What Is An Inventory Write-Off? (Plus How To Conduct One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Writing off inventory is common in several industries, such as technology and retail companies. This is an essential practice which helps an organisation to assess the present value of their products and make informed business decisions. Understanding how to write off inventory and its elements can help you include it correctly in your balance sheets or income statements. In this article, we discuss what an inventory write-off is, list its benefits and share tips on how you can work with it.

What Is An Inventory Write-Off?

An inventory write-off is a business process where one removes or reduces the costs of the items in their inventory that no longer is of significant value. This is important, especially when the inventory items get damaged, misplaced, stolen or changes occur in a market at a specific point. Items that a company usually writes off are the supplies they use to conduct their business or the products they sell. There are two main types which are:

  • Direct method: In the direct method of writing off an inventory, a business can remove an item from its accounting records immediately after pointing out its loss of value. They do this by introducing a debit line item in their expense account and a credit line item in the asset section of their balance sheet.

  • Allowance method: With the allowance method of writing off an inventory, a business can remove some value or amount from an item that is damaged or has experienced a loss in value but is something they have not yet removed from their stock. In this method, a company might create a credit line item for a contra asset account and a debit line item in the category of expenses.

Writing-off inventories vary from inventory write-downs. For example, when the value of an item in your inventory goes below its price, you can record it as an inventory write-down. In such cases, you can either write down the product or reduce the reported value of the inventory on the financial statement to the market value. This amount is the difference between the item's value and the amount the company can earn by either getting rid of it or selling it. Companies report write-offs and write-downs in the same manner.

Related: What Is An Inventory Manager? (Plus How To Become One)

When To Conduct Write-Off Inventory

Writing off inventory is an essential step that businesses follow to manage their inventory. Here are some situations where companies may consider writing-off inventory:

Stolen inventory

Businesses can face the issue of stolen inventory at any stage in the supply chain. It is not uncommon for a company to experience this even before the stock reaches them. When a business learns that its inventory counts do not match, it points to the case of stolen inventory.

Damaged inventory

All items in the inventory may not reach a business in pristine condition. It might get damaged if there is an issue with the supply chain, because of which it can stop functioning properly, leading to damaged products. This makes the item unsellable, causing a company to write it off.

Related: 8 Inventory Management Software Solutions (With Benefits)

Irrelevant inventory

An item that is popular in the present might not remain popular or relevant months later. With new market trends emerging, the demands also continue to change. Because of this, when a product is irrelevant, you may write it off or perform the recommended actions by the company for which you work.

Perishable inventory

Perishable inventory is an issue mainly for the businesses that sell food, beverages and anything else that is perishable. You may avoid this if you do not overbuy or take a careful look at the dates, but if something reaches its expiration date, writing it off is often the viable option. This makes it essential that you keep monitoring the items that can perish quickly.

Related: 14 Types Of Inventory (Plus Effective Management Tips)

How To Conduct Inventory Write-Offs

While conducting the write-off, the following steps help make the process easier and more efficient:

1. Keep an updated record of the finances

Different types of transactions require different write-offs when recording them. First, maintain the sections in your balance sheets, such as an inventory reserve, cost of goods sold (COGS) account and contra asset section. Then, for each transaction, the business can record the cost under the expenses section and remove the asset's value through crediting.

You can record immaterial losses in the COGS section of your income statement. With damaged inventory, the company may register a debit item in the category of expenses while recording a credit in a contra asset account. Recording the nonrecurring losses as footnotes can be helpful, as it becomes convenient to exclude while calculating costs.

Related: Understanding Cost Of Goods Sold (With Formula And Methods)

2. Assess your inventory

As you evaluate and assess the inventory, you might identify which method is best suited to write off the required items. For instance, if the goods get damaged because of natural calamities such as floods or cyclones in such a way that you cannot fix them, you may use the direct method and get rid of them immediately. Recording different types of write-offs become more manageable when you identify the inventory affected and how you might go ahead with them.

3. Evaluate the impact

After determining the inventory that got affected, you can then evaluate its impact on the accounting records and the business. If the inventory that you write-off does not have substantial value or is not likely to affect the company significantly, you might charge the write-off to the COGS expense account. In the instance of material write-offs, record them in accounts that do not ultimately impact the gross margin calculation. For the more significant write-offs, you might choose to categorise them as nonrecurring losses.

Related: What Is FIFO Accounting? Definition, Example And Advantages

4. Analyse removal options

Businesses might wish to get rid of their written-off inventories from their stock. Before doing so, go through the various options based on your situation. For instance, in the scenario of stolen items, there may not be anything which can require disposal. With damaged merchandise, a company can consider donating them. You might also keep a written-off item, such as something that has lost its market value, if it gains its value back in the future.

5. Record your inventory

When documenting the write-offs, it is imperative that you record the inventory before getting rid of it. This is important so that it matches the financial records if you ever wish to review them in the future. It includes keeping receipts of the items you donate or taking pictures of the things that got destroyed because of natural disasters such as floods. Such evidence can also serve as proof for any taxation purpose.

Related: What Is A Liquidity Ratio? (Definition, Types And Example)

Benefits Of Writing Off Inventory

Doing a write-off of inventory is beneficial for a business for multiple reasons. Some of those reasons are:

  • Reduces tax liability: When you do write-offs, you also reduce the tax you owe, as there is a decrease in your assets account.

  • Updates products: A company may sometimes write things off, as they are no longer relevant. This helps you determine the expenses related to low-value inventory, aiding you in identifying whether your items are current.

  • Improves inventory management: Writing-off inventories can help manage the inventory efficiently to minimise related expenses. You can review the company's products, check their value and see if something is removable.

  • Identifies risks: If you frequently come across items destroyed because of theft or natural disasters, write-offs help you prepare better for such situations to prevent future losses.

  • Increases the accuracy of financial documents: Recording the values of the assets is much simpler when companies involve their written-off inventories. This helps you monitor and identify the products that have decreased in their value and assess their costs.

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