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Fixed assets are items that are for long-term use, generally five years or more. They are not bought and sold in the normal course of business operation. Fixed assets include vehicles, land, buildings, leasehold improvements, machinery and equipment.
In an accrual system of accounting, fixed assets are not recorded when they are purchased, but rather they are expensed over a period of time that coincides with the useful life (the amount of time the asset is expected to last) of the item. This process is known as depreciation. Most businesses that own fixed assets keep subledgers for each asset category as well as for each depreciation schedule.
In most cases, depreciation is easy to compute. The cost of the asset is divided by its useful life. For instance, a $60,000 piece of equipment with a five-year useful life would be depreciated at a rate of $12,000 per year. This is known as straight-line depreciation.
There are other more complicated methods of fixed-asset depreciation that allow for accelerated depreciation on the front end, which is advantageous from a tax standpoint. You should seek the advice of your CPA before setting up depreciation schedules for fixed-asset purchases.
Excerpted from Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need, by Rieva Lesonsky and the Staff of Entrepreneur Magazine, © 1998 Entrepreneur Press