What Is Accumulated Depreciation?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about accumulated depreciation and different types of asset depreciation in accounting. Improve your accountancy skills and prospects.

[Featured image] Accountant performs calculations in front of a laptop computer.

Accumulated depreciation is an accounting formula that you can use to calculate the losses on asset value. By understanding the best ways to report the depreciation of business assets, you’ll improve the transparency of your business finances and the utility and predictive power of the data. Your business can make better decisions when you understand the financial status of assets. 

What is accumulated depreciation?

Accumulated depreciation refers to the accumulated reduction in the value of an asset over time. When an asset is first purchased, it's typically assigned a value reflecting its expected lifespan, gradually reducing over time. Accumulated depreciation is the total of this depreciation to date. You can use this information to calculate the financial status of an asset at any time. 

How exactly does accumulated depreciation work?  

When you purchase an asset, it’ll have value. You record the amount it depreciates as an accumulated depreciation expense on your asset ledger. This accumulated depreciation figure is used to offset the reducing value of the asset. You may use accumulated depreciation for assets like: 

  • Vehicles

  • Factory machinery

  • Computers

  • Buildings

  • Office equipment

  • Furniture

How do you calculate accumulated depreciation in accounting? 

As you learn about accounting, you’ll discover different ways to calculate accumulated depreciation. All methods seek to split the cost of an asset throughout its useful life. The standard methods are the straight-line method, the declining method, and the double-declining method.

Straight line accumulated depreciation method

To calculate accumulated depreciation using the straight-line method, you’ll first need to calculate the depreciation for every year of the asset's usable lifetime. You do this by subtracting the salvage value, or residual value, from the original purchase price and then sharing the amount by the estimated time the asset will be in service. This will give you the depreciation for each year. To calculate accumulated depreciation, you’ll need to add all the depreciation amounts for each year to date.

The formula for calculating annual depreciation using this method is: 

Annual depreciation = (The cost of the asset - the expected salvage value) / expected years of use 

Therefore, accumulated depreciation is the annual depreciation X the years the asset has been in service.

Example of the straight-line method

Your company buys factory equipment for $250,000. It will have a book value of $100,000 at the end of its useful life in 10 years. 

Annual depreciation is $150,000 / 10 years = $15,000. 

Therefore, four years after you purchase the equipment, the accumulated depreciation is:

4 years X $15,000 = $60,000 

The asset value at this point is $250,000 - $60,000 = $190,000.

Declining and double declining method

Assets often lose a more significant proportion of its value in the early years of its service than in its later life. You can account for this by weighting depreciation towards the initial years of use. Declining and double declining methods for calculating accumulated depreciation perform this function. The double declining method accounts for depreciation twice as quickly as the declining method. Here are some scenarios where accelerated depreciation accounting methods might be the right choice.

  • Technological assets in industries with frequent releases that swiftly reduce the value of previous models

  • Vehicles and other assets that immediately lose value after they leave the shop or showroom

  • Assets that are going to be impacted by new regulations or will have a reduced value due to upcoming industry changes

Modified accelerated cost recovery system (MACRS) depreciation

The IRS sets a schedule for depreciation for different asset types. You can use the MACRS depreciation method to depreciate your business assets. This method uses a declining balance method, which means the depreciation you can claim each year decreases as the asset gets older. The assets that qualify for MACRS depreciation include the following:

  • Machinery

  • Equipment

  • Vehicles

  • Computers

  • Office furniture

  • Buildings 

Each asset has a depreciation timeline based on its category. For example, furniture has a depreciation life of seven years.

What are the differences: Depreciation vs. accumulated depreciation?  

Depreciation represents an asset’s decrease in value over a specific timeframe. In contrast, accumulated depreciation is the total depreciation on an asset since you bought it.

Accumulated depreciation vs. depreciation expense 

Some people use the terms depreciation versus depreciation expense interchangeably, but they are different. Depreciation expense is the amount of loss suffered on an asset in a section of time, like a quarter or a year. Accumulated depreciation is the sum of the depreciation recorded on an asset since purchase.

Accumulated depreciation vs. book value 

Accumulated depreciation is found on the balance sheet and explains the amount of asset depreciation to date compared to the “original basis,” purchase price, or original value. Book value is the net worth of an asset. You calculate it by subtracting the accumulated depreciation from the original purchase price.

How does proration affect asset depreciation reporting? 

Proration reduces the depreciation that you can claim in a given year. Proration considers the accounting period that an asset had depreciated over based on when you bought the asset. 

For example, if an asset has a five-year usable life and you purchase it on January 1st, then 100 percent of the asset's annual depreciation can be reported in year one. However, if you buy the same asset on July 1st, only 50 percent of its value can be depreciated in year one (since you owned it for half the year).

Why is it essential that you track accumulated depreciation?     

You need to track the accumulated depreciation of significant assets because it helps your company understand its true financial position. It also helps with projections for the future and with business planning.

  • You can use the data to decide when to replace an asset and how much to budget for replacement costs based on resale or salvage value.

  • You can have more transparent financials to assess the health of a company.

  • You can split the asset cost over several years, so your company profits are not reduced unfairly in the year of purchase.

  • Conversely, accelerated schedules can weigh the cost of assets in the early years of a business, therefore reducing tax liability. 

Do you classify accumulated depreciation as an asset or a liability?

Accumulated depreciation is not an asset; it does not offer any long-term value. It is not a liability either, as you have no future obligation. You account for it in a different way to both assets and liabilities.

What is accumulated depreciation classified as on the balance sheet? 

Accumulated depreciation is classified as a contra asset on the balance sheet and asset ledgers. This means it’s an offset to the asset it’s associated with. When looking at the asset ledger, you’ll see the original cost of the purchase, followed by the accumulated depreciation. The asset's net value equals the original cost minus the accumulated depreciation. You may list accumulated depreciation on the balance sheet under fixed assets.

Learn more

Learning about accumulated depreciation is important to your company. You should understand the value of assets and know how to avoid incurring losses and making bad decisions in the future. Whether you’re a business owner or work in accounting, you’ll want to know how to value and report assets and purchases.

Many online accounting courses are available to help you learn more about this field. Many of these courses are self-paced, allowing you to learn around your schedule. You might consider the Accounting for Decision Making Course offered on Coursera by the University of Michigan.

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