Write-off Definition

In personal finances, the phrase "write-off" has several possible meanings.

  • A tax deduction is sometimes referred to as a "tax write-off"; here, a write-off would be an itemized deduction based on the item’s value.
  • An accounting write-off is used when a company makes an investment that goes bad, and is unable to recoup the funds involved. For example, a company invests $100,000 in research in a new and promising technology which subsequently proves worthless. The company could "write-off" the loss on their accounting statements. Stolen merchandise can similarly be "written-off".
  • When a financial institution decides a loan is uncollectable they will "write-off" the loan from their balance sheet, taking it as a loss. A partial loss might be adjusted by a similar process called a "write-down".
  • If an item is irretrievably damaged it might be referred to as a "write-off"; for example, you may say of a totaled automobile, "It’s smashed beyond repair-a total write-off."