The cost of a depreciating asset
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To work out the decline in value of a depreciating asset, you need to know its cost.
Under UCA, the cost of a depreciating asset has two elements.
The first element of cost is, generally, amounts you are taken to have paid to hold the asset, such as the purchase price. It also includes amounts incurred after 30 June 2005 that you are taken to have paid for starting to hold the asset. The amounts must be directly connected with holding the asset.
The first element of cost is worked out as at the time you begin to hold the asset.
The second element of cost is, generally, amounts you are taken to have paid after that time to bring the asset to its present condition and location, such as a cost of improving the asset. It also includes expenses incurred after 30 June 2005 for a balancing adjustment event occurring for the asset (that is, costs incurred to stop holding or using the asset). For information on balancing adjustment events, see What happens if you no longer hold or use a depreciating asset?. Such expenses may include advertising or commission expenses or the cost of demolishing the asset.
The first element cannot include an amount that forms part of the second element of another depreciating asset's cost. For example, if a depreciating asset is demolished so another depreciating asset can be installed on the same site, the demolition costs will form part of the second element of cost for the asset demolished. The amount is not also included in the first element of cost for the new asset.
Example: First and second elements of cost, ignoring any GST impact
Terry wants to buy a vehicle for his business and the vehicle is not available in Australia. He locates a company in the United States from which he would be able to purchase the vehicle. He travels to the United States for the sole purpose of buying the vehicle and incurs travel costs of $5,000. Terry purchases the vehicle for $45,000.
The first element of cost is $50,000. This amount includes the purchase cost of the vehicle and the travel costs. The travel costs would be included in the first element of cost of the vehicle because they are directly connected with Terry starting to hold the vehicle. If Terry installs an alarm in the vehicle two months later at a cost of $1,500, that amount will be included in the second element of cost of the vehicle as the cost was incurred after he began to hold the vehicle.
End of example
For both first and second elements of cost of a depreciating asset, amounts you are taken to have paid include:
- an amount you pay
- the market value of a non-cash benefit you provide (for instance, in a salary sacrifice arrangement the market value is represented by the price paid by the employer under an arm’s length arrangement. The employee can claim an amount for the decline in value, to the extent it is used for a taxable purpose)
- if you incur or increase a liability to pay an amount, the amount of the liability or increase
- if you incur or increase a liability to provide a non-cash benefit, the market value of the non-cash benefit or the increase
- if all or part of another’s liability to pay you an amount is terminated, the amount of the liability or part terminated
- if all or part of another’s liability to provide a non-cash benefit (except the depreciating asset) to you is terminated, the market value of the non-cash benefit or part terminated.
The cost of a depreciating asset does not include:
- amounts of input tax credits to which you are or become entitled; see GST input tax credits
- expenditure not of a capital nature, or
- any amount that you can deduct or that is taken into account in working out a deductible amount under provisions outside UCA.
Example: Expenditure not of a capital nature and deductible outside UCA
Carolyn uses a motor vehicle for her business. As a result of Carolyn’s use of the vehicle, she needs to replace the tyres. The cost of replacing the tyres is not included in the second element of the vehicle’s cost because it would ordinarily be deductible under the repair provisions.
David operates a refrigerated truck as part of his business. David replaces the refrigeration unit in one of his trucks with a new unit (that performs the same function as the replaced unit). The replacement refrigeration unit is an integral part of the refrigerated van (that is located on a truck chassis) that is incapable of providing a useful function without the other part of the truck. The restoration of the effectiveness of the refrigeration truck by replacing the refrigeration unit is therefore a repair and not expenditure of a capital nature. The cost of replacing the refrigeration unit is not included in the second element of the truck's cost because it would ordinarily be deductible under the repairs provisions.
End of example
There are special rules to work out the cost of depreciating assets in certain circumstances. Some of the common cases are covered below. If you are not sure of the cost of a depreciating asset, contact us or your recognised tax adviser.
Jointly held depreciating assets
If a depreciating asset is held by more than one person, each holder works out their deduction for the decline in value of the asset based on the cost of their interest in the asset and not the cost of the asset itself.
GST input tax credits
If the acquisition or importation of a depreciating asset constitutes a creditable acquisition or a creditable importation, the cost of the asset is reduced by any input tax credit you are, or become, entitled to for the acquisition or importation. If you become entitled to the input tax credit in an income year after the one in which the asset’s start time occurred, the asset’s opening adjustable value is also reduced by the amount of the input tax credit.
If the cost of a depreciating asset is taken to be its market value (such as for assets acquired under a private or domestic arrangement), the market value is reduced by any input tax credit to which you would be entitled had the acquisition been solely for a creditable purpose.
Similarly, any input tax credit you are entitled to claim for the second element of a depreciating asset’s cost reduces the cost of the asset. Its opening adjustable value is also reduced if you become entitled to the input tax credit in an income year after the one in which the asset’s start time occurred.
Certain adjustments under the GST legislation reduce or increase the cost and, in some cases, the opening adjustable value of the asset. For example, these can commonly arise in the event of a change in price or because of the application of volume discounts. Other adjustments are treated as an outright deduction or income.
Cars designed mainly for carrying passengers are subject to a car limit. If the first element of cost exceeds the car limit for the financial year in which you start to hold it, that first element of cost is reduced to the car limit.
The car limit for 2019–20 is $57,581.
Before applying the car limit you may need to:
If a car with a cost exceeding the car limit is held by more than one person, the car limit is applied to the cost of the car and not to each holder’s interest in the car. Once the car limit has been applied, the cost of the car (reduced to the car limit) is apportioned between each holder’s interest. Each holder then works out their deduction for the decline in value of the car; see Jointly held depreciating assets.
This car limit also applies under the luxury car lease rules; see Leased luxury cars.
The car limit does not apply in certain circumstances to some cars fitted out for transporting disabled people.
When a balancing adjustment event occurs for the car, the termination value must be adjusted under a special formula; see Balancing adjustment rules for cars.
Car acquired at a discount
If a car is acquired at a discount, the first element of its cost may be increased by the discount portion. The discount portion is any part of the discount that is due to the sale of another asset for less than market value, for example, a trade-in.
A car’s cost is not affected by a discount obtained for other reasons.
Make the adjustment only if:
- the cost of the car (after GST credits or adjustments) plus the discount portion exceeds the car limit, and
- you, or another entity, have deducted or can deduct an amount for the other asset for any income year.
This rule does not apply to some cars fitted out for transporting disabled people.
When a balancing adjustment event occurs for the car, the termination value must be increased by the same discount portion; see Balancing adjustment rules for cars.
Example: Car acquired at a discount, ignoring any GST impact
Kristine arranges to buy a $60,000 sedan for business use from Greg, a car dealer. She offers the station wagon she is using for this purpose, worth $20,000, as a trade-in. Greg agrees to reduce the price of the sedan to below the car limit if Kristine accepts less than market value for the trade-in. Kristine agrees to accept $15,000 for the trade-in and the price of the sedan is reduced to $55,000 (that is, a discount of $5,000).
The cost of the car plus the discount is more than the car limit so the first element of the car’s cost is increased by the amount of the discount to $60,000. As the first element of cost then exceeds the car limit, it must be reduced to the car limit for the income year. The termination value of the wagon would be taken to be the market value of $20,000 as Kristine and Greg were not dealing at arm’s length; see Termination value.
End of example
Non-arm’s length and private or domestic arrangements
The first element of a depreciating asset’s cost is the market value of the asset at the time you start to hold it if:
- the first element of the asset’s cost would otherwise exceed its market value and you do not deal at arm’s length with another party to the transaction, or
- you started to hold the asset under a private or domestic arrangement (for example, as a gift from a family member).
Similar rules apply to the second element of a depreciating asset’s cost. For example, if something is done to improve your depreciating asset under a private or domestic arrangement, the second element of the asset’s cost is the market value of the improvement when it is made.
The market value may need to be reduced for any input tax credits to which you would have been entitled; see GST input tax credits.
Note that there are special rules for working out the effective life and decline in value of a depreciating asset acquired from an associate, such as a spouse or partner; see Depreciating asset acquired from an associate.
Depreciating asset acquired with other property
If you pay an amount for a depreciating asset and something else, only that part of the payment that is reasonably attributable to the depreciating asset is treated as being paid for it. This applies to both the first and second elements of cost.
Apportionment on the basis of the market values of the various items for which the payment is made will generally be reasonable.
Example: Apportionment of cost
Sam undertakes to pay an upholsterer $800 for a new desk and $300 to re-upholster a chair in a more durable material. He negotiates a trade discount of $100. The $1,000 paid should be apportioned between:
- the first element of cost of the desk, and
- the second element of cost of the chair
based on the relative market values of the desk and the labour and materials used to upholster the chair.
End of example
Hire purchase agreements
For income tax purposes, certain hire purchase agreements entered into after 27 February 1998 are treated as notional sale and loan transactions.
If the goods subject to the hire purchase agreement are depreciating assets and the hirer is the holder of the depreciating assets (see Depreciating assets subject to hire purchase agreements) the hirer may be entitled to deductions for the decline in value. Generally, the cost or value stated in the hire purchase agreement or the arm’s length value is taken to be the cost of the depreciating assets.
Death of the holder
If a depreciating asset starts being held by you as a legal personal representative (say, as the executor of an estate) as a result of the death of the former holder, the cost of the asset to you is generally its adjustable value on the day the former holder died.
If the former holder allocated the asset to a low-value pool, the cost of the asset to you is the amount of the closing balance of the pool for the income year in which the former holder died that is reasonably attributable to the asset; see Low-value pools.
If you start to hold a depreciating asset because it passes to you as a beneficiary of an estate or as a surviving joint tenant, the cost of the asset to you is its market value when you started to hold it reduced by any capital gain that was ignored when the owner died or when it passed from the legal personal representative. See Guide to capital gains tax 2020 (NAT 4151) for information about when these gains can be disregarded.
Commercial debt forgiveness
Generally, an amount that you owe is a commercial debt if you can claim a deduction for the interest paid on the debt or you would have been able to claim a deduction for interest if it had been charged. The amount of the commercial debt includes any accrued but unpaid interest.
If a commercial debt is forgiven, you may be required to make a reduction for a depreciating asset. If a reduction is made for a depreciating asset, the asset’s cost is reduced by the debt forgiveness amount. If the reduction is made in a year later than the one in which the asset’s start time occurs, the opening adjustable value of the asset is also reduced.
If an asset’s opening adjustable value is reduced and you use the prime cost method to work out the asset’s decline in value, you need to use the adjusted prime cost formula for the income year that the change is made and in later years; see Methods of working out decline in value.
Recoupment of cost
If you recoup an amount that you had previously included in the cost of a depreciating asset, you may need to include that recouped amount in your assessable income. An amount you receive for the sale of a depreciating asset at market value is not an assessable recoupment.
Foreign currency gains and losses
If you purchased a depreciating asset in foreign currency, the first element of the asset’s cost is converted to Australian currency at the exchange rate applicable when you began to hold the asset, or when the obligation was satisfied, whichever occurred first.
From 1 July 2003, if the foreign currency amount became due for payment within the 24-month period that began 12 months before the time when you began to hold the depreciating asset, any realised foreign currency gain or loss (referred to as a forex realisation gain or a forex realisation loss) can modify the asset’s cost, the opening adjustable value, or the opening balance of your low-value pool (as the case may be). Otherwise, that gain or loss is included in assessable income or allowed as a deduction, respectively.
If the foreign currency amount relates to the second element of the cost of a depreciating asset, the translation to Australian currency is made at the exchange rate applicable at the time you incurred the relevant expenditure. Here, a 12-month rule applies instead of the 24-month rule. The 12-month rule requires that the foreign currency became due for payment within 12 months after the time you incurred the relevant expenditure. In some circumstances you may be able to elect that forex gains and losses do not modify the asset’s cost, the opening adjustable value or the opening balance of your low-value pool. For more information, see Election out of the 12 month rule.
Last modified: 28 May 2020QC 62653