Comparing Amortization and Depreciation

By Lauren Ward · May 22, 2024 · 6 minute read

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Comparing Amortization and Depreciation

Depreciation and amortization are methods for deducting the cost of business assets over a number of years, as opposed to writing off the entire cost the year you make the purchase. The concept behind both is to match the expense of acquiring an asset with the revenue it generates.

The key difference between depreciation and amortization is the type of asset being expensed: Depreciation is used for tangible (physical) assets, while amortization is used for intangible (non-physical) assets.

Read on to learn exactly how depreciation and amortization work, how these two accounting methods are similar and different, and when to choose one or the other.

What Is Amortization and How Does It Work?

Amortization is a method of spreading the cost of an intangible asset over a specific period of time, typically the course of its useful life. Intangible assets are non-physical in nature, but are nonetheless considered valuable assets to a business.

Types of intangible assets a business may have include:

•   Patents

•   Trademarks

•   Copyrights

•   Software

•   Franchise agreement

•   Licenses

•   Organizational costs

•   Costs of issuing bonds to raise capital

Amortization is typically expensed on a straight-line basis, which means that you would divide the total cost of the asset by the number of years it will provide use to the business, then deduct that amount each year.

To determine an intangible asset’s useful life, you need to consider the length of time that the asset is expected to produce benefits for the business. An intangible asset’s useful life can also be the length of the contract that allows for the use of the asset.

(Something to note: The term “amortization” is also used in a different way in relation to loans, such as the amortization of a car loan or mortgage. The loan amortization process involves making fixed payments each pay period with varying interest, depending on the balance.)

What Is Depreciation and How Does It Work?

Depreciation is the process of spreading the cost of a tangible or fixed asset over a specific period of time, typically the asset’s useful life. Tangible business assets (which the IRS refers to as “property”) are high-cost physical items that are owned by a business and are expected to last more than a year. They include:

•   Buildings

•   Equipment

•   Computers

•   Office furniture

•   Vehicles

•   Machinery

Unlike intangible assets, tangible assets typically still have some value even after they are no longer of use to a business. This value is known as resale or “salvage” value. Because the IRS assumes you will sell off the asset at some point, this amount must be accounted for in the beginning.

What is the useful life of a tangible asset? You can refer to IRS Publication 946 for guidance, which provides useful life by asset type. For office furniture, for example, it’s seven years. For computers, it’s three years.

To calculate depreciation, you need to first subtract the asset’s estimated salvage value from its original cost. Using the straight-line deduction method, you would then take that number and divide it by the number of years the asset will be of use to your business. There are other methods of depreciation that accelerate the process, meaning that a larger portion of the asset’s value is expensed in the early years of the asset’s life.

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Amortization vs Depreciation

Similarities

Both depreciation and amortization are accounting methods used to spread the cost of an asset over a specified period of time. And with both, you are able to deduct a certain portion of the asset’s cost — and reduce your tax burden — each year for the number of years that asset is of value to your business.

In addition, both depreciation and amortization are non-cash expenses, which means they are reported on the income statement of the company but no cash is spent.

Differences

The key difference between amortization and depreciation is that amortization is used for intangible property (meaning property you can’t pick up and hold), such as a patent or computer software program.

Depreciation, on the other hand, is used for fixed assets or tangible property (meaning assets that are physical in nature), such as computers, manufacturing equipment, and cars.

Another distinction: With depreciation, you cannot deduct the full cost of the asset. You must account for its resale value at the end of its useful life. For example, if you pay $20,000 for a piece of farming equipment and at the end of its useful life (10 years) you think you’ll be able to sell it for $5,000, then you would only deduct $15,000 over the course of 10 years.

In addition, amortization is almost always implemented using the straight-line method, whereas depreciation can be implemented using either the straight-line or an accelerated method.

Similarities Between Amortization and Depreciation

Differences Between Amortization and Depreciation

Both are used to deduct the cost of a business asset over time Amortization is for intangible assets; depreciation is for tangible assets
Both are non-cash expenses Depreciation has salvage value; amortization does not
Depreciation use straight-line or accelerated method; amortization uses only straight-line method

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Amortization Example

How amortization works is relatively simple. Let’s say you purchase a license for $10,000 and the license will expire in 10 years. Since the license is an intangible asset, it would have no salvage value and the full cost would be amortized over that 10-year period.

Using the straight-line method of amortization, your annual amortization expense for the license will be $1,000 ($10,000/10 years), meaning the asset will decline in value by $1,000 every year and you would be able to deduct $1,000 each year on your taxes.

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Depreciation Example

Depreciation works in a very similar way to amortization, except that you must account for salvage value. Let’s say you purchase a $3,000 computer for your company. Per the IRS, a computer has a useful life of 36 months (or three years). After three years, you determine you’ll likely be able to sell it for $300. Here are the calculations you would make:

$3,000 – $300 = $2,700

$2,700/3 = $900

That means that each year for three years, you would be able to deduct $900 on your taxes.

Keep in mind that after the end of the computer’s designated useful life, you can (but are not obligated to) sell that computer. Either way, you would stop deducting the item’s depreciation as a business expense.

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The Takeaway

Depreciation and amortization are both methods of calculating the value of business assets over time. Amortization vs. depreciation just depends on the type of asset you have acquired for your business.

Amortization is used for intangible (non-physical) assets, while depreciation is for tangible (physical) assets. As a business owner, you will want to calculate these expense amounts in order to use them as a tax deduction and reduce your business’s tax liability.

If you’re in the market to purchase an asset (tangible or intangible) for your company but don’t want to deplete your cash reserves, you may want to explore funding options, such as a small business loan, equipment financing, or inventory financing.

If you’re seeking financing for your business, SoFi can help. On SoFi’s marketplace, you can shop top providers today to access the capital you need. Find a personalized business financing option today in minutes.

With SoFi’s marketplace, it’s fast and easy to search for your small business financing options.

FAQ

Do buildings depreciate or amortize

Buildings are fixed assets, so they depreciate.

Can an asset amortize and depreciate at the same time?

No. Amortization is used to spread out the cost of an intangible asset over time, while depreciation is used to spread out the cost of a tangible asset over time. An asset is either tangible or intangible — it can’t be both.

Is rent considered amortization?

No, paying rent is an operating expense for your business. If you own a rental property, however, you can use depreciation to spread the cost of buying or improving the property across the useful life of the property.


Photo credit: iStock/Pinkypills

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