The recording of depreciation follows the matching principle. If an asset is owned for less than a full year, it does not help generate revenues for all twelve months. The amount of expense should be reduced accordingly. For example, if the above building is purchased on April 1, Year One, depreciation expense of only $85,500 (9/12 of the full-year amount of $114,000) is recognized on December 31, Year One. Similarly, if an asset is sold on a day other than December 31, less than a full year’s depreciation is assigned to the year of sale. Once again, revenue is not generated for the entire period; depreciation expense must also be recognized proportionally. To illustrate, assume the above building was purchased on April 1 of Year One for $600,000 and then sold for $350,000 on September 1 of Year Three. As calculated above, depreciation for Year One is $85,500. Depreciation for the final eight months that it was used in Year Three is $76,000 (8/12 of $114,000). The following journal entries reduce the asset’s book value to $324,500 (cost of $600,000 less accumulated depreciation of $275,500). Cash of $350,000 is collected from the sale. Thus, a gain of $25,500 is recognized ($350,000 less $324,500).
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Most companies hold many depreciable assets, often thousands. Depreciation is nothing more than a mechanical cost allocation process. It is not an attempt to mirror current value. Consequently, company officials often prefer not to invest the time and effort needed to keep track of the specific number of days or weeks of an asset’s use during the years of purchase and sale. As a result, depreciation is often calculated to the nearest month when one of these transactions is made. A full month of expense is recorded if an asset is held for fifteen days or more whereas no depreciation is recognized in a month where usage is less than fifteen days. No genuine informational value comes from monitoring the depreciation of assets down to days, hours, and minutes. An automobile acquired on March 19, for example, is depreciated as if bought on April 1. A computer sold on November 11 is assumed to have been used until October 31. As another accepted alternative, many companies apply the half-year convention (or some variation). When property or equipment is owned for any period less than a full year, a half year of depreciation is automatically assumed. Maintenance of exact records is not necessary. Long-lived assets are typically bought and sold at various times throughout each period so that, on the average, one-half year is a reasonable assumption. As long as such approaches are applied consistently, reported figures are viewed as fairly presented. Property and equipment bought on February 3 or sold on November 27 is depreciated for exactly one-half year in both situations.
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