Calculating Depreciation – Which Method is Best?

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What is depreciation?

Depreciation is a way that businesses spread the expense caused by a loss of value over time. Depreciation is applied to fixed, tangible assets over the course of their useful lives. Depreciation is not a cash expense, but rather a non-cash expense that affects a company’s financial statements.

There are several methods that can be used to calculate depreciation, including the straight-line method, the declining balance method, and the sum-of-the-years’ digits method. The method used depends on the type of asset and the company’s accounting policies.

How do you calculate depreciation?

Depreciation is calculated using the following formula:

Depreciation = (Cost of Asset – Salvage Value) / Useful Length of Life of Asset

  1. Cost of Asset: This is the total amount spent to acquire or create the asset, including any costs associated with preparing, installing, or transporting the asset.
  2. Salvage Value: This is the estimated value of the asset at the end of its useful life. It is also known as the residual value or scrap value.
  3. Useful Life of Asset: This is the estimated time period over which the asset is expected to be used or provide value to the business. It can be expressed in years, months, or any other time period.

For example, let’s say a company purchases a new company vehicle for $50,000 with a salvage value of $5,000 and an estimated useful life of 5 years. The annual depreciation expense for the vehicle would be:

Depreciation = ($50,000 – $5,000) / 5 years
Depreciation = $9,000 per year

So, the company would record a depreciation expense of $9,000 each year for the next 5 years until the truck is fully depreciated.

What is accumulated depreciation?

Accumulated depreciation is the total depreciation expense that has been recognized and recorded for an asset over its useful life. It represents the reduction in the value of an asset over time due the variety of factors discussed.

Accumulated depreciation is shown on the balance sheet as a contra-asset account, which reduces the original cost of the asset to arrive at its net book value. This allows companies to reflect the true value of their assets, as well as to calculate the gain or loss on the sale of an asset.

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What kind of assets can you depreciate?

Tangible assets such as buildings, machinery, vehicles, furniture, and equipment can be depreciated. Intangible assets such as patents, copyrights, and trademarks can also be depreciated.

Types of depreciation

There are a few common types of depreciation.

Straight-line depreciation

Straight-line depreciation is a method of accounting for the gradual decrease in value of a fixed asset over time. This is arguably the most common method of calculating depreciation, because it’s easy to calculate and can be applied to all fixed assets.

This method assumes that the asset loses an equal amount of value each year, and calculates the depreciation by dividing the total cost of the asset by its estimated useful life. This results in a fixed amount of depreciation expense being recorded each year, until the end of the asset’s useful life.

straight line depreciation graph

Declining balance depreciation

Declining balance depreciation is a method of depreciation that allocates a higher percentage of the asset’s cost to the earlier years of its life and reduces the percentage allocated in the later years. It is also known as reducing balance depreciation or accelerated depreciation.

This method is used to recognize more significant depreciation expenses in the early years and less in the later years. It assumes that the asset is more productive in the early years and less productive in the later years.

declining balance depreciation graph

Sum-of-the-Years’ Digits (SYD)

Sum-of-the-Years’ Digits (SYD) is a depreciation method that calculates depreciation expenses based on the sum of the digits of the asset’s expected life. The depreciation amount decreases each year, reflecting the decline in the asset’s value over time. The formula for SYD depreciation is:

Depreciation expense = (remaining life / sum of the years’ digits) x asset cost

The sum of the years’ digits is calculated by adding the digits from 1 to the expected life of the asset. For example, if an asset has a useful life of 5 years, the sum of the years’ digits would be:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 = 15

SYD is a commonly used depreciation method for tax and accounting purposes, particularly for assets that have a higher value in the early years of their life.

Units of production depreciation

Units of production depreciation is a method of calculating depreciation that is based on the actual usage of an asset rather than the time used. This method involves calculating the depreciation expense based on the number of units it produces or the number of hours it is used, which is then divided by the total number of units or hours the asset is expected to produce over its useful life. This method is commonly used for assets that are primarily used for production or manufacturing purposes, such as machinery, equipment, or vehicles.

Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS)

Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) is a tax depreciation system in the United States that allows businesses to recover the costs of certain assets over a fixed period of time through annual deductions on their tax returns. The system was introduced in 1986 by the Tax Reform Act and replaced the Accelerated Cost Recovery System (ACRS).

Under MACRS, assets are assigned to different classes, each with its own depreciation period. Depreciation periods range from 3 years for certain assets to 39 years for non-residential real estate. The system allows businesses to recover the cost of assets more quickly than under traditional straight-line depreciation.

The MACRS system has various depreciation methods, including the double-declining balance method and the straight-line method. The method used depends on the asset class and the expected useful life of the asset.

Overall, MACRS provides a tax benefit to businesses by allowing them to recover the cost of their investments in tangible assets more quickly, which can reduce their taxable income and lower their tax liability.


What is a depreciation schedule?

A depreciation schedule is a document that outlines the expected decline in value of an asset over time due to wear and tear, obsolescence, or other factors. It lists the asset’s original cost, its useful life, and the method used to calculate depreciation, such as straight-line or accelerated. The schedule is used to determine how much of an asset’s value can be deducted each year as a tax write-off, and is also useful for budgeting and financial planning purposes.

Comparing depreciation methods

The choice of depreciation method depends on the nature of the asset, the expected usage, and the desired accuracy of the calculation. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to choose the method that best reflects the true cost of the asset over its useful life.


Depreciation and Brixx Software

If your business is tracking its assets and beginning to work out depreciation for your financial forecasting, then you may be reviewing the above to discover the best way for you to do so. While manual observations can be useful, it is worth bearing in mind that a financial modelling tool such as Brixx can track all of your assets and provide the necessary reports required in relation to depreciation. Take a free trial or demo and discover how much of an asset it can be for your business.

Commonly asked questions

How to find rate of depreciation

Determine the initial value of the asset

The initial value of the asset is the cost of the asset when it was purchased or acquired.

Determine the salvage value

The salvage value is the estimated value of the asset at the end of its useful life. This value is an estimate and can be determined by industry standards or a professional appraiser.

Determine the useful life of the asset

The useful life is the period over which the asset is expected to be useful. This is also an estimate and can be based on industry standards or the experience of the owner.

Calculate the depreciation expense

Depreciation expense is the amount that the asset’s value decreases each year. It is calculated as follows:

Depreciation Expense = (Initial Value – Salvage Value) / Useful Life

Calculate the rate of depreciation

The rate of depreciation is the percentage of the asset’s value that decreases each year. It is calculated as follows:

Rate of Depreciation = Depreciation Expense / Initial Value x 100%

For example, if an asset has an initial value of $10,000, a salvage value of $2,000, and a useful life of 5 years, the depreciation expense would be ($10,000 – $2,000) / 5 = $1,600 per year. The rate of depreciation would be $1,600 / $10,000 x 100% = 16%.

Why are assets depreciated over time?

Assets are depreciated because they lose their value or usefulness over a period of time due to wear and tear, technological advancements, or other factors. Depreciation is a systematic way of allocating the cost of an asset over its useful life, reflecting the decrease in its value as it is used or consumed. This accounting practice helps to match the cost of the asset with the revenue it generates over time and accurately reflects the financial position of a company.

How are assets depreciated for tax purposes?

Assets are depreciated for tax purposes using a specific depreciation method determined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

Generally, the most commonly used method is the previously mentioned Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS), which allows businesses to write off the cost of assets over a predetermined period of time, usually between 3 and 39 years, depending on the type of asset.

Is depreciation considered to be an expense?

Depreciation is considered an expense in accounting. It is an accounting method commonly used to understand the cost of an asset over its lifetime.

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