Pinto Capital Investments


What Is Depreciation, and How Is It Calculated?

Imagine you buy a car, and every year it loses some of its value. That’s what depreciation is all about – recognizing that things wear out or become less valuable over time. But why does this matter? Well, if you’re a business owner or investor, understanding depreciation can help you make better financial decisions.

In this article, we’ll break down what depreciation is, how it’s calculated, and why it’s important. So if you’ve ever been curious about this mysterious financial concept, read on!

What is Real Estate Depreciation?

Real estate depreciation is a method used by property owners to account for the wear and tear or aging of their property over time. As buildings and structures become old or outdated, they may lose their value, and real estate depreciation allows owners to track and reflect that change.

It’s like when your car loses value over time because of the miles you put on it or the wear and tear from use. With real estate, the process is similar – as time goes by, the property may need repairs, maintenance, or updates that can cause it to depreciate in value.

The beauty of real estate depreciation is that it can also help property owners reduce their tax liability. By deducting a portion of the cost of the property from their taxable income each year, they can potentially save money on their taxes.

That being said, it’s important for property owners to approach real estate depreciation with caution, as there are specific rules and regulations surrounding the practice. Seeking advice from a qualified professional can help ensure that owners are using this tool effectively and within legal boundaries.

Types of Depreciation

A. Straight Line Depreciation

Straight line depreciation is a method of calculating the depreciation of an asset over its useful life. It involves dividing the cost of the asset by its estimated useful life to determine the annual depreciation expense. This method assumes that the asset will be used equally throughout its life, and that it will have no residual value at the end of its useful life. For residential properties, the depreciation timeline is 27.5 years, and for commercial properties the timeline is 39 years. It is important to note that this is for RENTAL purposes only, not for a primary residence.

The calculation for straight line depreciation is relatively simple:

Depreciation= (Purchase Price – Land Value) / Depreciation timeline

For example, if a residential property is purchased for $150,000 and a land value of $12,500 with a depreciation timeline of 27.5 years, then the annual depreciation would be $5,000 ($137,500/27.5). This results in a depreciation rate of 3.63% ($5000 / $137,500).

B. Cost Segregation Analysis

In addition to the standard straight line depreciation, a smart investor can also accelerate or front load a large portion of their depreciation upfront by conducting a Cost Segregation Analysis (CSA). CSAs cost anywhere from $5000-$15000 depending on the size and scope of the property’s study and are normally conducted by an engineer/accountant that is specialized in these studies. Essentially, your property can be broken into subcomponents (lighting fixtures, heating/air conditioning systems, appliances, roof, etc) and these components can then be depreciated on a quicker scale – 5 or 15 year timelines – allowing for a larger depreciable deduction within the first few years of ownership.

Other Depreciation Methods outside of Real Estate

A. Declining Balance Depreciation

The declining balance depreciation method is an accelerated system for calculating depreciation.

This approach records higher deductions in the earlier years of an asset’s useful life, which can provide tax benefits. The formula used to calculate this type of depreciation is Net Book Value minus Residual Value multiplied by a declining rate.

The calculation for declining balance depreciation involves multiplying the straight-line rate by a factor that increases each year. This factor is determined by dividing 1 by the number of years in the asset’s useful life. For example, if an asset has a useful life of 5 years, then the factor would be 1/5 or 0.2. The resulting rate is then multiplied by the book value (original cost minus accumulated depreciation) at the beginning of each year to calculate that year’s depreciation expense.

For example, let’s say you purchased a machine for $50,000 with a 5-year useful life and a 20% straight-line rate. Using declining balance depreciation, you would multiply 20% (the straight-line rate) by 0.2 (the factor) to get 4%. You would then multiply 4% by $50,000 (the original cost) to get $2,000 as your first year’s depreciation expense. In subsequent years, you would use 4% multiplied by the book value (original cost minus accumulated depreciation) at the beginning of each year to calculate that year’s depreciation expense.

B. Double Declining Balance Depreciation

The double declining balance (DDB) depreciation method is a reliable accounting technique that depreciates certain assets twice as fast as straight-line depreciation. This allows for maximum rate of deduction in the first year, and then slowly decreases over time.

The calculation for double declining balance depreciation is relatively simple. First, you need to determine the asset’s straight-line depreciation rate by dividing its estimated useful life into 1 (for example, if an asset has a 5-year useful life, its straight-line rate would be 1/5). Then, you multiply this rate by 2 to get your double declining balance rate (in this example, it would be 2/5). Finally, you apply this rate to the asset’s book value at the beginning of each accounting period to calculate its annual depreciation expense.

Let’s say you have a machine with a 5-year useful life and a cost basis of $10,000. The first year’s double declining balance depreciation would be calculated as follows:

Straight-line Rate = 1/5 = 0.2

Double Declining Balance Rate = 0.2 x 2 = 0.4

First Year Depreciation Expense = $10,000 x 0.4 = $4,000

This means that in the first year of owning this machine, your business will be able to deduct $4,000 from its taxable income for depreciation expenses.

C. Units of Production Depreciation

Unit production depreciation is a method of calculating depreciation based on the usage or output of an asset.

To calculate unit production depreciation, you need to know the total cost of the asset, the expected total production output of the asset over its useful life, and the production output of the asset in the current accounting period. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to calculate unit production depreciation:

  1. Determine the total cost of the asset. This is the amount that was paid for the asset, including any installation or delivery costs.
  2. Determine the expected total production output of the asset over its useful life. This is the total amount of units that the asset is expected to produce over the course of its useful life.
  3. Divide the total cost of the asset by the expected total production output to get the cost per unit. This represents the cost of the asset that is attributed to each unit of production output.
  4. Multiply the cost per unit by the actual production output in the current accounting period to calculate the depreciation expense for that period.

For example, let’s say you have a machine that cost $100,000 and is expected to produce 100,000 units over its useful life of 5 years. In the current accounting period, the machine produced 10,000 units. The unit production depreciation for this period would be calculated as follows:

  1. Total cost of the asset = $100,000
  2. Expected total production output = 100,000 units
  3. Cost per unit = $100,000 / 100,000 units = $1.00 per unit
  4. Depreciation expense for current period = $1.00 per unit x 10,000 units = $10,000

So the depreciation expense for the current accounting period would be $10,000. This calculation would be repeated each period, using the actual production output for that period to calculate the depreciation expense.

Salvage Value

The salvage value of an asset is the estimated amount that can be recovered when it is sold at the end of its useful life. It should be taken into account when calculating depreciation because it reduces the total cost basis of an asset and thus decreases the depreciable amount which, in turn, affects the annual depreciation expense.

How to Select the right Depreciation Method?

The right depreciation method to use will depend on the specific asset you are trying to depreciate. Generally speaking, straight-line depreciation is the most commonly used method for assets with a long useful life such as buildings, vehicles and machinery. For assets with shorter lives or those that experience significant fluctuations in their productive capacity, an accelerated depreciation method may be more appropriate.

In addition, the tax code in your jurisdiction (e.g. US or Canada) may also influence which depreciation method you choose since some methods may offer greater tax advantages than others. As such, it is important to consult a qualified accountant before selecting any particular depreciation method for your business.

Depreciation and Financial Statements

Depreciation is an important concept for both financial statement preparation and tax planning. When applied to the income statement, net income will be reduced by the amount of depreciation expense. This reduces your taxable income as well, since you can claim depreciation as a deduction on your taxes. On the balance sheet, accumulated depreciation is a contra asset account which offsets the cost of the asset and reduces the value of the assets on the balance sheet.

Frequently Asked Questions about Depreciation

A. How is Depreciation Calculated for Tangible Assets?

The most common method for calculating depreciation is the straight-line method. This involves taking the cost of an asset and dividing it by its estimated useful life to determine how much should be deducted each year. For example, if you purchase a machine for $100,000 with an estimated useful life of 10 years, you would calculate depreciation as $10,000 per year ($100,000/10).

B. Can Intangible Assets Be Depreciated?

Yes, intangible assets can be depreciated as well. Intangible assets are nonphysical assets such as patents, trademarks and copyrights that have value but cannot be touched or seen. These assets are usually amortized over their useful lives instead of depreciated since they do not typically wear out like tangible assets do.

C. How Does the Choice of Depreciation Method Impact Financial Statements?

The choice of depreciation method can have a significant impact on financial statements since it affects both net income and total asset values reported on them. Generally speaking, using accelerated methods such as declining balance or sum-of-the-years’-digits will result in higher net income in earlier years since more depreciation is taken up front. However, this also results in lower total asset values being reported on financial statements since more has already been deducted from them over time.

D. Can Depreciation Methods Be Changed Over Time?

Yes, companies can change their depreciation methods over time if they choose to do so. This may be done if there are changes in estimates regarding an asset’s useful life or if a different method would provide better matching between revenue and expenses for tax purposes. Any changes made must be disclosed in financial statements along with explanations for why they were made.

E. How Does Depreciation Affect Cash Flow?

Depreciation does not directly affect cash flow since it does not involve any actual cash outflows or inflows; however, it can indirectly affect cash flow by reducing taxable income which then reduces taxes payable and increases available cash flow for other uses such as investments or debt repayment. 

F. What is Depreciation Recapture?

Depreciation recapture occurs when an asset is depreciated over a period of time, sold for a profit and the depreciate is then taxed by the IRS or “recaptured.” This tax rate is capped at 25% of the depreciation but can be an unpleasant surprise come tax season if you were not anticipating the burden. For a very simple example, if you take $25,000 in depreciation over 10 years, sell your property for a profit, you would be taxed $6,250 in recapture tax, assuming you did not offset your taxes or conduct a 1031 exchange to avoid the depreciation recapture altogether. 


Understanding how to calculate and apply different types of depreciation is key for businesses who want to maximize their tax savings and ensure accurate financial reporting. There are several factors that must be considered when deciding which method will best suit the needs of a business such as expected useful life, salvage value, and applicable tax deductions. 

By taking all these factors into account and selecting the most suitable method for their particular situation, businesses can make informed decisions about how best to approach their asset management strategy while still remaining compliant with accounting standards.

Anthony Pinto
Anthony Pinto
Anthony Pinto is the founder and CEO of Pinto Capital Investments (PCI), a real estate investment firm focused on acquiring affordable and workforce multifamily properties and apartment buildings through syndications. Since 2019, PCI has gone full cycle on 2 large apartment complexes (+100 units) with an IRR in excess of 85%.