MACRS (pronounced “makers”) stands for Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System
The IRS gives special consideration to RTO businesses by allowing a three-year
useful life for rental equipment.
Contact John Day
Most non-accountants roll their
eyes and shudder when the topic of “depreciation” comes up. I
suspect this is also true for some RTO business owners and
managers. To many people, depreciation seems far too complicated
to try and figure out. But is it really? Read the following
definition of depreciation and see for yourself:
Depreciation is defined as a portion of the cost that reflects
the use of a fixed asset during an accounting period. A fixed
asset is an item that has a useful life of over one year. An
accounting period is usually a month, quarter, six months or one
year. Let’s say you bought a Big Screen TV for your rental
equipment on January 1, for $1000 and it was determined that the
Big Screen TV had a useful life of two years. Using a one month
accounting period and the “straight-line” method of
depreciation, the portion of the cost to be depreciated would be
one-twenty-fourth of $1000, or $41.67 per month.
Seems pretty straightforward. If you look closely, you will
see that there are only five pieces of information you must have
in order to determine the amount of depreciation you can deduct
in one year. They are:
The nature of the item purchased (the TV).
The date the item was placed in service (January 1)
The cost of the item ($1000).
The useful life of the item (two years).
The method of depreciation to be used (straight-line)
The first three are easy to figure out, the second two are
also easy but require a little research. How do you determine
the useful life of an item? Let me regress for a moment. There
is “book depreciation” which is based on the real useful life of
an item, and there is the IRS version of what constitutes the
useful life of an item. A business that is concerned with
accurately allocating its costs so that it can get a true
picture of net profit will use book depreciation on its
The IRS Method
However, for tax purposes the business is required to use the
IRS method. The IRS may have shorter or longer useful lives for
fixed assets causing a higher or lower depreciation write-off.
The higher the write-off, the less tax a business pays. The long
and short of it is that you end up having to create a book
financial statement and a tax financial statement. So, most
small businesses that aren’t concerned with a precise
measurement of their net profit use the IRS method on their
books. This means that all you have to do is look in IRS
Publication 946 (Rev. 2002 .pdf ) to find the useful life of
a particular item.
Most RTO businesses that take the time to record book
depreciation for their rental equipment, use eighteen months to
two years as a useful life. Useful life for rental equipment is
an important factor in determining whether the net profit of a
business is higher or lower because rental equipment
depreciation is a direct cost against rental revenue. Knowing
when to match depreciation expense against revenue generated
from renting equipment can be a challenge for those RTO
businesses concerned about financial statement accuracy.
3 Year MACRS...just for us!
For tax purposes, the IRS gives special consideration to RTO
businesses by allowing a three-year useful life for rental
equipment. However, regardless of the depreciation method you
use internally for your business whether it is straight-line,
double-declining, units-of-production, income forecasting or any
other method, you are required to use MACRS straight-line or
double-declining methods when doing your taxes. All other
non-rental fixed assets must be depreciated using the designated
standard cost-recovery periods under MACRS.
So many methods...so little time
The last piece of information you need is found by determining
the method of depreciation to use. Most often it will be one of
two methods: the “straight-line” method, or, an accelerated
method called the “double-declining balance” method. Let’s
briefly discuss these two methods:
This is the simple method mentioned in the definition above.
Just take the cost of the item, divide it by the useful life and
you’ve got the answer. Yes, you will have to adjust the
depreciation for the first year you place the item in service
and for the last year when you remove the item from service. For
instance, if your depreciation for one year was $150 and you
placed the item in service on April 1 then divide $150 by 12
(months) and multiply $12.50 by 9 (months) to get $112.50. If
you removed the item on February 28 then your deduction will
only be $25.00 (2 x $12.50).
The idea behind this method is that when an item is purchased
new, you will use up more of it in the earlier years of its
life, therefore, justifying a higher depreciation deduction in
the earlier years. With this method, simply divide the cost of
the item by the useful life years as in the straight-line
method. Then, multiply that result by 2 (double) in the first
year. The second year, take the cost of the item and subtract
the accumulated depreciation. Next, divide that result by the
useful life and multiply that result by 2, and so on for each
Most RTO businesses will use the “straight-line” method for
their rental equipment. But, either way, you don’t have to run a
calculation because the IRS provides tables (Pub 946) that have
the percentages worked out for each year of the two different
methods. Not only that, they have set up a special first year
“convention” that assumes you purchased your depreciable fixed
assets on June 30. This is called the one-half year convention.
The idea behind this is that you may have bought some items
earlier than June 30 and some after that date. So, to make it
easy to figure out, they assume the higher and lower
depreciation amounts will all average out.
Actually, the IRS doesn’t even call it depreciation anymore;
it is now called “cost recovery”. Before December 31, 1986 we
had ACRS (pronounced “acres”) or Accelerated Cost Recovery
System. Currently, we have MACRS (pronounced “makers”) or
Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System.
Understanding how basic depreciation works can be valuable to
you as a small business owner because it helps to know the tax
implications when planning for capital equipment purchases.
My next article will focus how you can depreciate up to
$24,000 in one year if you meet the qualifications. In addition,
I will discuss the new 30% bonus depreciation that
congress made available last year.