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Table of contents

What is depreciation?

Depreciation is a critical tool in accounting for the gradual loss of value of a tangible asset over time. This concept acknowledges that most physical assets don't retain their original value indefinitely.

Depreciation plays a pivotal role in accurately reflecting the value of assets on financial statements. It enables businesses to earn income from an asset, simultaneously accounting for a part of its cost annually as an expense. This strategy guarantees that the income statement accurately represents the decreasing worth of the asset, thereby offering a more precise depiction of the company's financial status.

The implications of depreciation extend beyond accounting. For instance, it affects a company's financial strategy and tax planning. As depreciation is recognized as an expense, it reduces the company's reported net income, leading to a potential decrease in its tax obligations. It's important to note that depreciation is solely a bookkeeping transaction and does not entail any real outflow of cash from the company.

Is depreciation an operating expense?

Expenses incurred as a part of regular business operations are considered operating expenses. Since depreciation refers to the loss in value of fixed assets over time, and these assets are necessary for business operations, depreciation is considered an operating expense. It’s accounted for on the income statement and represents the cost allocation of tangible assets over their useful life.

Are depreciation expenses a good thing?

Determining whether depreciation expense is a "good thing" depends on the context of its application in business accounting. Depreciation ensures that the cost of an asset is systematically allocated throughout its useful life, reflecting its declining value in the company's financial statements.

While it represents a non-cash expense reducing reported income, it can also offer tax advantages by lowering taxable income. In essence, depreciation expense is not inherently good or bad but a necessary accounting tool that brings transparency and accuracy to a company's financial reporting.

Examples of depreciable assets

Depreciable assets are used for longer than a year and are integral to a business's operations, distinguishing them from short-term assets or investment holdings like stocks. Depreciable assets are generally tangible, fixed assets—that is, physical, long-term assets. Intangible assets do not depreciate.

Examples of depreciable assets include:

  • Industrial machinery: In sectors like manufacturing, heavy machinery such as lathes, CNC machines, and factory robots represent key depreciable assets.
  • Company vehicles: Vehicles used for business purposes, including delivery vans, company cars, and heavy-duty trucks, are classic examples of depreciable assets.
  • Office buildings and facilities: Real estate assets like office complexes, retail stores, and manufacturing facilities are subject to depreciation. Notably, while the structures themselves depreciate, the land component typically doesn't, as it doesn't lose value over time.
  • Technology assets: Items like servers, computers, and enterprise software are rapidly depreciating assets.
  • Office furnishings: Everyday business items like desks, chairs, and filing cabinets.
  • Leasehold enhancements: Modifications or improvements made to a rented space, such as custom-built fixtures or structural changes, depreciate over the lease term or the improvement's useful life, whichever is shorter.

What is a good depreciation expense?

A good depreciation expense accurately reflects the wear and usage of an asset over its useful life, aligning with the company's operational needs and accounting standards. It should be realistic, neither overestimating nor underestimating the asset's value decline, to make sure financial statements accurately represent the business's health.

How do I depreciate property?

Depreciating property is a systematic process that involves spreading the cost of a tangible asset over its estimated useful life. This accounting practice reflects the diminishing value of an asset as it ages and is used in business operations. The process involves several key steps and adheres to specific timeframes depending on the type of property being depreciated.

Key steps include:

  • Identifying the asset's total acquisition cost: This calculation goes beyond the basic purchase price, encompassing all related expenses essential for making the asset operational. These expenses might include costs for installation, delivery, and initial setup.
  • Assessing the useful life of the asset: This varies depending on the asset type. For example, the typical economic lifespan for office machinery ranges between 5 to 7 years, while vehicles are often depreciated across 5 years. In contrast, the lifespan of buildings for depreciation purposes extends considerably longer, generally in the range of 27.5 to 39 years.
  • Choosing an appropriate depreciation technique: While the straight-line depreciation method is widely used for its simplicity—evenly distributing the asset's cost across its useful life—alternative approaches may be more fitting in certain circumstances.
  • Calculating annual depreciation expense: Using the chosen method, calculate the annual depreciation expense.
  • Recording depreciation in financial statements: At the end of each accounting period, the total amount of depreciation expenses is recorded in your financial statements. It's shown as an expense on the income statement and also reduces the book value of the asset on the balance sheet.

Is it better to depreciate or expense?

In general, it’s usually better to expense smaller, short-lived items and depreciate larger, long-term assets. Expensing an item immediately provides a larger tax deduction in the current year, which can be beneficial for smaller purchases or those with a short useful life.

However, for larger, more costly assets that will be used over several years, depreciation is typically more advantageous, as it spreads the cost over the asset's useful life, matching the expense with the revenue the asset helps generate.

Expensing assets immediately can benefit small enterprises or businesses in their developmental phase, as it offers prompt tax deductions. This immediate financial relief can be crucial for enhancing cash flow.

The accounting entry for depreciation

The accounting entry for depreciation is a fundamental aspect of financial record-keeping that captures the gradual decrease in the value of a long-term asset. It's recorded in the company's accounting journal and involves two key components: the depreciation expense and the accumulated depreciation.

What is a depreciation expense journal entry?

When a depreciation expense is recorded, it involves a debit to the Depreciation Expense account and a corresponding credit to the Accumulated Depreciation account. The Depreciation Expense account appears on the income statement and reduces the company's net income for the period, reflecting the cost of using the asset. This expense is a non-cash charge, meaning it reduces the income without affecting the company's cash balance.

On the other side, the credit entry to the Accumulated Depreciation account reflects the total depreciation that has been accumulated on the asset since its acquisition. This account is shown on the balance sheet and offsets the asset's original cost. Over time, as more depreciation accumulates, the book value of the asset (its original cost minus accumulated depreciation) decreases on the balance sheet.

How to calculate depreciation

Different methods exist for calculating depreciation, each tailored to accommodate distinct asset categories. The most common methods of depreciation include straight-line depreciation, accelerated depreciation, and Section 179 deduction.

  • Straight-line depreciation method: This is the simplest and most commonly used method. In straight-line depreciation, the cost of the asset is divided evenly over its estimated useful life. The formula is straightforward: (Cost of the Asset - Salvage Value) / Useful Life. This method assumes the asset will provide equal value each year until it reaches its salvage value or the end of its useful life.
  • Accelerated depreciation method: This method allows for larger depreciation expenses in the earlier years of the asset's life. The Double Declining Balance method and Sum-of-the-Years'-Digits method fall under this category. The rationale behind accelerated depreciation is that some assets are more productive in their first years or may become obsolete more quickly due to technological advancements.
  • Section 179 deduction: Section 179 of the IRS tax code allows businesses to deduct the full purchase price of qualifying assets purchased or financed during the tax year. Utilizing the Section 179 deduction is a strategy to expedite the depreciation schedule, offering businesses immediate tax advantages. Nonetheless, adherence to specific criteria and limitations is required to benefit from this deduction.

What is a good depreciation expense ratio?

In the realm of asset management, the depreciation expense ratio plays a crucial role. It’s determined by dividing the yearly depreciation expense of a company by its total revenue. This metric sheds light on the proportion of a company's revenue that is allocated to cover the depreciation of its assets.

What constitutes an optimal depreciation expense ratio can differ markedly across various sectors and hinges on a company's specific investment approach. Industries heavily reliant on capital, such as manufacturing or transportation, typically exhibit a higher ratio, reflecting their substantial investment in assets subject to depreciation.

A good depreciation expense ratio reflects the efficient use of assets in generating revenue and aligns with the industry standards and the company's financial goals.

Depreciation expenses vs. accumulated depreciation

Depreciation expense refers to the portion of the cost of an asset that's expensed each year, reflecting the asset's usage and wear over a specific period, typically one fiscal year. This annual depreciation charge is recorded on the income statement, directly impacting the net income by reducing it.

Accumulated depreciation encompasses the entire sum of depreciation expenses recorded for an asset from the time it started being used. This cumulative figure reflects the total depreciation charged over the asset's operational history, providing a holistic view of its value reduction since its inception.

Streamline expense management with Ramp

Ramp offers an innovative and efficient approach to expense management for companies looking to streamline their financial processes. Here are key ways Ramp can transform your company's expense management:

  • Automated expense management: Integrates with your corporate cards and reimbursement systems, eliminating manual expense tracking and freeing your team from tedious tasks.
  • Built-in spending policies: Assign corporate cards with pre-defined policies to prevent unauthorized expenses and establish pre-set budgets to encourage responsible spending.
  • On-the-go expense submission: With Ramp, employees can submit expenses easily via SMS or mobile app, with automatic receipt matching and expense categorization.
  • Advanced fraud detection: Ramp's system analyzes spending patterns to detect and prevent potential fraud, such as repeated receipt submissions or out-of-policy expenses.

Ramp offers real-time insights and centralized data for better financial decisions, making sure time and resources are optimized for strategic business growth. See everything that Ramp can help your business with.

Try Ramp for free.
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Finance Writer and Editor, Ramp
Ali Mercieca is a Finance Writer and Content Editor at Ramp. Prior to Ramp, she worked with Robinhood on the editorial strategy for their financial literacy articles and with Nearside, an online banking platform, overseeing their banking and finance blog. Ali holds a B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy from York University and can be found writing about editorial content strategy and SEO on her Substack.
Ramp is dedicated to helping businesses of all sizes make informed decisions. We adhere to strict editorial guidelines to ensure that our content meets and maintains our high standards.

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