Placing assets “in service” for depreciation purposes

How do I… Place assets “in service” for depreciation purposes?

Depreciation is a reasonable allowance for wear and tear on property used in a trade or business or for the production of income. Property is depreciable if it has a useful life greater than one year and depreciates in value. Property that appreciates in value may also  depreciate if subject to wear and tear. Depreciation ends in the tax year that the asset is retired from service (by sale, exchange, abandonment or destruction) or that the asset is fully depreciated.

Assets with useful lives of one year or less can be deducted as current expenses in the year of their costs. Depreciation cannot be claimed on an asset that is acquired and disposed of in the same year.

Depreciation begins in the tax year that the property is placed in service for either the production of income or for use in a trade or business. Property generally is considered placed in service when it is in a condition or state of readiness to be used on a regular, ongoing basis. The property must be available for a specifically assigned function in a trade or business (or for the production of income).

An asset actually put to use in a trade or business is clearly considered placed in service. If, on the other hand, an asset is not actually put to use, it is generally not considered placed in service unless the taxpayer has done everything he or she can to put the asset to use. For example, a barge was considered placed in service in the year it was acquired, even though it could not be actually used because the body of water was frozen. For a building that is intended to house machinery and equipment, the building’s state of readiness is determined without regard to whether the machinery and equipment has been placed in service. Leased property is placed in service by the lessor when the property is held out for lease.

Generally, the year property is placed in service is the tax year of acquisition, but it could be a later time. An asset cannot be placed in service any sooner than the time that the business actually begins to operate.

In the case of agriculture, livestock cannot be depreciated until it reaches maturity and can be used; orchards cannot be depreciated until the trees produce marketable quantities of crops. Prior to those times, costs must be capitalized and cannot be written off.

Especially at year-end, placing an asset in service before the new year can mean the difference between claiming a substantial amount of depreciation on this year’s return instead of waiting a full year. If you have any questions on how to qualify a business asset under this deadline, please contact this office.

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