Capitalization vs Expensing | Top Differences| Examples

The key difference between Capitalization vs Expensing is that Capitalization is the method of recognizing the cost incurred as an expenditure which is capital in nature or recognizing such expenditure as an asset of the business, whereas, expensing refers to booking of the cost as an expense in the income statement of the business which is deducted from the total revenue while calculating the profits of the company.

Capitalization vs. Expensing – Capitalization is defined as the recording of a cost like an asset, despite an expense. Such consideration is done while a cost not believed to be disbursed entirely over the existing period instead, in a prolonged period. Removing an essential item from the company’s income statement while consecutively including it on the firm’s balance sheet for just showing the depreciation as key charge contrary to profits, may lead to the expanding profits significantly.

Capitalization vs Expensing - Worldcom

Considering the telecom giant, WorldCom, whose major portion of expenses comprised of operating expenditures referred to as the line costs. Such costs were remuneration offered to indigenous phone companies for using their phone lines. In general, line expenditures were treated normally, like usual operating expenditures. However, it was assumed that a part of these expenses were real investments in undiscovered markets and are not expected to pay off for several years to come. This logic was employed by the company’s CFO, Scott Sullivan, who started “capitalizing” his firm’s line costs during the latter part of the 1990s. Therefore, these expenditures were removed from the company’s income statement, thereby increasing the profits by several billion dollars. Across Wall Street, it looked like WorldCom suddenly started delivering profits even in a downturn that was skipped by the industry experts until a major collapse that was witnessed later.

Worldcom declared bankruptcy in July 2002.

In this article, we discuss Capitalization vs. Expensing and why it is vital for the financial analyst –

Capitalization vs Expensing

Capitalization is the recording of an expense an asset. It is done when it is believed that the benefits of such expenses will be derived for an extended period. For instance, office goods are believed to get spent fast. Thereby, they are treated to be spent simultaneously. A vehicle is recorded like an immovable asset and expected to get spent over a significantly long-time period via depreciation as the vehicle is expected to get consumed over a much longer time period compared to the office supplies.

Expensing is referred to as the assumption of any expenditure like an operating expense instead of as a capital investment. Considering taxation, an expense is reduced from income directly. Whereas an asset is depreciated or any business undertakes a series of reductions over the asset’s useful life.


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Capitalization Example

Suppose a company buys a car worth $50,000 in 2017. Now since the company has paid for this expense, should we take this expense ($50,000) in the Income statement of 2017, or should we record this expense as something else? You got it!

Let us assume that a car has a useful life of 10 years. It means that the company can derive the benefit of this car until the 10th year. Therefore it will not be wise to record all the expenditure at once in the Income Statement. We should capitalize on this expense of $50,000 and reduce it by the amount of value derived each year.

The value derived each year = $50,000/10 = $5,000

Therefore, we record the expense of $50,000 in the Asset at the beginning of 2017. During the year, we use $5000 worth of value, therefore the end of year Asset = $50,000 – $5000 = $45,000.

The above-discussed expense all through accounting is referred to as Depreciation.

Capitalization vs Expensing – Key Differences (Summary)

The major suggestion on a choice between expensing and capitalizing is while reporting profit every period. If one chooses to capitalize on any asset as against expensing, it leads to greater profits while successively leading to greater taxes as well as improved business value. However, if we select expensing for any asset rather than its capitalization would deliver just opposite results.

Capitalization vs Expensing
Cost recorded as an asset on the balance sheetCost recorded as operating expenditure on the income statement
While capitalizing any cost and later amortizing it results in the cost distributed over a longer time periodUnder normal conditions, the complete expense is incurred while making any purchase
For asset capitalization, it should possess a valuable life that covers more than the existing year. These assets must be capable of running the entire business. However, any inventory being sold to customers doesn’t qualify to become a capital asset. Fixed assets are generally considered like equipment or a range of intangible assets like patents or copyrights. Usually, fixed assets ought to be depreciated as against being amortized.While starting or purchasing a business, IRS enables one to remunerate the business beginning or procurement costs. The expenditures made to consume a patent, copyright, trademark, or comparable rational property may be amortized. One may repay goodwill that is generally expected to be realized during sales owing to the ongoing usage of the reputation or name of any product or business that you intend to acquire. Generally, IRS allows one to repay geological expenditures that are intended to develop or locate petroleum wells all across the United States. One could even repay their research expenditures.
A General Rule: Any procurement beyond a specified dollar range is counted to be capital expenditureCapital ExpenditureCapex or Capital Expenditure is the expense of the company's total purchases of assets during a given period determined by adding the net increase in factory, property, equipment, and depreciation expense during a fiscal more or capitalizationA General Rule: Purchasing lesser than the allocated dollar range is treated as an operating expenditure
As per accounting, upon an asset’s capitalization, it is assumed that the asset still has economic value, and it is believed to benefit prospective periods and thus is mentioned over a balance sheet.An expense comprises of the core economic costs that are incurred by any business through daily operations for earning revenue. Every business is permitted to write-offWrite-offWrite off is the reduction in the value of the assets that were present in the books of accounts of the company on a particular period of time and are recorded as the accounting expense against the payment not received or the losses on the more all the tax-deductible expenditures on their specific returns for income taxes to minimize the taxable income, hence the tax liability. Most common business expenditures comprise of supplier payments, wages to employees, factory lease, and depreciation of equipment.

Also, check out – Capital Lease vs Operating LeaseCapital Lease Vs Operating LeaseThere are several methods for accounting for leases. In the event of a capital lease, at the end of the lease period, a lessor can transfer the ownership of the asset to the lessee; however, in the case of an operating lease, the ownership of the asset under consideration is retained by the more

Capitalization vs Expensing Example

During 2016, the company discovered that $2,250 of its operating expenses should have been capitalized, which would also have increased depreciation expense by $300

Capitalization vs Expensing - Example v1
Capitalization vs Expensing - Example 1

Calculate Adjusted Total Assets & Equity

For calculating the Adjusted Total assets, we need to make the following changes –

  1. Since the expense is capitalized, we should add it to the Total Assets ($2,250)
  2. Incremental depreciation due to this capitalized expense should be deducted from the total asset base ($300)
  3. Total Adjusted Equity = $15,300 + 2250 – 300 = $17,250
Capitalization vs Expensing - Example Solution 2

Calculate the Adjusted Income

Here again, there are two adjustments.

  1. Operating Expense of $2250 should be added back to the Earnings Before TaxesEarnings Before TaxesPretax income is a company's net earnings calculated after deducting all the expenses, including cash expenses like salary expense, interest expense, and non-cash expenses like depreciation and other charges from the total revenue generated before deducting the income tax more.
  2. Additional Depreciation expense of $300 should be reduced.
Capitalization vs Expensing - Example Solution 1

Calculate Ratios – Capitalization vs Expensing

Profit Margin
Return on Capital
  • Adjusted Return on Capital = (Adjusted Net Income + Interest Expense) / Average Asset
  • Adjusted Return on Capital = ($4,515 + $750) / (29,100 + 32,850)/2 = 17%
  • In this formula, the numerator increases an increase in the adjusted net income; however, denominator increases due to an increase in the adjusted Asset of 2016.
  • We note that the impact of the increase in the numerator is higher than that of the denominator, thereby increasing this ratio from 13% to 17%
Cash Flow from Operations
  • Adjusted Cash flow from Operations = Cash flow from operations (before adjustment) + Operating expenses incorrectly deducted.
  • Adjusted Cash flow from Operations = $3,300 + 2250 = $5,550
Cash Flow from Investing
Total Cash Flows
  • If we ignore the tax impact due to changes in the Net Income, the total cash flow remains the same at $150
Long Term Debt / Equity
  • Adjusted Long Term Debt to Equity = Long Term Debt / Adjusted Equity = $9,150/17,250 = 53%
Summary of the Adjustment after Capitalization of Expense

We note that most of the ratios have shown a positive impact after capitalization.

Capitalization vs Expensing - Example Solution 3

Capitalization vs Expensing – Effect on Financial Statements

The choice of capitalizing the costs would usually impact the firm’s financial statements. Some critical areas involved while performing asset capitalization coupled with the way they may alter the firm’s financial statements include,

Balance Sheet Effect – Capitalization vs Expensing

  • The firm’s consolidated assets would grow upon capitalization of its costs.
  • The impact on shareholders’ equity would be negligible over the longer term; however, in the beginning, stockholder’s equity would be greater.
Balance SheetExpensingCapitalizing
Asset and LiabilityLowerHigher
Leverage Ratios (debt/equity, debt/asset)HigherLower due to higher base
Book Value/ShareLowerHigher

Income Statement Effect – Capitalization vs Expensing

  • The capitalization of costs would normalize the inconsistency of the firm’s reported income since the cost would get shared between statements.
  • From the profitability point of view, the company should enjoy greater profitability in the beginning.
Income StatementExpensingCapitalizing
Income VariabilityGreater variabilitySmoothening effect on net income from year to year
Matching of revenuesLess matching of revenues and costsCost deferred and matched with revenues
Profitability (Early years)Lower as all expenses flow through the ISHigher as the cost is amortized
Profitability (Later years)Higher as all cost has been expensedLower due to amortization of the capitalized cost

Cash Flow Effect – Capitalization vs Expensing

  • Suppose the firm capitalizes its expenditures. The influence would be just on cash flow from operations and cash flow from Investments
Cash FlowExpensingCapitalizing
Cash Flow from OperationsLowerHigher
Cash Flow from InvestingHigherLower
Total Cash FlowsSameSame

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Rationale for Expensing or Capitalization

While determining whether any cost must be either expensed or capitalized, firms often employ an easier technique of separating assets in two key segments,

  • Assets that deliver prospective gains
  • Assets that don’t deliver any prospective gains

Some of the firm’s costs would just deliver a one-time benefit for the firm and, thus, comes under the second segment. These are usually expensed costs since the business is not believed to enjoy prospective gains through them.

Instead, assets that offer prospective gains may frequently stand capitalized, and hence, the expenses would be distributed across financial statements.

An easy instance may be the payment of an insurance policy. The firm may purchase a fixed dated policy for say two years while paying the entire cost in one go. As the insurance would assist the firm in the near future also, it may capitalize on the expenditures.

Capitalization of Intangibles

Organizations may even come across intangible assets that are non-monetary properties and don’t have any physical matter; however, they still deliver benefits for the company. Some examples of intangible assets include copyrights, patents, or research and development expenditures.


  • Internally developed patents don’t show up in the Balance Sheet
  • SFAS 2 requires all costs incurred with the development of the patents be expensed as they are incurred
  • Patents acquired in an arm’s length transaction will show up in the balance sheet at the cost paid to buy it
  • Patents are amortized using the legal life or the useful life, whichever is shorter


  • Goodwill can only be recorded when a firm buys another firm
  • Arm’s length transaction is evidence of the value of Goodwill
  • Under SFAS 142, Goodwill is no longer amortized but tested for impairment
  • When Goodwill is impaired, it is written down & loss passed through the income statement in the current period
  • Managers may have incentives to write down a lot of goodwill, or never write down goodwill at all


  • Advertising is expenditures to inform potential customers about the product or services of the firm.
  • The benefits of successful advertising may extend for many periods into the future. However, any such benefits are very difficult to measure
  • GAAP requires immediate expensing of most advertising costs
  • More conservative than capitalization!

Accounting for Research and Development

  • Future benefits from R&D expenditures is highly uncertain at the start of a project
  • SFAS 2 requires virtually all R&D expenditures to be expensed as incurred
  • Principle of conservatism accounting is applied in case of R&D
  • However, when one firm buys another firm, the total purchase price must be apportioned among the individual assets acquired
Capitalization vs Expensing - R&D Expense
  • SFAS 2 requires that a portion of the purchase price be allocated to in-process R&D and be immediately written off
  • Managers have a strong incentive to allocate a large portion of the purchase price to purchased in-process R&D

Accounting for Software Development Costs

  • More liberal for accounting internal expenditures for software development
  • Software development cost is a major cost for many small, growth service companies, and that’s their main asset.
  • It prompted FASB to be more liberal while formulating SFAS 86
Capitalization vs Expensing - Software Development cost

Limitations of Capitalization and Expensing


  • As the thumb rule for any asset capitalization is, if that asset having long-term gain or value growth for the firm, there seem some drawbacks to this law. For instance, the research & development (R&D) costs are incapable of being capitalized, although such assets strictly offer long-term benefits to the company.
  • One key reason why most nations deny the capitalization of R&D expenditures is to overcome the doubt about the gains. Evaluating whether the prospective gains from an investment would be problematic, and consequently, it is simpler to expense such costs.
  • However, local accountants in different countries may use different ways of analyzing R&D costs.
  • In addition, an asset’s capitalization may exaggerate the values of assets, as depicted on the firm’s balance sheet that can influence the company’s financial statements to some extent.
  • Lastly, it is crucial to recollect that inventory costs can’t be capitalized. Even after one may be willing to hold that inventory over the long term and plans to sell it in the forthcoming business cycle, but expenses cannot be capitalized.


  • While beginning a business, there are believed to be some critical limitations regarding expensing. In several cases, instant costs may be capitalized despite they not necessarily falling under the firm’s capitalization rules for the starting financial year.
  • One must also consider that as R&D costs are usually taken as an expense, some legal fees related to the asset’s acquisition, coupled with the patent fees, can be capitalized.
  • Furthermore, one must remain cautious while expensing costs related to upgrades or repairs. If an item’s value enhances notably or the item’s lifespan increases, the costs may better be capitalized.
  • Lastly, expensing lowers the business’s total income earned, and hence, one must be cautious about ensuring that the near-term funds are capable of adjusting this modification.

Conclusion – Capitalization vs Expensing

Capitalization against expensing is believed to be a vital aspect of any business’ financial policymaking. Costs may have a significant impact on the company’s business finances, while it is crucial to acquire a capability to harness benefit from both capitalization and expensing.

The accounting management of expenditures can prove to be a critical difference between any lucrative income statement and the one that illustrates a loss. It could be challenging to select from these options. However, at large, capitalization against expensing may offer the business with significant growth opportunities while keeping the company’s future bright.

Capitalization vs Expensing Video

Reader Interactions


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