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Loss Carryforward

Last updated 23rd Sep 2022


The financial accounting term loss carryforward refers to an income-averaging provision that allows a company to apply a net operating loss to taxable income for up to 20 years in the future. When a net operating loss occurs, an income-averaging provision of the tax law allows companies to carry the amount forward for up to 20 years, thereby lowering the amount of income taxes payable in the future.


Also known as a NOL, a net operating loss occurs when a company's taxable expenses are in excess of its taxable revenue. Since companies are required to pay income taxes when profitable, the tax law provides some relief when operating at a loss. There are two methods a business can use to recapture a portion of their previously paid income taxes: a loss carryback or loss carryforward.

With a loss carryforward, the business applies the net operating loss to future tax years. In practice, companies will carry a loss forward when a NOL is not fully absorbed using the carryback approach. Since a carryforward affects future tax years, the effect is to provide future tax savings.

When a company experiences a NOL, its ability to generate future earnings may be uncertain. For this reason, the tax benefit (deferred tax asset) associated with a loss carryforward is based on the expected profitability of the business in the future. If the company is not expected to generate enough future profits to consume all of the carryforward loss, the company must establish a valuation allowance account to reduce this carrying value since the balance sheet should reflect the anticipated future benefit from the carryforward.


In the current tax year, Company A suffered a net operating loss of $5,000,000, and has not generated enough profits in the past to absorb all of the net operating loss. The company will be using a combination of a carryback and carryforward approach to maximize the NOL's tax benefit.

Company A's taxable income in the preceding two years is shown in the table below:

Taxable IncomeTax RateIncome Taxes PayableYear 1$2,500,00040%$1,000,000Year 2$2,000,00040%$800,000

The tax refund generated by the carryback would be calculated as:

Year 1Year 2Taxable Income$2,500,000$2,000,000Less: Carryback$2,500,000$2,000,000Taxable Income After Carryback$0$0Tax Rate40%40%Income Taxes Payable$0$0Taxes Paid$1,000,000$800,000Rebate$1,000,000$800,000

The total tax benefit derived from the NOL is $5,000,000 x 40%, or $2,000,000. However, the carryback is only able to provide $1,000,000 + $800,000, or $1,800,000 of the benefit; so a carryforward is needed to capture the remaining benefit. The journal entry to record this transaction would be:

DebitCreditIncome Tax Refund Receivable$1,800,000 Deferred Income Tax Asset$200,000 Refund of Income Taxes From Loss Carryback $1,800,000Refund of Income Taxes From Loss Carryforward $200,000

Company A's management team is not certain they're going to be able to turn the company around and generate future profits. For this reason, the accounting department created a valuation account for the carryforward:

DebitCreditBenefit Due to Loss Carryforward$200,000 Allowance to Reduce Deferred Tax Asset to Expected Value $200,000

Company A's management team undertook a cost cutting effort that lowered the company's expenses and generated a profit of $2,000,000 the following year; thereby absorbing the remaining tax benefit derived from the net operating loss.

Taxable Income$2,000,000Tax Rate40%Income Taxes Payable$800,000Less: Benefit from Carryforward$200,000Income Taxes Payable$600,000

The journal entries to account for this transaction include:

DebitCreditIncome Tax Expense$800,000 Income Taxes Payable $600,000Deferred Tax Asset $200,000

Finally, the valuation account needs to be eliminated from the company's books:

DebitCreditAllowance to Reduce Deferred Tax Asset to Expected Value$200,000 Benefit Due to Loss Carryforward $200,000

Related Terms

deferred income taxes, net operating loss, loss carryback

Moneyzine Editor

Moneyzine Editor