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What Is Accumulated Depreciation and How Is It Recorded?

An entrepreneur checks her balance sheet

Accumulated depreciation is a crucial part of financial analysis. It helps to ascertain the true value of an asset over time, influences purchasing decisions and plays an essential role in tax planning. Here’s a breakdown of how accumulated depreciation is calculated, the recording process and examples of practical applications.

A financial advisor can help you create a financial plan for your business and your investments as a business owner.

What Is Accumulated Depreciation?

By deducting the accumulated depreciation from the initial cost of assets, businesses can determine the net book value of an asset.

Accumulated depreciation refers to the cumulative amount of depreciation expense charged to a fixed asset from the moment it comes into use. It is used to offset the original cost of an asset, providing a more accurate representation of its current value on a balance sheet.

This accounting standard allows businesses to track the declining value of assets due to factors such as wear and tear, technological advancements and obsolescence, which could influence the financial reporting and decision-making processes.

What Is Depreciation Expense?

Depreciation expense serves to match the original cost of acquiring an asset with the revenue it generates over its lifespan. This allocation method can help a business estimate how an asset can impact the company’s financial performance with more accuracy. 

You should note that the expense recorded each time is added to the accumulated depreciation account. Thus, accumulated depreciation is an aggregation of individual depreciation expenses over time.

To show how accumulated depreciation can influence a company’s value and inform decisions about asset replacement or upgrades, let’s consider an example: A piece of machinery valued at $10,000, depreciates by $500 annually. This will accumulate to a depreciation of $2,500 over five years. 

The amount directly reduces the net worth of the company’s assets and can therefore influence equipment decisions about whether to invest in asset maintenance, upgrade, or replacement. 

Beyond machinery and equipment, other examples of depreciable assets include aging buildings that will require repairs over time, company-owned vehicles, furniture and fixtures, computer hardware, improvements made to leased spaces and assets, and natural resources for industries like mining or forestry which can be depleted over time.

How to Calculate Accumulated Depreciation

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Accumulated depreciation can be calculated using the straight-line method or an accelerated method. 

The straight-line method assumes that an asset will lose an equal amount of value each year, while the accelerated methods assume that the asset will lose more of its value in the early years and progressively less each year, similar to how a new car drops in value the second you drive it off the lot.

Here are four steps to calculate accumulated depreciation using the straight-line method:

  • Determine the initial cost: Identify the initial cost of the asset, which includes the purchase price, delivery costs, installation fees and any other directly attributable costs.
  • Estimate the useful life: Determine the estimated useful life of the asset, which is the period of time that the asset is expected to contribute to the business operations, usually based on the applicable IRS asset category. This is typically reported in years.
  • Calculate the annual depreciation expense: Divide the initial cost of the asset by its estimated useful life to calculate the annual depreciation expense. The formula to do this is: Annual Depreciation Expense = Initial Cost / Useful Life.
  • Calculate the accumulated depreciation: Multiply the annual depreciation expense by the number of years the asset has been in use. This gives you the total depreciation expense incurred over that time period. The formula to do this is: Accumulated Depreciation = Annual Depreciation Expense × Number of Years

As an example, if your business bought a piece of equipment for $10,000, with an estimated useful life of five years, and it has now been in use for three years, you would calculate the straight-line depreciation as follows:

  • Annual Depreciation Expense = $10,000 / 5 = $2,000
  • Accumulated Depreciation = $2,000 × 3 = $6,000

So, the accumulated depreciation for the equipment after 3 years would be $6,000.

And, for a comparison, let’s use the declining balance method (an accelerated depreciation method) to calculate accumulated depreciation. Let’s assume that a company buys a computer server for $10,000, with an estimated useful life of 5 years, and a 20% depreciation rate. Your would break down your calculation by year: 

  • Year 1: Your starting accumulated depreciation is $0. The formula is: Depreciation Expense = Initial Cost × Depreciation Rate = $10,000 × 0.20 = $2,000. Your accumulated depreciation after Year 1: $2,000.
  • Year 2: Your starting accumulated depreciation is $2,000 (from Year 1). The formula is: Depreciation Expense = (Initial Cost – Accumulated Depreciation) × Depreciation Rate = ($10,000 – $2,000) × 0.20 = $1,600.  Your accumulated depreciation after year 2 is $2,000 + $1,600 = $3,600.
  • Year 3: Your starting accumulated depreciation is $3,600 (from Year 2). The formula is: Depreciation Expense = (Initial Cost – Accumulated Depreciation) × Depreciation Rate = ($10,000 – $3,600) × 0.20 = $1,280. Your accumulated depreciation after year 3: $3,600 + $1,280 = $4,880.

You would continue repeating this calculation for each subsequent year until the end of the asset’s useful life or the book value (Initial Cost – Accumulated Depreciation) becomes less than the depreciation expense.

Calculating an Asset Book Value

To calculate the book value of an asset, subtract the accumulated depreciation from the original cost of the asset. This represents the current net asset value on the company’s balance sheet after factoring in depreciation. Follow these three common steps:

  • Determine the initial cost: This includes the purchase price of the asset as well as any directly attributable costs like delivery, installation and setup fees.
  • Calculate the accumulated depreciation: This is the total amount of depreciation that has been recorded for the asset over its useful life. (Refer to the section above.)
  • Calculate the book value: Subtract the accumulated depreciation from the initial cost to calculate the book value of the asset with this formula: Book Value = Initial Cost – Accumulated Depreciation.

As an example, let’s assume that the original cost of an asset is $20,000, and it has an accumulated depreciation of $5,000. The book value of this asset is $15,000 ($20,000 – $5,000).

How to Record Accumulated Depreciation

Recording accumulated depreciation is a systematic process that ends up on the balance sheet. This is recorded as a contra-asset account, which is an account that offsets the value of a related asset account. 

Accumulated depreciation reduces the value of the corresponding asset on the balance sheet, therefore reflecting the total depreciation expense incurred since the asset’s acquisition. 

On a balance sheet, the net value of the asset is calculated by subtracting the accumulated depreciation from its initial cost. Over time, as depreciation continues to accumulate, the accumulated depreciation account will increase, and the corresponding asset accounts will decrease, leading to a decrease in the net value of the assets.

Here’s what it could look like:

    • Machinery  $100,000
    • Accumulated Depreciation  $20,000
  • Net Machinery $80,000

The accumulated depreciation account will have a credit balance, which is opposite to the normal debit balance of asset accounts. This is because it represents an offset to the asset’s value.

Bottom Line

A businessman checks his cash flow

Accumulated depreciation is an important component of a business’s comprehensive financial plan. This type of accounting offers a realistic understanding of the company’s assets value, which can influence financial decisions.

Tips for Business Owners and Investors

  • When crafting a financial plan for your business – or when you’re considering an investment in a business – a financial advisor can help. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • A financial plan is the final part of a business plan. Make sure you know all 10 key components of a business plan.

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