An Introduction to Useful Life and Depreciation: How to Calculate Depreciation for Equipment and More

For many entities, capital assets represent a significant investment of resources. As such, to make the most of your investment, these assets need to be actively accounted for and managed. Depreciating assets over their useful life is not only beneficial to your organization but is required by GASB 34. This overview is intended to get you started on your way to understanding these topics and more.

What is Depreciation?

Depreciation is “the systematic and rational allocation of the acquisition cost of an asset, less its estimated salvage value or residual value, over the assets estimated useful life.”1 Simply said, it’s a way of allocating a portion of the cost of an asset over the period it can be used.

What is Useful Life?

Useful life is “an estimate of the average number of years an asset is considered useable before its value is fully depreciated.”1

How to Determine the Useful Life of an Asset

According to GASB 34, to estimate useful life, “governments can use (a) general guidelines obtained from professional or industry organizations, (b) information for comparable assets of other governments, or (c) internal information.”2 If not strictly following guidelines obtained from an organization, you may find it helpful to consider an assets current condition, the quality of the asset, or how the asset will be used when estimating its useful life. Regardless, we recommend that all organizations have guidelines in place for how they plan to estimate useful life.

Useful Life Estimates

What is the useful life of a computer? How about an automobile? What about athletic equipment? Here are some examples of the useful life estimates recommended by AssetWorks.

  Machinery and Equipment   Books and Multimedia Materials


  Machinery and Equipment   Computer Equipment


  Licensed Vehicles   General Automobile


  Machinery and Equipment   Science and Engineering Equipment


  Machinery and Equipment   Audiovisual Equipment


  Machinery and Equipment   Athletic Equipment


  Machinery and Equipment   Grounds and Maintenance Equipment


  Land Improvements   Fencing


  Machinery and Equipment   Playground Structures


How is Depreciation Calculated?

While there are several forms of depreciation including straight-line and various accelerated methods, many entities choose to apply straight line depreciation. Below is an example of how straight-line depreciation can be calculated for a playground structure.

1. To calculate depreciation, we must first identify the acquisition cost, salvage value, and useful life. For our playground structure, let’s say the cost was $21,500. We’ll use a salvage value of 0 and based on the chart above, a useful life of 20 years.

2. If we apply the equation for straight line depreciation, we would subtract the salvage value from the cost and then divide by the useful life.
The result would look something like this: ($21,500 – $0) / 20 years = $1075 annual depreciation.

Of course, there are many software programs out there that will not only help you track your organizations assets but will also calculate depreciation and produce reports for you.

How does your organization currently calculate depreciation and account for capital assets? Stay tuned for a more in depth look at topics like GASB  34, useful life and depreciation.



2. Statement No. 34 of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (June 1999)

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