1. I have heard that depreciation is a non-cash expense. What does this mean?
Most expenses are deductible because they are an ordinary and necessary business expense that you spend money for in the current year and you get a deduction for that expense in that year. For example; you buy office supplies for $200 and you get an ordinary and necessary deduction for those $200 of supplies because you spent money for it in the current year.
Depreciation is something that you can get a deduction for in the current year even though you might not have spent money to buy it in that year. For instance, you bought a computer in 2009 for $5,000. The life of a computer is 5 years, so you will get a write off the $5,000 over the next five years. Even though in 2010 you did not spend any cash for the computer (since you bought it for cash in 2009) you will get a deduction for that computer you bought in 2009 since it is being written off over 5 years starting in 2009 when you purchased it. Therefore, in 2010, you get a deduction for a non-cash expense.
2. How does depreciation affect my company's profit and loss statement? My company's balance sheet?
Depreciating assets give you more income on your profit and loss statement and increases your assets on your balance sheet. The computer you bought in 2009 for $5,000 less the depreciation of $1,000 taken in 2009 leaves a net income of $4,000 and increases your assets on your balance sheet by the same $4,000. Any third party looking at a business’ financial statements likes to see increased net income and an increase in assets over liabilities.
3. What is accelerated depreciation? If it's accelerated, does that mean I can take more depreciation on a product? Does accelerated depreciation apply to some products more than others?
When you depreciate, or "write off," an asset over its useful life, you can take more depreciation in the initial years with accelerated depreciation. Each class of assets has a life and table that specifies the amount of accelerated depreciation you are entitled to each year (your CPA can show you this table). You can also make an election under Section 179 to take all of the depreciation in the year of purchase.
4. What's the benefit of accelerated depreciation?
The benefit of accelerated depreciation is that you are getting more of a tax deduction in earlier years and therefore you get a return of more of your tax money earlier versus later.
It is important to realize that depreciation is not now or never... it is now or later. And sometimes taking the deduction in later years is better. If you expect to be in a higher income bracket in later years, it would not be in your best interest to accelerate the deduction but instead to write off the asset utilizing the straight line method (that is, an equal amount of depreciation every year); therefore saving the deduction for the years you are in a higher tax bracket.
5. What kinds of records do I need to keep to calculate depreciation?
You must keep a copy of the invoice that shows exactly what you purchased plus proof of payment. Many states will check assets you purchase to make sure you paid the applicable sales tax on the asset. Even if you bought the asset in another state, you must pay use tax to your state if sales tax was not charged.
6. When do I take depreciation? When does depreciation get taken as an expense?
You take the depreciation expense at the end of the year, so it can be included in your taxes. But knowing when to take how much depreciation over the life of the asset, that is the million dollar question. The choices are to take the depreciation all in the year of purchase (under Section 179) or take the depreciation over the life of the asset, with an option of accelerating the depreciation deduction to the earlier years of purchase. Careful tax planning will tell you which option is most beneficial for you depending on your projected tax bracket each year and anticipation of changes in the tax law. Consult with your tax adviser to help you determine depreciation deductions for specific business assets.
7. How does depreciation benefit my company? It seems like a lot of work to figure it out; is it worth the trouble?
The determination of the depreciation method that will work best for you can be time consuming; however, the benefits of taking the depreciation deduction in the years that most benefit your financial statements and tax returns are worth the effort. Having a first-rate CPA on your team is always important!
Gail Rosen, CPA is the owner of a well-respected boutique accounting firm in Martinsville, NJ that has been serving individual and business clients for over 27 years. In addition to tax preparation, the firm specializes in assisting business start-ups in understanding their tax responsibilities and what deductions they are entitled to. Gail has earned a reputation for putting complex tax issues into language others can comprehend and profit from. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org