Depreciation of Business Assets

(May 2024)

Depreciation of Business Assets

In This Article

Depreciation is the systematic reduction in the value of your asset over time due to factors such as wear and tear, obsolescence, or other relevant considerations. This process holds significance for your business as it directly impacts crucial financial aspects, including the income statement, balance sheet, cash flow, and tax obligations.

At its core, depreciation involves spreading the cost of an asset across its useful life—the duration over which the asset contributes economic benefits to the business. The annual depreciation expense records reflect the portion of the asset’s cost that you use or deplete within that specific timeframe. This method ensures a more accurate representation of the asset’s value and contributes to better financial reporting.

  1. Business Assets and Depreciation
  2. Depreciation Methods
  3. MACRS (Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System) vs ADS (Alternative Depreciation System)
  4. Depreciation Conventions
  5. Tax Implications of Depreciation
  6. Section 179 Deduction

Recap

1. Business Assets and Depreciation

An asset refers to a valuable resource that an individual, corporation, or country owns or controls with the expectation of providing future benefits. You categorize assets based on conversion, physical presence, and use.

For tax considerations, assets are in two categories: capital assets and ordinary assets. Capital assets encompass holdings for investment or personal use, including stocks, bonds, real estate, art, and jewelry. On the other hand, ordinary assets pertain to items in business or trade, such as inventory, equipment, and accounts receivable.

Businesses depreciate two main types of assets:

Tangible Assets: Physical business assets like buildings, machinery, vehicles, furniture, and equipment. Tangible assets have a finite useful life and gradually lose value due to factors like wear and tear or obsolescence.

Intangible Assets: Non-physical assets with value, such as patents, copyrights, computer software, trademarks, and goodwill. Unlike tangible assets, intangible assets undergo a depreciation process, Amortization. Amortization follows distinct accounting rules and methods.

Depreciation serves to allocate your asset’s cost over its useful life in line with the revenue it generates. This accounting practice offers a systematic way to manage the financial impact of your asset value reduction.

2. Depreciation Methods

A depreciation method consists of a set of guidelines and formulas dictating the annual deduction of your asset’s cost as an expense. Your choice of depreciation method impacts the quantity and schedule of the deductions, consequently influencing your business’s income statement, balance sheet, cash flow, and tax obligations.

One common method for calculating depreciation is the straight-line method. This approach evenly spreads the depreciation expense over each year of your asset’s useful life.

To calculate, you take the difference between the asset’s cost and salvage value and then divide it with the number of years it’s going to be useful.

For instance, if a machine costs $10,000, has a salvage value of $2,000, and has a useful life of 5 years, the annual depreciation is ($10,000 – $2,000) / 5 = $1,600. This method is straightforward, and a lot of individuals use it widely, especially for assets with a consistent usage pattern.

On the other hand, accelerated depreciation methods allocate a higher depreciation expense in the initial years and less in the later years. This acknowledges that an asset can undergo more significant value loss early in its lifespan due to wear, tear, obsolescence, or other factors.

Examples of accelerated methods include a double declining balance, the sum of years’ digits, and a 150% declining balance.

Using the double declining balance method in the previous example, the annual depreciation for the machine is 2 / 5 * ($10,000 – $0) = $4,000 in the first year, 2 / 5 * ($10,000 – $4,000) = $2,400 in the second year, and so forth.

Accelerated method is advantageous for cash flow and reinvestment purposes as it reduces taxable income and tax liability in the early years.

3. MACRS (Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System) vs ADS (Alternative Depreciation System)

MACRS, or the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System, is the prevailing method of depreciation you employ for tax considerations. It provides you with the flexibility to select distinct depreciation methods and recovery periods specific to various asset types. MACRS comprises two systems: General Depreciation System (GDS) and Alternative Depreciation System (ADS).

GDS, the default system, features shorter recovery periods and accelerated depreciation methods such as a 200% declining balance and a 150% declining balance. On the other hand, ADS is an elective system offering extensive recovery periods and more gradual depreciation methods, notably the straight-line approach. Certain assets, including tax-exempt use property, tax-exempt bond-financed property, and property primarily for farming businesses, necessitate the mandatory application of ADS.

For example, under GDS, a 5-year property can undergo depreciation using the 200% declining balance method over 5 years. Conversely, employing ADS for the same property involves straight-line depreciation over 6 years. The decision between GDS and ADS significantly influences both the amount and timing of depreciation deductions, thereby impacting tax liabilities and payment schedules.

4. Depreciation Conventions

Depreciation conventions are rules that dictate the allowable depreciation for an asset in the year you put it into service or get rid of it. There are three primary conventions: the half-year convention, the mid-quarter convention, and the mid-month convention.

The half-year convention assumes that the asset is in service or that you dispose of it in the middle of the year. It permits half of the full-year depreciation in the first and last years. For instance, a 5-year property in service in January depreciates for 2.5 years in the first year, 1 year in the second to fourth years, and 0.5 years in the fifth year.

The mid-quarter convention is applicable when over 40% of the total asset basis is in service in the last quarter of the year. It assumes you put the asset into service or discard it in the middle of the quarter and allows a fraction of the full-year depreciation in the first and last years.

The mid-month convention applies to certain real properties, assuming your asset is in service or you ditch it in the middle of the month. It allows a fraction of the full-year depreciation in the first and last years.

5. Tax Implications of Depreciation 

Depreciation helps your business lower its taxes, reducing your asset’s value on the balance sheet and taxable income on the income statement. Choosing a depreciation method (like accelerated or straight-line) and convention (like half-year) affects how much and when depreciation happens, impacting tax implications.

Depreciation also plays a role in determining the gain or loss when selling your business asset. The basis of an asset (original cost adjusted for improvements, depreciation, etc.) influences this gain or loss.

Depreciation lowers your asset’s basis, affecting its potential gain or loss when you sell it. While it reduces taxable income and tax liability during the asset’s use, it involves a trade-off between immediate and future tax benefits.

When selling an asset, there’s recapture—taxing the gain from the previous depreciation deduction as ordinary income. Ordinary income, at a higher tax rate, includes recapture and other non-capital gains income. So, the decision on depreciation affects taxes both now and in the future.

6. Section 179 Deduction

Depreciation significantly impacts the Section 179 deduction and bonus depreciation for eligible assets.

Section 179 deduction allows your business to deduct the full purchase price of qualifying equipment or software in the tax year, up to a limit. For 2023, the limit is $1,160,000, with a phase-out threshold of $2,890,000. This deduction reduces the asset’s basis, influencing future depreciation claims. 

Bonus depreciation lets your business deduct an additional percentage (80% in 2023) of the cost of qualifying property beyond normal depreciation allowances, applying to both new and used property. Similar to Section 179, bonus depreciation decreases your asset’s basis, affecting future depreciation claims.

Your business can use both Section 179 and bonus depreciation for the same asset, but the Section 179 deduction applies first.

For instance, if a business purchases a $1,500,000 machine in 2023, it can claim a Section 179 deduction of $1,160,000. The remaining basis of $340,000 then qualifies for a bonus depreciation of 80%, resulting in a $272,000 deduction. The total deduction for the first year is $1,432,000, leaving a remaining basis of $68,000 for standard depreciation over your asset’s useful life.

Recap

Depreciation spreads asset costs over its life and impacts finances and taxes. Tangible assets (machinery) depreciate due to wear; intangible assets (patents) amortize. You use methods like straight-line to distribute costs, while accelerated methods help reduce early taxes.

MACRS offers tax flexibility: GDS accelerates your tax flexibility, while ADS is gradual. Conventions (half-year, mid-quarter, mid-month) determine when to depreciate. This depreciation lowers taxes but affects your asset sale gains. Your business can enjoy Section 179 and bonus depreciation which offer upfront deductions and influence future claims.

This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. . For comprehensive tax, legal or financial advice, always contact a qualified professional in your area. S’witty Kiwi assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.

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