits, for example:

  • Advertising
  • Contractor charges
  • Rental and leasing
  • Education and training
  • Car and truck costs
  • Others include bank fees, wages, etc.
  • Employee benefits (example, health insurance)
  • Journey
  • Food and entertainment
  • Office supplies and shipping
  • Supplies

The term write-off can also be used to describe something that reduces taxable income and credits, deductions, and expenses can come under this. Businesses have a variety of costs that can significantly reduce their taxable profits. Write-off of these expenses usually increases the cost of the income statement, resulting in lower profits and taxable income.

Tax Write-Off Examples

Let us look at a few examples of tax write-offs for small businesses:

Example 1

A small cable company can write off the following expenses:

The employees that travel to different areas of the city for repair/installations for work – the company can write-off kilometers of cars from taxes.

The business has a team of 5 employees and can write-off their wages. If the business hires temporary workers for large-scale work, then their pay-out will also be written-off.

The business can write-off all purchased equipment or supplies.

If the owner of the business works in the home office that he/she can write-off the work-from-home allowance.

The owner can also write-off their mobile-phones business cell phone, that her employees use or the bills that are generated from official use.

The business can also write-off the cost of liability insurance.

Example 2

An interior designer works in his home office which is 20% of the total space of his home. He can write-off the rent for his home office as 20% of his rent on his taxes.

He can write-off the salary that he pays to his accountant every year to do his taxes.

He can also write-off advertising costs like getting a professional headshot or getting a new website domain.

He can write-off any kinds of travel-related expenses if he travels for a professional development conference. He can also write-off the cost of Airbnb, airfare, and even 50% of his meals.

When the owner meets a client and spends for lunch or coffee, he can write-off 50% of these expenses on his taxes.

Example 3

A small internet café can write-off the cost of its lease on equipment like a fax machine, printer, and postage meter. It can also write-off the cost of its professional liability insurance and the cost of any employee benefit program and contributions to the employee retirement plan plus employer taxes like payroll tax (FICA), that it provides. If its small office is mortgaged then the owner can write-off the cost of interest on the mortgage, real estate taxes, and even the cost of any repair damage to the office. If the café has a line of credit that was used in an emergency to pay employee salaries, it can write-off the interest on that loan. The café can write-off any kind of marketing or advertising costs.

Why Are Assets Written Off?

Businesses write-off assets as they are of no value to them anymore. Some situations wherein write-off become necessary are:

  1. Where Accounts Receivable cannot be collected
  2. When inventory is of no use to businesses
  3. When any payment in advance is not returned
  4. When any fixed asset is of no use to the business

What Is a Write-Off in Accounting?

In accounting, write-off occurs when the value of an asset is removed from the books. This happens when an asset cannot be converted to cash, has no market value, or is no longer useful to the business. The business can write-off assets by transferring some or all the recorded amount to an expense account.

Write-off is usually performed at once and does not span multiple accounting periods. This is because write-off is a one-time event and needs to be addressed immediately. A temporary solution is to credit the contra account until write-off is assigned to a particular category. The entire function of the contra account is to offset against the balance of another account.

In simple words, a write-off is when the value of an asset decreases rather than disappears. For example, a customer refuses to pay a contractor for a remodeling job. After negotiation, he finally agrees to pay 50% of the invoice. The contractor will divide the bill, allocate half of the assets in the books, and will write-off the remaining half (which the customer refused to pay) to the expense account. Write-off helps reduce taxable income, but if the owner continuously uses write-offs and write-downs, it can turn into a scam.

Write-Off vs. Write Downs

Write-off is an extreme variant of a write-down. This happens when the book value of an asset is below its fair value. For example, if damaged equipment is partially usable, it can be written down or if a debt is partially paid off by the debtor, it will again be partially written down. The difference between both write-off and write-down is just a matter of degree. A write-off means that an asset can no longer be used, whereas a write-down indicates a partial reduction of the book value of that asset.


As discussed above, Business Write-off is inevitable for all businesses, but it should be minimized and not made into a habit. It is a simple recording in the account statements of any business and just needs two entries to be implemented. It is beneficial from the tax point of view but it may result in a loss-making activity if any business over-indulges in writing-off.

Key Takeaways

  1. A write-off is a business accounting expense accounted for losses on assets or unreceived payments
  2. Three common situations wherein businesses need to write-off are losses on stored inventory, unpaid receivables, and unpaid bank loans
  3. Write-offs reduce taxable income on the balance sheet which is done on business expenses
  4. A write-off is not the same as a write-down, wherein the asset's book value is not eliminated but only partially reduced
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