Accounting For Insurance Claim Settlements

Insurance is a necessity in any business. Businesses cover themselves against losses such as fire, theft and unexpected natural disasters. It is with the bookkeeping or accounting that owners get it wrong.

On successful insurance claims, a payment is normally made to the insured. My experience has led me to believe that small businesses have no clue, as to how, to account for insurance settlements. Most businesses reflect the payment as income.

Not only would this be deceptive but also violates International Accounting Standards. Since the transaction has everything to do with assets and nothing to do with income, it should be adjusted against assets. Erroneous accounting for assets might prejudice the business further in future, if similar insurance claims are made.

Insurance companies settle claims on assets, on its book value and not its costs. (And yet the asset was insured on its cost at date of purchase). Whereas this principle might vary from country to country, book value is widely accepted as the norm. Since most small businesses fail to maintain proper fixed assets registers, insurance companies perform “desk top valuations”, or make an “estimate”, on the book value, mostly much lower than its “real” book value. Without proper records, the claimant cannot debunk the assessor’s final conclusions.

Before I loose you in a sea of confusion, let me elaborate. If an asset is on your books at least, without the asset register, but you have no purchase date, and this asset is lost due to theft, no accurate wear and tear can be furnished. Furthermore, if a claim is settled, and reflects as “income”, what happens to the asset that was stolen, but still reflects on your books?

Many reading this article could not care a hoot about the number crunching involved, but please stay with me for a minute. You might not care, but an investor, a bank and yes, the insurance company might pick this up on your financial statements when they demand your reports.

The method used to account for insurance claims is the “disposal method”. Any asset subject to an insurance claim should be transferred to a “Disposal Account”. Depreciation on the asset for the relevant period is calculated, and credited to the disposal account with the insurance settlement. The cost, less depreciation equals book value. Any settlement amounts over or under book value, will result in a loss or profit on disposal.

An insurance claim, wrongly entered as “income”, can be adjusted by transferring the amount to the disposal account. After effecting these entries, the disposal account should balance to zero. Your new records would reveal, the loss or profit on claim (income statement), settlement in bank account, fixed assets less the stolen/lost asset, and a lower depreciation estimate for the year.I acknowledge that this is your accountant’s job, you however have a duty to provide accurate records. But how many businesses continue to pay, the same insurance premiums on the assets, since purchase date, when they, entitled to a lower premium, due to a lower asset value.(prior to any asset losses).

Also, a precarious asset situation in your books, might lead to problems in your tax affairs.
No business can afford a visit from the IRS. Did you know that tax authorities always commence auditing, your assets, before they move on to your income?


 Author: Sean Goss