Using Bad Debt Line Items in Association Budgets (Part II)

In Part I of this blog post, I reviewed generally how a condominium or homeowner association may utilize a “bad debt” line item in its annual budget. I defined “bad debt” and also described specific situations on how an association could practically utilize the budgeting tool. In this follow-on post, I’ll highlight the differences between cash and accrual accounting in the “bad debt” context.

The cash method and the accrual method (sometimes called cash basis and accrual basis) are the two principal methods of keeping track of an association’s income and expenses. The cash method is the more commonly used method of accounting for associations. Under the cash method, income is not counted until cash (or a check) is actually received, and expenses are not counted until they are actually paid. Under the accrual method, transactions are counted when the order is made, the item is delivered, or the services occur, regardless of when the money for them (receivables) is actually received or paid. In other words, income is counted when the sale occurs, and expenses are counted when you receive the goods or services.  

With respect to my Linked-In inquiry on utilizing a “bad debt” budget line item, Arizona CPA Howard Simon commented:

The initial question asked if the budget should include a line item for bad debts. As a CPA providing financial statement and tax services to HOAs, I encourage HOA boards to include a line item for uncollected or uncollectable assessments.

On the cash basis, the budget line for assessment income should be the fully billed assessments for the year (by month), offset by the line item for bad debts, which on a cash basis should be the expectation (estimate) of assessments that will NOT be received in the period (month or year). Also to be noted, because prepaid assessments are accounted for as assessments received, I encourage HOAs to account for prepaids as a separate line item in the cash basis financial statements, thereby emphasizing this important figure and providing a more accurate picture of assessments actually received versus budget.

On an accrual basis, using the allowance method (described previously) should provide an accurate picture of earned revenues each period. Because the budget is a management tool, it is important to be realistic (and perhaps conservative) about the funds available during the year.

Whether cash or accrual, the industry insiders who responded to the Linked-In inquiry universally agreed that in today’s turbulent economic climate, a condominium or homeowner association should include a bad debt line item in their annual budget.

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