Depreciation Made Easy: Step-by-Step Guide

May 15, 2024
minutes to read
Warren More
Table of Contents

Accounting software with built-in depreciation is crucial for strategic business tax planning. In this article, we'll review everything you need to know about depreciating an asset. From unravelling the fundamental purpose of depreciation to navigating the different methods for calculating it, this guide will teach you how to leverage depreciation to reduce your taxable income.

What is Depreciation?

At its heart, depreciation is a financial calculation that captures the natural decline in the value of an asset over time. Think of it as the wear and tear that affects not just physical objects like machinery and vehicles but also intangible assets like patents and copyrights. This gradual reduction in value can result from factors ranging from regular use and obsolescence to changes in market demand.

Picture this: you acquire state-of-the-art equipment for your business. It's cutting-edge and enhances your productivity substantially. However, as time goes on, technological advancements render it less efficient compared to newer models. Here, depreciation is an accounting tool to mirror the decline in the equipment's value on your books, reflecting its actual economic worth.

Depreciating an Asset: What It Means

Now that we've established a base understanding of depreciation let's dive into what it truly means to depreciate an asset. This process involves recognising and accounting for the decrease in an asset's value over time within your financial records.

By acknowledging depreciation in your financial statements, you're adhering to accounting standards and making a strategic move that impacts your tax liability. 

As an asset's value diminishes, you can deduct a portion of that decrease from your taxable income. In essence, depreciation is a valuable tool to reduce the amount you owe in taxes, ultimately contributing to improved financial efficiency.

Depreciation example:

Delivery Vans

Let's run through another example. Your business invests $200,000 in a fleet of five delivery vans to facilitate operations. Over the years, these vehicles experience wear, tear, and aging. If not for depreciation, your financial statements would inaccurately portray the fleet's value as $200,000, potentially leading to tax overpayment. 

In reality, as soon as you start using the vehicles, they are worth less than what you paid for them. Depreciating these vehicles not only reflects their actual value but also aligns with the principle of matching expenses with the revenue they generate, resulting in a more accurate representation of your business's financial performance.

How do you Calculate Depreciation?

In Australia, there are two primary methods used for calculating depreciation:

Prime Cost (Straight Line) Method

The prime cost method, also known as the straight-line method, involves spreading the cost of an asset evenly over its useful life. This method assumes that the asset loses its value uniformly over time. The formula for calculating depreciation using the prime cost method is:

Depreciation Expense = (Cost - Salvage Value) / Useful Life

This method is straightforward and provides a consistent amount of depreciation expense each year. It's especially suitable for assets with a consistent usage pattern and where the decrease in value is relatively constant over time.

Diminishing Value Method

The diminishing value method, also referred to as the declining balance method, considers that an asset often loses a higher portion of its value in the earlier years of its useful life. This method allows for higher deductions in the early years and gradually reduces the deduction as the asset ages. The formula for calculating depreciation using the diminishing value method is more complex:

Depreciation Expense = (Cost - Accumulated Depreciation) × Depreciation Rate

Here, the "depreciation rate" is typically a percentage representing the rate at which the asset's value decreases yearly. This rate is often higher in the earlier years and reduces over time.

Both methods are accepted by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) for calculating depreciation on income-generating assets. Choosing the right approach depends on various factors, including the asset type, its pattern of use, and your financial goals.

It's important to note that depreciation calculations can get intricate, especially for businesses with multiple assets of varying types and ages. 

In addition to these methods, it's worth mentioning that Australia has introduced various initiatives to support businesses in their asset purchases and depreciation calculations. For instance, the Instant Asset Write-Off scheme allows businesses to immediately deduct the cost of eligible assets, boosting cash flow and reducing tax liability.

Navigating these differentiation calculations effectively ensures that your financial statements accurately reflect the changing value of your assets, enabling you to make informed decisions and optimise your tax planning strategies.

How to Depreciate an Asset

Understanding the principles behind depreciation is just the beginning; the real power lies in the application. Let's explore a step-by-step guide on how to depreciate an asset effectively, ensuring accurate financial reporting and optimised tax benefits:

  1. Identify the Asset: Identify the asset that needs to be depreciated. This could be anything from machinery and equipment to vehicles and buildings.
  2. Gather Information: Collect all relevant information about the asset, including its initial cost, expected residual value, and estimated useful life. These details are crucial for accurate depreciation calculations.
  3. Choose a Method: Decide whether you'll use the prime cost or diminishing value methods for your depreciation calculations. Consider factors such as the nature of the asset and your business's financial goals.
  4. Calculate Annual Depreciation: Utilise the chosen method's formula to calculate the annual depreciation expense. This involves subtracting the residual value from the asset's cost and dividing it by the useful life.
  5. Record Depreciation Expense: On your financial statements, record the calculated depreciation expense under the appropriate category (e.g., Depreciation Expense). This accurately reflects the decline in the asset's value over time.
  6. Maintain Accurate Records: Keep detailed records of depreciation calculations, methods used, and any changes made. This documentation is essential for audits, financial analysis, and future reference.
  7. Adjust for Changes: If there are changes in the asset's useful life or other relevant factors, adjust your depreciation calculations. Accuracy is critical to credible financial reporting.
  8. Stay Informed: Regularly update yourself on changes in depreciation rates and tax regulations. This ensures that your calculations remain aligned with current guidelines and laws.

By following these steps, you ensure compliance with accounting standards and position yourself to capitalise on the financial advantages of depreciation. Effective depreciation allows you to lower your taxable income, thereby minimising your tax liability and enhancing your financial performance.

Retail store owner

Calculating Depreciation: Putting Theory into Practice

Now that we've delved into the principles and methods of depreciation, let's roll up our sleeves and walk through a practical example of calculating depreciation using the prime cost method. This hands-on approach will help solidify your understanding and equip you to apply this knowledge in your financial management endeavours confidently.

Example: Depreciating Office Equipment

Imagine you've acquired office equipment – a set of computers – for your business for $40,000. You estimate that these computers will have a useful life of 5 years and a residual value (same as the salvage value) of $5,000. You've decided to use the prime cost method for depreciation calculations.

  • Cost of the equipment: $40,000
  • Residual value: $5,000
  • Useful life: 5 years

Calculate Annual Depreciation: 

Applying the prime cost formula: 

Depreciation Expense = (Cost - Salvage Value) / Useful Life

Depreciation Expense = ($40,000 - $5,000) / 5 = $7,000 per year

This means that you record $7,000 as an annual depreciation expense on your financial statements.

Yearly Calculation:

  • Year 1: $7,000
  • Year 2: $7,000
  • Year 3: $7,000
  • Year 4: $7,000
  • Year 5: $7,000

By the end of the fifth year, the accumulated depreciation would amount to $35,000 ($7,000 x 5), which aligns with the asset's total depreciation over its useful life.

Why This Matters: Recording depreciation accurately on your financial statements ensures that your balance sheet reflects the true worth of your assets, additionally, the recorded depreciation directly impacts your taxable income, allowing you to deduct these expenses and reduce your tax liability.

Depreciation: Is it an Asset or Expense?

Depreciation is an expense, but despite being categorised as such, it has unique characteristics that set it apart from other operational costs. While traditional expenses, like rent or salaries, involve an actual cash outflow, depreciation doesn't entail a direct cash expenditure. Instead, it represents the systematic allocation of an asset's cost over its useful life. The key differences lie in how depreciation affects financial statements:

  1. Income Statement: Depreciation is recorded as an expense on the income statement, reducing the net income for the period. This aligns with the principle of accurately matching expenses with the revenues they generate.
  2. Balance Sheet: The accumulated depreciation for an asset is listed on the balance sheet as a contra-asset account. This counteracts the asset's historical cost, reflecting the asset's actual remaining value. The asset's net book value is calculated by subtracting accumulated depreciation from its original cost.

Choosing the Right Method: Strategic Considerations

Selecting the most appropriate depreciation method depends on various factors, including the asset type, industry trends, and your financial goals. Here's how to navigate this decision:

  1. Asset Type: Consider the nature of the asset. Does it typically lose value consistently, or does its value decline rapidly in its early years? The answer can guide you towards the most fitting method.
  2. Useful Life: The length of an asset's useful life plays a significant role. If an asset has a short useful life, the diminishing value method might reflect its decline more accurately. For longer-lived purchases, the straight-line method could be suitable.
  3. Tax Planning: Depreciation directly impacts your taxable income. If you want to maximise tax benefits in the short term, the diminishing value method might offer higher deductions in the earlier years.
  4. Financial Goals: Consider your long-term financial goals. Are you aiming for steady, predictable financial statements, or are you more interested in frontloading deductions for immediate tax relief?

Depreciating Assets Not in Use

The notion of depreciating assets not in use might seem counterintuitive – after all, how can something lose value if it's not actively utilised? However, in the world of accounting and financial management, the story is more complex. Let's delve into the rationale behind depreciating idle assets and the scenarios where this practice holds.

The Decline in Value Beyond Usage

Assets lose value over time due to factors beyond mere physical use. Obsolescence, changes in market demand, and technological advancements can all contribute to an asset's diminishing worth, even if it remains unused. Depreciating idle assets acknowledges these factors and ensures that the financial records accurately reflect their changing value.

Consider a manufacturing company that invested in a specialised machine several years ago. Due to shifts in industry trends, this machine is no longer needed for current production. However, it has yet to be sold or disposed of. While not actively used, the machine's value continues to erode due to market changes.

Scenarios for Depreciating Idle Assets

Here are some scenarios where idle assets are likely to be depreciated:

  1. Obsolescence: If an asset becomes outdated or less valuable due to technological advancements, it's appropriate to continue depreciating it even if it's not actively used.
  2. Market Changes: If an asset's value decreases due to fluctuations in market demand, it's reasonable to recognise this decline through depreciation.
  3. Regulatory Compliance: In some industries, regulations mandate the depreciation of certain assets, whether in use or not.
Thriday automates banking, accounting and tax

Instant Asset Write-Off: Turbocharging Financial Efficiency

The Instant Asset Write-Off scheme is a government initiative designed to stimulate business growth and investment by allowing businesses to immediately deduct the cost of eligible assets in the year of purchase rather than depreciating them over several years. This instant deduction provides an immediate financial boost, enhancing your cash flow and reducing your tax liability. Here are some key aspects to consider:

  1. Eligible Assets: Not all assets qualify for the instant asset write-off. The eligibility criteria can vary based on asset type, cost, and usage. It's essential to familiarise yourself with the specific guidelines to determine which assets can be written off instantly.
  2. Thresholds: The government sets thresholds for the value of assets eligible for instant write-off. These thresholds can change over time due to policy updates. Staying informed about the current thresholds ensures you take full advantage of the scheme.
  3. Business Size: The instant asset write-off scheme is often tailored to small and medium-sized businesses. However, eligibility criteria and benefits can vary based on the size of your business. Larger companies might have different rules or limitations.

The Benefits of Action

Let's illustrate the impact of instant asset write-off with an example: Imagine you run a small bakery, and you invest in a commercial oven for $15,000. Under normal circumstances, you would depreciate this asset over several years. However, with the instant asset write-off, you can deduct the entire $15,000 from your taxable income in the same financial year, providing immediate tax relief.

Accumulated Depreciation: Tracking the Evolution of Asset Value

Accumulated depreciation represents the cumulative amount of depreciation recognised on an asset since its acquisition. It's a contra-asset account listed on the balance sheet, offsetting the asset's historical cost. This portrayal presents the asset's current net book value, which reflects its actual worth after accounting for the decrease in value over time. The reason it matters is:

  1. True Asset Value: Accumulated depreciation provides a holistic view of an asset's value. By subtracting it from the original cost, you determine the asset's net book value, aligning with its market worth.
  2. Accurate Financial Reporting: Precise financial statements are essential for transparency and informed decision-making. Accumulated depreciation ensures that your balance sheet accurately portrays the value of your assets, contributing to credible financial reporting.
  3. Tax Implications: Accumulated depreciation impacts your taxable income. When you sell or dispose of an asset, the difference between the sale price and the net book value (original cost - accumulated depreciation) might result in a taxable gain or loss.

Fully Depreciated Assets

When accumulated depreciation equals an asset's original cost, the asset is considered fully depreciated. At this point, it's essential to evaluate your options:

  1. Continue Use: Even though an asset is fully depreciated, it might still provide value to your operations. You can continue using it without further depreciation.
  2. Disposition: You might choose to sell or dispose of the asset. The transaction will impact your financial statements, potentially resulting in a taxable gain or loss.
  3. Tax Considerations: Disposing of a fully depreciated asset might have tax implications. The sale price exceeding the net book value results in a taxable gain, while a sale price lower than the net book value results in a loss.

Depreciation FAQs

Can I Choose Any Depreciation Method? 

While you can choose a depreciation method, aligning your choice with the asset's nature and financial goals is essential. Consider factors such as the asset's expected pattern of value decline and its useful life to make an informed decision.

Can I Change Depreciation Methods? 

You can change methods, but ensuring consistency and accuracy in your financial reporting is essential. Changing methods might require adjustments to previous financial statements and can have tax implications. Consult with financial experts to navigate such transitions.

Can I Depreciate an Asset Not in Use? 

Yes, under certain circumstances. If an asset's value decreases due to factors like obsolescence or market changes, you can justify depreciating it even if it's not actively used. The aim is to reflect its actual value accurately.

How Does Depreciation Affect My Taxes? 

Depreciation reduces your taxable income. Deducting depreciation expenses lowers your taxable income, potentially resulting in lower tax liability. Depreciation thus acts as a strategic tool to optimise your tax planning.

What Happens When an Asset Is Fully Depreciated? 

When an asset is fully depreciated, its accumulated depreciation equals its original cost. You can continue using the asset without further depreciation, dispose of it, or sell it. Each option has financial and tax implications.

What About Tax Deductions? 

Depreciation expenses can be claimed as tax deductions, effectively reducing your taxable income. This provides immediate tax relief and enhances your financial efficiency.

How Do Instant Asset Write-Off and Depreciation Differ? 

Instant Asset Write-Off allows you to immediately deduct the cost of eligible assets in the year of purchase. Depreciation spreads the asset's cost over its useful life. Both strategies offer tax benefits but differ in timing and application.

Can Individuals Depreciate Assets? 

Individuals who own income-generating assets, such as rental properties, can depreciate them to reduce their taxable income. Depreciation isn't limited to businesses; individuals can also benefit.

Key Takeaways

Depreciation is a fantastic tool for reducing your tax liability. By understanding it, you've acquired a powerful asset in your financial toolkit by understanding its principles, methods, and practical applications.

From unravelling the essence of depreciation to delving into calculation methods, exploring instant asset write-offs, and understanding accumulated depreciation, you've embarked on a journey that equips you to navigate the complexities of financial management with confidence. 

Remember that depreciation is more than just a concept on paper; it's a dynamic force that shapes the fiscal landscapes of businesses and individuals. By recognising the evolving value of your assets, you enhance your ability to make prudent choices about investments, upgrades, and operational decisions.

DISCLAIMER: Team Thrive Pty Ltd ABN 15 637 676 496 (Thriday) is an authorised representative (No.1297601) of Regional Australia Bank ABN 21 087 650 360  AFSL 241167 (Regional Australia Bank).  Regional Australia Bank is the issuer of the transaction account and debit card available through Thriday. Any information provided by Thriday is general in nature and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether Thriday is appropriate for you.

Why waste time on financial admin when Thriday can do it for you?

Already have an account? Login here
Thriday Debit Card


Live demo this Thursday at 12:30pm.