Accounting for Depreciation of Fixed Assets

The accounting for depreciation provides a number of challenges for the accounting student. These include the different methods available, ensuring calculations are correct and dealing with journal entries in relation to both the expensing of depreciation and the impact upon non-current (or fixed) assets.

As with all of our accounting tutorials we welcome your feedback and questions, so please get in touch sometime.

Definition of Depreciation

This is where I see so many accounting text books and websites get this wrong. Depreciation is NOT a measure to reflect:

  • a fall in asset value;
  • an apportionment of the cost of the asset purchase across some predetermined period of time; nor
  • the matching of the revenue if generates to it being “expensed” each year.

The approach to depreciation now days doesn’t have anything to do reflecting correct asset values, expensing of assets or matching of expenses and revenues.

So we know what depreciation isn’t, so what is it? For that we turn to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) Conceptual Framework. The framework defines depreciation as an expense that reflects the consumption of economic benefits that the reporting entity controls from the respective asset.

Now we know what depreciation is let us move onto the numbers and the two common methods used in accounting for depreciation.

Methods of Calculating Depreciation

There are two methods of calculating depreciation that you will have to learn, but not to worry as they are quite straight forward.

Straight-line Method

The straight-line method writes-off a fixed percentage of the asset purchase cost each year. For example, if the consumption of economic benefits from an asset are expected to last five years, then 20 per cent of the asset cost would be expensed in each of those five years.

This is also referred to as the economic life of the asset. Often “economic benefits” and “economic life” are used in an interchangeable manner. Although of course the former is referring to the monetary value being gained from an asset. Whereas the latter is referring to a period of time. Its a cute difference, but important.

Of course different classes or types of non-current assets are depreciated at different rates – reflecting the different rates at which economic benefits flow to the reporting entity controlling them. This control point is an important, quick, sideline to mention. Under the IFRS conceptual framework we mentioned earlier the focus is not on what a reporting entity owns per se, but rather what they can control. In particular the control of the economic benefits from an asset. We touch on this in our article dealing with non-current assets.

But moving on. Straight-line depreciation is calculated by:

(cost of asset – estimated disposal proceeds) / years of economic life

For example. Let’s say ABC Ltd acquired a new digger:

  • purchase cost $850,000
  • economic life of 5 years (an equivalent 20 per cent rate)
  • estimated disposal value $150,000

(850,000 – 150,000) / 5 years = 140,000 per year

Reducing Balance Method

Like the straight-line methods a set percentage of economic benefits is expensed each year. However, unlike the straight-line methods, and as the name suggests, this percentage is taken from the reduced balance from the year before.

This method is also often referred to as the diminishing balance method.

So let’s take the example we used above for ABC Ltd. We will depreciate the new digger at 33 per cent, over five years, but using the reducing balance.

YearCalculationBalance
Purchase Cost850,000
Year 1Depreciation Expense280,500
New Closing Value Year 1569,500
Year 2Depreciation Expense187,935
New Closing Value Year 2381,565
Year 3Depreciation Expense125,916
New Closing Value Year 3255,649
Year 4Depreciation Expense84,364
New Closing Value Year 4171,285
Year 5Depreciation Expense56,524
New Closing Value Year 5114,761

From a quick review one can see that under the straight-line method the depreciation rate is lower, when compared to the reducing balance method, in the early years. But as the economic life of the asset progresses the depreciation expense is greater in the latter years. For example in the last year, year 5, the straight-line method expenses $83,476 more ($140,000 – $56,524 = $83,476).

Comparison of the Two Depreciation Methods

So let us do quick comparison of the two methods and when one might be more suitable than the other (of course when we are dealing with say tax depreciation schedules there is generally little to no flexibility in the method and/or rates applied).

Straight-Line MethodReducing Balance Method
Amount of DepreciationThe same dollar value is expensed each year.A higher amount of depreciation claimed in the earlier years and a lower amount in the latter years.
Depreciation PercentageA lower depreciation rate is required to achieve the same residual value.A higher level of depreciation is required to achieve the same residual value. Unlike the straight-line method a nil residual value cannot be achieved.
SuitabilityFor those non-current assets that have a relative even spread on the consumption of their economic benefits. For example office equipment and fixtures and fittings.For those non-current assets that have a higher consumption of economic benefits earlier in their useful life. For example vehicles and heavy machinery.

Accounting Journal Entries for Depreciation

Now that we have a good grounding in the theory behind the accounting for depreciation of non-current assets, it’s time to look at the journal entries involved. If we use ABC Ltd’s machinery purchase we mentioned above, we can work through initially the journal entries and then in the next section work through the financial statement disclosures.

The first entry below is for the initial recording of the asset purchase. In this case ABC paid cash for the purchase of $850,000 on April 1, year X1.

DateAccount NameDebitCredit
April 1Plant Machinery850,000
Bank850,000

In using the accumulated depreciation account, which we’ll get to next, the asset account is not touched with depreciation entries. It is much cleaner to operate these entries through the contra account and so the asset account is kept clear of these.

Conveniently the machinery was purchased on April 1, the beginning of ABC’s financial year. We will be using straight-line depreciation at 20 per cent per annum for this exercise and assume a residual balance of the digger of $150,000.

So as we did above we would do the following calculation:

($850,000 – $150,000) = $700,000 X 20% = $140,000 depreciation pa

At the end of year X1 ABC’s accounting team would post the following entry:

DateAccount NameDebitCredit
March 31Machinery Depreciation140,000
Machinery Accumulated Depreciation140,000

The debit creates the depreciation expense for the year, which we will see in the statement of financial performance (also called the income statement or profit and loss statement). While the credit increases the asset contra account of accumulated depreciation, which will flow through to the balance sheet (statement of financial position).

Before we move onto to look at the disclosure side of things it’s worth a quick detour to fixed asset registers and why they can be useful.

Fixed Asset (Non-Current) Registers

We will probably get round to a separate accounting tutorial on this, but for the mean time it is worth a few words on this. From our example above, with one fixed asset, maintaining track of depreciation and the accumulated balance each year would be pretty straight forward. However one can easily imagine that as the number of assets increases this tracking becomes more difficult.

So what businesses can operate is a fixed asset register. This takes a lot of the detail out of the general ledger system and enables the accounting to deal with individual assets rather than grouping them. For example in the above journal entry instead of operating a separate depreciation and accumulated account for each machine in the general ledger the individual detail would be kept in the register. This could then mean the business may operate just one account for the expense and contra account, or perhaps each for each class of non-current assets.

Ok, onto the financial disclosures and the accounting for depreciation.

Accounting for Depreciation Financial Statement Disclosures

Accounting Depreciation Policies

Not the place most people think to start, but we wanted to highlight this part as it is often overlooked. When you read a set of financial statements the attached accounting policies form part of accounts. One of the policies will be how the reporting entity treats depreciation. It will generally set out the method (straight-line, reducing balance), the percentage rate, estimated useful life assessments and whether depreciation is applied for a whole or partial year. For example, if an asset is purchased part-way through a year does the business apportion depreciation or apply for it for full period.

Statement of Financial Performance

The income statement (or statement of financial performance) reflects the annual depreciation expense – ie it picks up the debit of the journal entry we produced above. Below is an extract from year X1 for ABC Ltd. In our case with using the straight-line method the depreciation expense be the same each year for the machinery.

If ABC had more classes of fixed assets then a depreciation sub-line could be provided for each. But in our case there is only the one.

Statement of Financial Position

We now move onto the balance sheet. The extract below from ABC’s 31 March X1 accounts shows the accumulated depreciation to date, picking up the credit from our journal entry each year.

As this is year one of having the machinery in the accounts the figure of course is the same as that on the income statement (as shown above). But over the next five years of accounts the accumulated figure would of course grow. So by the end of year five, assuming no changes in accounting policy, the accumulated depreciation figure would be $700,000. And so providing us with a net book value of $150,000; which as you remember is the estimated residual figure we used in calculating our depreciation per annum to apply.

Non-cash Expense

The last point we want to cover with you is that of depreciation being a non-cash expense. Unless a business is operating a cash basis accounting system, an accrual system we account for the movement of cash and non-cash transactions alike. Remember, our purpose under an accrual system is to track the movement of economic benefits – whatever form they take.

By recording depreciation in the income statement it provides the readers with a better picture of the economic profits or losses being generated by the firm – just not its inflow and outflow of cash. This disclosure is covered in the statement of cashflows (for another day).

Conclusion

So we have learnt that the accounting for depreciation is a reflection of the consumption of economic benefits that a firm can control from an assets. And that under today’s conceptual frameworks assets are just bundles of economic benefits that a firm can control (in accounting control is more important than legal ownership).

We then looked at the straight-line verses reducing balance depreciation methods and when we may wish to use one rather than the other and the effect of this on our financial statements.

And finally we covered an example with a simple straight-line depreciation calculation for some machinery and how this would look in a firm’s set of accounts.

We trust this article has helped you gain a better working knowledge of what depreciation is and how it is applied in an accrual accounting system.

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