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Capitalising is an accounting method used to recognise the expense of a long-term asset over a specified period of time, which is typically defined by the useful life of the long-term asset. When a company decides to capitalise an expense, it’s reducing the amount of expense associated with the asset in a given period by spreading recognition of the expense over the useful life of the asset.


Capitalising and expensing are crucial accounting terms to know. In brief, it refers to how a cost is treated on the entity’s financial statements. This means businesses have two options when adding a cost to their income statement. They can either expense it or capitalise it.
There have been some instances where companies have used capitalising of regular operating expenses against common accounting procedures, most likely to artificially boost its operating cash flow. While this might influence the short-term profits of the company, these illegal practices are generally exposed in the long run. It is critical to separate the concepts of capitalising and market capitalisation.
Companies can typically capitalise costs only when the resource acquired will provide future value. This means resources that are beneficial for the business for more than one operating cycle.
Therefore, the expenses from acquiring these resources are recorded by accountants as assets in the company’s balance sheet. The costs will then show on the balance sheet in the coming financial years through amortisation or depreciation.
Companies should also consider capitalising costs when they add significantly to the value of an existing resource. If the company upgrades part of the tools, property or equipment it uses, in a manner that directly increases the value of the asset, it could be capitalised.

Capitalisation Example

Let’s look at an example when a company purchased office furniture to use it in a building. It was a large purchase, and the total cost of furniture was $84,000. Upon receipt of the furniture at the building, the company paid the invoice, and the accountant entered the $84,000 expense into an asset account called Work in Process (WIP). This account accumulates all expenses that are intended to be long-term assets, but they have not yet been put into use, and therefore cannot yet be capitalised.
After the installation of the furniture, the office is ready to go. The assets have been put into use, and the accountant can capitalise the $84,000 cost of furniture into long-term assets on the company’s balance sheet. The estimated useful life of the furniture, as defined by the company policy, and the IRS tax code is 7 years. So the company should recognise $1,000 per month, or ($84,000 cost ÷ 7 years) ÷ 12 months. This straight-line calculation of the capitalised cost will ensure the company recognises an appropriate amount of depreciation expense each year, no matter what month the furniture was put into use.
Companies prefer to capitalise assets because it reduces expenses and increases net income even though cash flow goes down. At the same time, it is not common for companies to expense office supplies and capitalise computers and cars.


Buildings, machinery, equipment, furniture, fixtures, computers, outdoor lighting, parking lots, cars, and trucks are examples of assets that will last for more than one year but will not last indefinitely. The process of writing off or capitalising such assets over the useful life is referred to as depreciation or amortisation for intangible assets. During each accounting period (year, quarter, month, etc.) a portion of the cost of these assets is being used up until the full value of the asset is written off of the balance sheet. In effect, depreciation is the transfer of a portion of the asset's cost from the balance sheet to the income statement during each year of the asset's life. The annual depreciation expense comes out of net income and is determined based on the useful life of the asset, the total cost of the asset and the salvage value of the asset.


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