Determining/Recording the Cost of Operating Assets

True Tamplin

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®
Updated on September 1, 2021

The fundamental concept of accounting for operating asset acquisitions calls for them to be recorded at their original cost. Three subconcepts guide practice:
1. The cost must be incurred in order to make the asset ready for use.
2. The cost must be necessary.
3. The cost is measured as the value sacrificed by the firm.
The issues related to each are discussed in more detail.

Making the Asset Ready for Use

The goal of identifying costs of making the assets ready for use is to distinguish the amounts that produce benefits only in the current period from those that result in future benefits. The costs in the first group are treated as expenses of the current period, but those in the second group are capitalized. That is, they are recorded in a permanent account and expensed in future periods.
The costs of making the asset ready include such things as obtaining the legal right to use it (either by purchase or lease), transportation to the place in which it will be used, installation, testing, and breaking in. To the extent that these costs can be identified and measured, they should be debited to the asset account rather than an expense account.
While most costs can be identified fairly easily, others are more complex. For example, the costs of training personnel to operate new machinery could be considered to be part of making the machine ready for use. However, because this relationship is not reliably determinable, these costs should be expensed.
In practice, there are many similar ambiguous areas where judgments must be applied. It is not fruitful to attempt to specify how each should be treated. Whatever treatment is selected by an accountant should be applied consistently while considering materiality.


Judgments about the necessity of costs are generally fairly obvious; however, there are costs which lie in the gray area between convenience and necessity. Some examples are:
a. Insurance in transit.
b. Special costs incurred for express shipping.
c. Remodeling of facilities prior to installation.
d. Provisions for operator comfort and safety.
e. Repair of accidental damages occurring during installation.
f. Payment of gross invoice price when a cash discount is offered.
Arguments can be presented to support treating each of these as either necessary or unnecessary costs. Unless an official body undertakes the resolution of what constitutes necessity, uniform practice will not result and accountants should apply judgment while considering consistency and materiality.

Value Sacrificed

In addition to identifying which costs are to be capitalized, the accountant must determine the dollar amount to be recorded. There are five general acquisition situations that call for special consideration of their measurement problems. They are:
a. Exchanges of dissimilar assets
b. Exchanges of similar operating assets
c. Creation or assumption of liabilities
d. Creation of stockholders’ equity
e. Receipt of donated assets

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

About the Author
True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True contributes to his own finance dictionary, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website, view his author profile on Amazon, his interview on CBS, or check out his speaker profile on the CFA Institute website.

Leave a Comment