Straight-Line Depreciation: Formula & Methods

10 April, 2024
10 mins
Timothy Fogarty, AVP, Digital Transformation

Table of Content

Key Takeaways
What Is Straight Line Depreciation?
Why Is Straight-Line Depreciation Important?
Different Depreciation Methods
When to Use Straight-Line Depreciation
Advantages and Disadvantages of Straight-Line Depreciation
Example of Straight Line Depreciation Method
How to Calculate Straight-Line Depreciation

Key Takeaways

  • Master straight-line depreciation to ensure accurate asset valuation and financial reporting.
  • Choose the right method for each asset, consider double-declining balance or units of production for specific scenarios.
  • Use it for assets with predictable obsolescence or steady revenue generation..


Imagine sitting in the cockpit of a plane, engines roaring, as you prepare for takeoff. The thrill of acceleration, the sense of anticipation—it’s a feeling unlike any other. In the world of finance, understanding straight-line depreciation is akin to mastering that vertical takeoff. It’s the foundation upon which sound financial decisions are made, guiding businesses through the intricate landscape of asset valuation and financial reporting.

Straight-line depreciation is not just a concept, it’s a financial lifeline, ensuring that businesses can accurately account for the wear and tear of their assets over time. 

What Is Straight Line Depreciation?

Straight-line depreciation evenly spreads the cost of a tangible asset over its useful life, assuming a steady decrease in value due to wear and tear or obsolescence. This method is straightforward and easy to understand, making it one of the most commonly used depreciation methods in accounting.

Imagine buying a plane for your business. Straight-line depreciation helps you spread out the cost of that plane evenly over the years it will serve you.


Why Is Straight-Line Depreciation Important?

Straight-line depreciation is the compass that guides your financial reporting. It provides a clear and consistent way to account for an asset’s value over time, crucial for accurate financial statements and tax compliance.

Different Depreciation Methods

While straight-line depreciation is the most common method, there are alternatives that may better suit certain scenarios on how to calculate straight-line depreciation. Double-declining balance and units of production methods offer flexibility, but each comes with its own set of trade-offs.

Straight-Line Depreciation: Allocates an equal amount of depreciation expense each year over the useful life of an asset. Simple and easy to calculate, it’s widely used for its simplicity.

Double-Declining Balance: Accelerates depreciation, allocating a higher depreciation expense in the earlier years and lower in later years. Useful for assets that lose more value early in their life.

Units of Production: Depreciates based on the asset’s usage, allocating higher depreciation when the asset is used more. Ideal for assets like vehicles or machinery.

Sum-of-the-Years’ Digits: Accelerates depreciation, with higher depreciation expenses in the earlier years and lower in later years. The formula considers the asset’s remaining useful life.

MACRS (Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System): A tax-based depreciation method used in the U.S. that accelerates depreciation over a specified recovery period. It uses predefined depreciation rates for different classes of assets.

Group Depreciation: Treats a group of assets as a single asset for depreciation purposes, simplifying calculations for similar assets acquired at the same time.

When to Use Straight-Line Depreciation

Choosing the right depreciation method is crucial for accountants, as it should align with the nature of the fixed asset. While companies can use various methods for different assets, consistency is key over time. Straight-line depreciation is a popular choice due to its simplicity. It’s easy to calculate, reduces administrative burden, and minimizes errors.

Straight-line depreciation is particularly suitable for assets where obsolescence is primarily due to time. For example, furniture and fixtures gradually lose value as they age. It’s also ideal for assets like warehouses, where economic usefulness remains constant over time. Additionally, if the revenue generated by an asset remains steady throughout its useful life, straight-line depreciation is often the best option. This is commonly seen with buildings owned by landlords for rental purposes.

In contrast, straight-line amortization is used for intangible assets like patents, trademarks, and copyrights, which have definite useful lives. Unlike depreciation, amortization usually assumes no salvage value and is calculated on the entire value of the intangible asset.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Straight-Line Depreciation

Like any tool, straight-line depreciation has its strengths and weaknesses. Its simplicity and predictability are its main advantages, but it may not accurately reflect an asset’s actual decline in value over time.



1. Simplicity: Easy to understand and calculate.

1. Not Reflective of Actual Value: Assets may not decline in value evenly.

2. Predictability: Provides a consistent expense over time.

2. Potential Overstatement: May overstate expenses in early years and understate in later years.

3. Equal Expense Distribution: Spreads costs evenly, aiding budgeting and financial planning.

3. Not Suitable for All Assets: Works best for assets with a predictable and steady decline in value.

4. Compliance: Often preferred by tax authorities and for regulatory compliance.

4. Unrealistic in Some Cases: Assets might lose value more rapidly at the start or end of their useful life.

5. Lower Administrative Burden: Requires minimal record-keeping adjustments.

5. No Consideration for Usage: Ignores variations in an asset’s usage, which can affect its value.

Straight-line depreciation’s advantages make it a popular choice for its simplicity and consistency, aligning with regulatory requirements. However, its inability to reflect an asset’s actual decline in value over time and the potential for inaccurate reporting should be considered when selecting a depreciation method.

Example of Straight Line Depreciation Method

Let’s ground this discussion with an example. Suppose you purchase a building for $500,000 with a salvage value of $50,000 and a useful life of 25 years. The annual depreciation expense would be ($500,000 – $50,000) / 25 = $18,000 per year.


This means the company will count $18,000 less of the building’s value each year. It’s like a small part of the building’s cost disappearing from their records every year.

Why It Matters:

Consistency: The company can plan their finances knowing they’ll deduct $18,000 each year. 

Easy Math (How to calculate annual depreciation): The formula is simple, so anyone can calculate it.

Fair Share: It spreads the building’s cost over its useful life, so each year reflects how much of the building’s value was used up.

How to Calculate Straight-Line Depreciation

Calculating single line depreciation is as easy as following a flight plan. You need the cost of the asset, its salvage value, and its useful life. Plug these values into a straight-line depreciation equation to determine the annual depreciation expense.

Straight Line Depreciation Formula:


This formula subtracts the salvage value from the cost of the asset to determine the total amount to be depreciated. Then, it divides this amount by the useful life to determine the annual depreciation expense

Cost of Asset: This is the total amount spent to acquire the asset, including purchase price, delivery charges, installation fees, and any other related expenses necessary to put the asset into service.

Salvage Value: Also known as residual value or scrap value, this is the estimated value of the asset at the end of its useful life. It represents the amount the asset is expected to be worth after it has been fully depreciated.

Useful Life: This is the estimated period over which the asset is expected to be used by the business before it is retired or disposed of. It is typically measured in years but can also be expressed in terms of units of production or other relevant measures.

Consistency and Predictability: Straight-line depreciation provides a consistent and predictable depreciation expense each year, making it easier for businesses to budget and plan for future expenses related to asset depreciation.

By following this formula, businesses can accurately calculate the depreciation expense for their assets and reflect the gradual decrease in their value over time in their financial statements.


Mastering straight-line depreciation is like mastering the basics of flight—it’s essential for a smooth financial journey. By understanding its principles and applications, businesses can navigate the complexities of asset valuation with confidence, ensuring a clear financial path ahead.



1) What are the other methods of depreciation?

Besides straight-line, there’s declining balance, units of production, and sum-of-the-years’-digits. Each method calculates depreciation differently, offering flexibility based on asset use and business needs.

2) How is straight-line depreciation different from other methods?

Unlike declining balance (accelerated), units of production (activity-based), and sum-of-the-years’-digits (front-loaded), straight-line depreciation evenly distributes costs over an asset’s useful life, simplifying calculations and providing consistent expenses.

3) What is straight-line amortization?

Straight-line amortization applies the concept of straight-line depreciation to intangible assets like patents and copyrights. It spreads the cost of the intangible asset equally over its useful life, similar to depreciation for tangible assets.

4) What is the formula for depreciation?

For straight-line, the formula is (Cost of Asset – Salvage Value) / Useful Life. This calculates the amount to depreciate each year. Other methods use variations of this formula to reflect their unique calculations.

5) Is straight-line depreciation a fixed cost?

No, it’s not a fixed cost. While it provides a consistent expense each period, fixed costs remain the same regardless of production levels, while depreciation can vary based on asset usage or changes in the useful life.

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