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5.5. Depreciation

Many assets have a very long life. Examples include buildings and equipment. These assets will provide productive benefits to a number of accounting periods. Accounting does not attempt to measure the change in "value" of these assets each period. Instead, a portion of their cost is simply allocated to each accounting period. This process is called depreciation. A subsequent chapter will cover depreciation methods in great detail. However, one simple approach is called the straight-line method. Under this method, an equal amount of asset cost is assigned to each year of service life. In other words, the cost of the asset is divided by the years of useful life, resulting in annual depreciation expense.

By way of example, if a $150,000 truck with an 3-year life was purchased on January 1 of Year 1, depreciation expense would be $50,000 ($150,000/3 = $50,000) per year. $50,000 of expense would be reported on the income statement each year for three years. Each year's journal entry to record depreciation involves a debit to Depreciation Expense and a credit to Accumulated Depreciation (rather than crediting the asset account directly):

12-31-XX

Depreciation Expense

50,000

Accumulated Depreciation

50,000

To record annual depredation expense

Accumulated depreciation is a very unique account. It is reported on the balance sheet as a contra asset. A contra account is an account that is subtracted from a related account. As a result, contra accounts have opposite debit/credit rules from those of the associated accounts. In other words, accumulated deprecation is increased with a credit, because the associated asset normally has a debit balance. This topic usually requires additional clarification. Let's see how this truck, the related accumulated depreciation, and depreciation expense would appear on the balance sheet and income statement for each year:

As you can see on each year's balance sheet, the asset continues to be reported at its $150,000 cost. However, it is also reduced each year by the ever-growing accumulated depreciation. The asset cost minus accumulated depreciation is known as the "net book value" of the asset. For example, at December 31, 20x2, the net book value of the truck is $50,000, consisting of $150,000 cost less $100,000 of accumulated depreciation. By the end of the asset's life, its cost has been fully depreciated and its net book value has been reduced to zero. Customarily the asset could then be removed from the accounts, presuming it is then fully used up and retired.

5.6. Unearned Revenues

Often, a business will collect monies in advance of providing goods or services. For example, a magazine publisher may sell a multi-year subscription and collect the full payment at or near the beginning of the subscription period. Such payments received in advance are initially recorded as a debit to Cash and a credit to Unearned Revenue. Unearned revenue is reported as a liability, reflecting the company's obligation to deliver product in the future. Remember, revenue cannot be recognized in the income statement until the earnings process is complete. As goods and services are delivered (e.g., the magazines are delivered), the Unearned Revenue is reduced (debited) and Revenue is increased (credited). The balance sheet at the end of an accounting period would include the remaining unearned revenue for those goods and services not yet delivered. The rationale for this approach is important to grasp; a liability exists to deliver goods and services in the future and should be reflected in the balance sheet. Equally important, revenue (on the income statement) should only be reflected as goods and services are actually delivered (in contrast to recognizing them solely at the time of payment). Unearned Revenue accounts may be found in the balance sheets of many businesses, including software companies (that license software use for multiple periods), funeral homes (that sell preneed funeral agreements), internet service providers (that sell multi-period access agreements), advertising agencies (that sell advertising services in advance), law firms (that require advance "retainer" payments), airlines (that sell tickets in advance), and so on. Following are illustrative entries for the accounting for unearned revenues:

4-1-XI

Cash

1,200

Unearned Revenue

1,200

Sold a one-year software license for $1,200

12-31-X1

Unearned Revenue

900

Revenue

900

Year-end adjusting entry to reflect "earned" portion of software license (9 months at $100 per month)

 
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