How to Claim a Bad Debt on a Personal Tax Return

How to Claim a Bad Debt on a Personal Tax Return
You should have evidence of a loan or payment agreement if you want to write off a bad debt.

What's a Bad Debt

In order to claim an amount as a nonbusiness bad debt, you must have loaned out the money or already claimed it in your income. For example, if you loaned your cousin $1,000 and he refused to pay you back, that's a bad debt. If you agreed to fix your aunt's roof for $2,000 and she never repaid you, you can only claim the amount as a bad debt if you already reported it as taxable income. You can't claim a bad debt for money that you hoped to receive but never reported, like wages or rental income.

Proving a Bad Debt

To claim a bad debt, you should be able to prove that the amount you loaned out was not a gift. This means you need evidence that you expected to be paid back. For example, if both parties signed a loan agreement and you charged interest on the loan balance, that would be powerful evidence. You also must make an earnest attempt to collect the debt before you write it off. You can claim the bad debt only if you believe it to be entirely uncollectible, and you should write it off in the year it becomes worthless.

Deducting the Bad Debt

Personal bad debts are deductible as short-term capital losses on Form 8949. Enter the name of the person you made the loan to and the phrase "bad debt statement attached" in column 1 of Part 1, line 1. If you never received any payments on the loan, write "0" for proceeds. Your cost or other basis should be the face value of the loan. Include a statement with your tax return that describes the debt, who the debtor was, your relationship with your debtor, how you attempted to collect the debt and why you believe that it is worthless.

Recovering Bad Debts

If the debtor does pay you back in future years, you may record the proceeds as taxable income. You only need to include the amount you recovered as income if you financially benefited from initial bad debt write-off. For example, if you claimed the bad debt deduction but it didn't reduce your taxable income because of your income level, you don't need to report the recovery. If you do recover some of the bad debt, consult with a tax professional about how much of the recovery you need to report.